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The following information has been forwarded to the following: PA Attorney General’s Office in Pittsburgh, Supervisory Special Agent Rob Soop is reviewing it; FBI agent has been sent the same information; Elected officials in West Mifflin, PA, Howard Bednar, borough manager, is the contact person he can be reached at his email address firstname.lastname@example.org; Ron Lengwin, spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Diocese also has the information and UPMC communications department staff have it as well.
817 Worthington Avenue
Clairton, PA 15025
Citizen Investigator Won’t Be Silent on Western PA Childhood Sexual Abuse
- From March 2009
Catholic clergy childhood sexual abuse and cover-ups were seldom discussed before the Boston Archdiocese scandal broke around Cardinal Bernard Law’s mishandling of pedophile priests like John Geoghan, Paul Shanley, and others.
According to Mike Ference, who began investigating similar issues in Western Pennsylvania after the attempted murder of his son Adam, who was shot in the back of the head by a teenage boy, who then turned the gun on himself and fired one shot into his head and died of self-inflicted wounds. Was the shooter sexually abused or assaulted by a former Catholic priest, John Wellinger? According to the notes and information supplied by then, Clairton Public Safety Director William Scully, that was one of the scenarios suggested to Ference and his family by the seasoned law enforcement officer. According to Scully, the attempted murder case was quashed. Scully admitted he was too scared to tell the media or the District Attorney’s office what he actually knew about Wellinger, the shooter and how McKeesport Police botched the entire case.
Twenty years later, Ference still wonders – what side of the law was Scully really on? “Again and again, my investigation turned up evidence of system-wide cover-ups; individuals unwilling to confront the authority of the church and to seek the truth. Many people I contacted seemed afraid to discuss anything related to John Wellinger,” he adds.
On brave soul possessed the courage to speak up and confront Pittsburgh Diocese authorities about Father John Wellinger. In 1985 or 1986, Sister Dorothy Dolac traveled to diocesan headquarters to voice her concerns about Wellinger who served as assistant pastor at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Clairton, PA. Sister Dorothy served as principal of St. Clare of Assisi School. Sister Dolac reported inappropriate touching of children by Wellinger. Diocesan leaders did nothing. It’s important to note that Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua, now the leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, was bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese at the time of Sister Dolac’s complaint.
Another witness, Helen Weeks, the cafeteria manager at St. Clare Elementary School, voiced similar recollections of Wellinger’s deviant behavior. Parents wanted no parts of Wellinger being near their children during school hours or anytime. According to Weeks, Wellinger would wrap children under his long, black clergy cape and smother an innocent child’s face into his genitals. Albeit, not exposed, but separated only by the thin layer of clothing.
In 1987, Wellinger’s reign of terror continued. Even Scully and in-laws who were parishioners of Holy Spirit Church where Wellinger was the pastor, were well aware of the priest’s reputation for assaulting young boys. Dozens of parishioners had to be aware as well – some West Mifflin residents Ference talked to considered Wellinger’s sexual abuse of children – common knowlwedge. Yet, UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) spokespersons Wendy Zellner and Frank Raczkiewicz claim no criminal acts were committed or the event ever happened. Ference has enough details from Scully’s notes to know otherwise.
According to Scully’s notes he provided to Ference in January 1990, a 16-year-old boy, Greg Witkowski from West Mifflin, PA, whose family were members of Holy Spirit, Welllinger’s parish assignment, was fed drugs and alcohol by Wellinger, possibly even assaulted. The Witkowski youth somehow was able to break away from Wellinger and made his way to Shadyside Hospital emergency room (now part of UPMC). He was treated by the staff; his parents Robert and Ann Witkowski were summoned and advised of the criminal acts by Wellinger. The parents were advised not to call police and press charges, or challenge the Pittsburgh Diocese as the church had too much money and was much too powerful.
If the event occurred as described, would a low-level hospital employee make the decision on their own and coach the Witkowski’s not to call the police? A more plausible scenario is that high-ranking hospital officials were notified, church hierarchy as well, and most likely, Pittsburgh police and Allegheny County District Attorney could have been involved in the cover-up.
Again, could lives have been saved and families not destroyed if Wellinger’s dysfunctional behavior had been stopped in 1987, sadly, the answer is yes. What’s even sadder, Catholic Church hierarchy and Shadyside Hospital officials deliberately decided to protect a criminal before innocent children and a family foolish enough to trust Shadyside staff.
Ironically, in 1987, when Shadyside officials were cautioning parents not to report crimes committed by child predators; credibly accused pedophile priests were serving as Shadyside Hospital chaplains under the watchful eye of Father Ron Lengwin, spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Diocese. Was Shadyside Hospital afraid to report Wellinger’s crimes because of the effect of bad publicity? Would other victims have stepped forward? Exactly what type of relationship did the Pittsburgh Diocese have with area hospitals? Did other others cooperate with the Pittsburgh Diocese and hide pedophile priests What other institutions and organizations helped cover up crimes against innocent children? Someone needs to be held accountable even if it’s 20-years too late and people will, Ference says.
