The cases of four Roman Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors, including two with local ties, are headed to the Vatican for a review of their future clerical status.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh’s independent review board has reached a determination regarding John Bauer, who until late August 2018 was posted at a team-ministry parish that included St. Ann in Waynesburg, St. Ignatius of Antioch in Bobtown, Our Lady of Consolation in Nemacolin and St. Thomas in Clarksville.
Bauer held the same pastoral position at Immaculate Conception, Washington, from October 1978 to January 1988.
The other, Bernard B. Costello, 82, was assigned as temporary administrator to Mary Mother of the Church, Charleroi, where he retired in 2011. He was placed on leave Aug. 31, 2018.
The independent review board found, based on the evidence brought forward, the accusations against Bauer and three other priests are credible. The board also recommended that Bishop David Zubik not return these clergy to ministry, a finding that he has accepted.
While the process continues, Bauer, 72, and the other three priests can’t “engage in public ministry, dress as priests or otherwise present themselves as priests in good standing,” according to the diocese.
The other priests whose cases are going to the Vatican are those of Richard Lelonis, who died Oct. 20, and Joseph Reschick. The earliest accusation pertains to abuse alleged to have occurred in the 1960s. The other accusations involve incidents alleged to have occurred throughout the 1970s and 1980s, according to a news release Wednesday sent out by the diocese.
Lelonis, whose name was redacted from the grand jury report, had been assigned to St. Luke, Carnegie, and St. Mary Mercy, Pittsburgh, in the 1970s and 1980s. He was reassigned to nonparish ministries in the early 2000s and suspended from ministry in November 2018. Reschick was pastor of St. Rosalia Parish in Pittsburgh’s Greenfield neighborhood.
The diocese instated a “safe environment policy” in 2002 requiring that all allegations be reported to law enforcement and evaluated by the independent review board.
The next step in diocese policy involves forwarding these cases to the Vatican, which is required by canon law.
“The Vatican will review all the information presented and issue a decision regarding their future clerical status. The timeline for that review will be determined by the Vatican,” according to the Diocese of Pittsburgh news release.
In an Observer-Reporter news story Aug. 15, 2018, the day after the state attorney general’s office released the grand jury report, Bauer said “nothing sexual occurred whatsoever” nearly four decades ago while wrestling with boys when he was a priest at Immaculate Conception.
Bauer forcefully pushed back against allegations of abuse years ago – along with providing alcohol to boys on a road trip to Ohio – as he addressed parishioners at the end of morning Mass that day at St. Hugh Church near Carmichaels.
“If there was one scintilla of doubt of sexual abuse, I would have left the priesthood,” he said.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report named 301 men as what investigators termed as “predator priests,” including 99 in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which includes both Washington and Greene counties.
The report states a man claimed Bauer wrestled with him and other boys at IC’s school wrestling room in the late 1970s or early 1980s, discussed masturbation in front of him and provided alcohol to three students while driving to Columbus, Ohio, for a wrestling tournament.
Bauer, who called himself an avid professional wrestling fan since he was in high school, claimed that when he learned students had brought their own alcohol on the road trip, he told them “this is not going to happen again.”
“We’ve never seen that type of behavior from him,” a woman who declined to be identified said as she was leaving Mass.
After parishioners left the church, Bauer spoke to an Observer-Reporter staff writer for several minutes about the allegations, saying he knows his accuser and called him a “good guy” with substance abuse problems.
“I knew him,” Bauer said. “I have nothing against him.”
Bauer said he spoke to investigators in 2014 or 2015 for about an hour and learned in May 2018 he might be named in the report.
In the report, the accuser blamed his alcoholism on being supplied alcohol by Bauer and now-deceased Rev. Michael Romero at Immaculate Conception. The report also states Bauer wrestled with the boy, but there was no genital contact.
The grand jury report indicated in 2013, someone came forward with allegations from the late 1970s and early 1980s, accusing Bauer of giving him alcohol and wrestling with him.
The alleged victim in that case specifically told diocesan officials that Bauer did not sexually abuse him, according to the diocese, and Bauer denied providing alcohol.