Former Beaver County DA who dropped priest sex abuse probe fired from current job
Beaver County Children and Youth Services fired its solicitor Wednesday in the wake of the scathing grand jury report that said he quashed an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by local priests while serving as county district attorney in the mid-1960s.
Robert Masters, 87, of Brighton Township wrote a letter on Aug. 4, 1964, to Bishop Vincent Leonard of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh telling the bishop that he halted all investigations into allegations involving priests and young boys “to avoid unfavorable publicity.”
Masters, a well-known figure for decades in Beaver County political circles, told the grand jury in 2017 that he also sought political support from the diocese.
Masters could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
County Commissioners fired Masters Wednesday morning after learning of allegations contained in the report. Masters had served for years as solicitor for CYS and Beaver County Mental Health Services. He opted in January not to renew his contract as solicitor for mental health, according to Commissioner Sandy Egley.
“We had a meeting today and, yes, his relationship with the county has been terminated,” Egley said.
She could not provide his salary. The county does not believe the allegations will jeopardize any cases Masters was involved in for CYS.
The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, where Masters serves as solicitor, will also consider his status during a board of directors meeting Monday, according to CEO Brian Hayden. Hayden said Pa Cyber paid Masters $164,681 during the 2017-18 school year and has paid him $11,412 so far this fiscal year, which began in July.
Public officials share plenty of blame along with Catholic clergy for looking the other way when confronted with allegations that priests abused young boys and girls while serving in parishes and parochial schools across the state, according to the grand jury.
The report lists instances where victims, their parents and dioceses reported abuse to law enforcement and district attorneys offices, only to have their complaints ignored for decades in some cases.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.’s Office received multiple reports from the Pittsburgh Diocese about priest abuse, according to the grand jury report.
Zappala spokesman Mike Manko said the DA was confident that Pittsburgh bishops during Zappala’s administration were “forthright and diligent in notifying our office of any concerns about potential crimes regardless of the time frame in which those crimes would have occurred.”
“That said, our office has been unable to proceed criminally on any of these referrals for a number of reasons, including issues with the statute of limitations and the alleged perpetrator being deceased,” Manko said.
Allegations involving Masters focus on the late Rev. Ernest Paone, who was accused of molesting young parishioners in 1962. The Rev. Father Edmund Sheedy, then pastor of St. Monica church in Koppel, Beaver County, where Paone was serving as parochial vicar, notified Pittsburgh Bishop John Wright that he interceded to prevent Paone from being arrested for “molesting young boys of the parish and the illegal use of guns with even younger parishioners.”
Masters, a devout Catholic, informed Leonard two years later that he terminated investigations into Paone and similar incidents.
When questioned by the grand jury Masters said he could not give a “proper answer” for ending the investigations.
“Probably respect for the bishop,” he said adding that he also sought the diocese’s political support.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @bobbauder.