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St. Sebastian priest on leave

| Tuesday, June 3, 2003

NORTH BELLE VERNON - Fred Fundy said the most difficult thing is not knowing.

Fundy and other members of St. Sebastian Church in North Belle Vernon were informed at Masses last weekend that their pastor, the Rev. John R. Cindric, had been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

The allegations that led to Cindric's removal from his duties haven't been publicly disclosed, but there are indications he was sidelined for "behavior unbecoming a minister."

While a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg said Cindric had not been accused of sexually molesting children, she provided no explanation for the priest's suspension.

"I'm still really just stunned by it," Fundy said. "Your imagination is a terrible thing, but I'm just waiting to see what it is."

He said Cindric was a much-loved figure at the church and that emotions ran high when the news was delivered.

"There were a lot of eyes being wiped and a lot of mouths hanging open," he said.

Jenny Forte, another parishioner, agreed.

"It was just a shock to us because he's just a wonderful priest," she said. "He was so alive, so cheerful. Even the church was sad without him Sunday. He was just a great guy. The church won't be the same without him."

Fundy said Cindric delivered a sermon unlike many of his counterparts.

"He made the liturgy come alive for everyone," Fundy said.

North Belle Vernon Mayor Pat Angelo, another parishioner, said she shared the shock and dismay.

"I can't speak as the mayor, but I can speak as a parishioner. I'm shocked without a doubt. I feel badly for the community and the church," she said. "I guess the only thing we can do is pray for everyone - including Reverend Cindric."

There are apparently no charges against the 55-year-old Cindric, although one law enforcement agency is said to be investigating.

Cindric could not be reached for comment.

The Rev. Roger Statnick, vicar general of the diocese, said the diocese will conduct its own review and determine a course of action if the allegations can be substantiated.

"Our concern is the good of the church," he said.

As per diocesan policies, that may include "action to help the person remediate the situation," he added.

The Greensburg diocese serves about 188,000 Catholics in 102 parishes in Westmoreland, Fayette, Indiana and Armstrong counties.

Administrative leave is not an indication of guilt, Statnick said. It's standard procedure when allegations are made. He did not rule out civil proceedings.

North Belle Vernon police referred calls to the Westmoreland County Detective's Office. District Attorney John Peck could not be reached for comment.

While a tight lid of secrecy has been put on the nature of the charges Cindric faces, Angela Burrows, executive director of infomedia services at the diocese, made it clear he has not been accused of sexually abusing children.

"This was not prompted by an allegation of sexual abuse involving children," said Burrows said.

In all, five priests in the diocese - three active and two retired - were told not to practice public ministry in connection with the nationwide clergy sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church.

While diocesan officials said it's not clear at this point how the allegations against Cindric would be handled if substantiated, Statnick said the five-member diocesan review board that advised Bishop Anthony G. Bosco in the sexual abuse cases could be called into service again. The board consists of an attorney, a school principal, a priest and two professionals in the field of violence and sexual abuse.

Statnick, who has been appointed temporary administrator of St. Sebastian Parish, announced Cindric's removal at Masses held this past weekend at the church. The Rev. Ronald Cyktor will continue in his duties as associate pastor.

Cyktor said the St. Sebastian parish is doing its best to deal with the loss of its "well-known, popular pastor." The allegations that led to Cindric's administrative leave came as a surprise to the parishioners, he said.

"People are shocked. They're working through it," Cyktor said. "There's not a lot of details."

Cindric headed a renovation program and instituted a number of new programs at St. Sebastian, one of the Greensburg diocese's largest parishes with more than 1,200 families.

Burrows said the parish had a successful $1 million capital campaign in 2001. "He had a reputation for breathing new life into St. Sebastian," she said.

Cindric, who came to St. Sebastian in 1994, also served as dean of Deanery 5. The deans are the bishop's representatives in the various regions and have administrative duties with the diocese.

Cindric's past assignments included serving as chaplain at Seton Hill University. From 1989 to 1994, he was pastor of St. Barbara's Church in Harrison City. He served as pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Everson, Fayette County, from 1986 to 1989. Cindric served as an associate pastor at diocesan churches in Kittanning, New Kensington and Lower Burrell.

Craig Smith of the Tribune-Review contributed to this report.

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