According to several sources, Robert Witkowski came to the rectory some time in 1988 to confront the rogue priest for drugging and abusing his son. Wellinger was leading a parish council meeting, so plenty of eye witnesses were present. It was even feared that Witkowski was carrying a loaded pistol. West Mifflin Police were called to the scene, Maria Campana (Wellinger’s female companion from 1985 to present) ushered Wellinger out the back door of the rectory and luckily, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, did the West Mifflin officers do their job properly? No police report was filed, no citations issued and no one from the West Mifflin law enforcement community is even aware this situation ever occurred.
According to Robert Witkowski, he received a letter from the Pittsburgh Diocese’s legal department, ordering him not to step on Holy Spirit property ever again and to stay away from Wellinger based on his behavior that night in 1988. So a paper trail exists. Yet, no questions were asked about Wellinger, apparently no red flags were raised, or maybe, people were too weary to wave them any longer.
Marta Placek, a part time employee for Holy Spirit Church, present during Witkowski’s gun-toting outburst at the rectory, was determined to make her opinion at least heard. Some time in 1987 or 1988, while Wellinger was pastor at Holy Spirit Church, and Anthony Bevilacqua was still bishop of the diocese; Placek paid a visit to the Pittsburgh Diocese in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Placek wanted to report odd and possibly criminal behavior to church authorities based on her eyewitness accounts and conversations with other Holy Spirit parishioners. It’s important to note that if Bevilacqua was still in the Pittsburgh Diocese, the handling of Wellinger deviant behavior was a mirror-image of the way the disgraced church leader handled pedophile priests in his next assignment – the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s offices issued a scathing report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the high level of sexual abuse among Catholic priests and the cover ups and the reassigning of credibly accused Catholic priests by Cardinal Bevilacqua. The report labeled Cardinal Bevilacqua a liar.
Placek is pretty sure she met with Father Ron Lengwin, current spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Diocese. Lengwin paid little – if any attention at all – to Placek’s concerns. Instead, the clergyman brushed off her accusations as hearsay and gossip. According to Placek, she received a letter from the diocese responding to her allegations and again, rebuffing her as a gossip hound. More paper to trail. A copy of this letter should be in the files of the diocese and is just one more example of how easily Wellinger’s behavior could have and should have been investigated.
One item Placek reported was an underage boy living in the rectory with Wellinger who had quite an appetite for 900 numbers. Placek recalled paying the high tolls the youth racked up while calling the rectory home. In a taped interview, Placek also recalled the incident with Witkowski at the rectory.
In 1988, Chris Mathews was an 11-year-old altar boy at Holy Spirit Church in West Mifflin, PA. Wellinger was pastor and sexually abused the young boy. In 1995, Chris Mathews’ parents Robert and Mrs. Mathews went to the Pittsburgh Diocese to inform the church of Wellinger’s criminal behavior. Frank Zubik, the current Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese was the go-to-guy for clergy sex abuse complaints at the time. Somehow, Zubik convinced the parents not to press charges or file a complaint. Church leaders will argue that Robert Mathews was a West Mifflin Police officer and should have been aware of the proper way to handle the crime. But wouldn’t the burden of reporting the crime have fallen on Zubik’s shoulders. After all, Zubik would have been privy to Sister Dorothy Dolac’s report; no doubt the Shadyside Hospital episode that was pretty much common knowledge; the letter from the diocese attorneys demanding that Witkowski stay away from Wellinger and off Holy Spirit Church property; Marta Placek’s warnings and whatever other reports of Wellinger’s deviant behavior were made, not yet uncovered by Ference. Yet, Zubik did what so many other Catholic Church hierarchies did when confronted with clergy sex abuse crimes – absolutely nothing. He'll claim that Wellinger had resigned from the priesthood a few months before the Mathews’ lodged their complaint. Yet, it would be years before Wellinger’s alleged criminal actions would be made public. As in most priest pedophile cases, this would mean the statute of limitations had long expired.
Zubik, like all the other priests, bishops and cardinals before him, acted like the confused cavemen in the television commercials. In the case of the cavemen, it was surely just acting. But in the case of Catholic clergymen who were confused about what to do when grown men use innocent children as sex toys, it was criminal behavior. No one ever thought to call – 911.
On December 5, 1989, Ference’s son, Adam, was shot in the back of the head at point blank range while riding a school bus to Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport, PA. Just prior to the shooting, the two boys sitting behind the Ference youth and another boy switched seats. The shooter was now positioned behind Adam. He would soon pull out a 22-caliber pistol, placed inches away from the back of Adam Ference’s head and pull the trigger.
Next, the shooter would place the gun against his head and fire one shot.
The McKeesport Police Department handled the investigation but according to then Police Chief Thomas Brletic, the Pittsburgh Diocese seemed to supervise the proceedings. According to Brletic and the police report (which was finally delivered almost 19 years later, under protest from current McKeesport Mayor James Brewster) Serra officials did not permit McKeesport police to enter the school buildings for more than 24 hours. The shooter’s locker, the first thing police should have searched after the crime scene on the bus, could have been tampered with, either by the shooter’s friends or school administrators.
Also, according to Brletic, Father Ron Lengwin badgered Brletic to close the case as quickly as possible. Lengwin denies the allegations, but the clergy abuse scandal that continues to erupt cautions even the most loyal Catholics to remain suspicious.
Because of the shooter’s intense interest in Satanism and the Occult, an expert investigator, PA State Trooper Corporal Robert Griffin was called in to investigate the case. The bad publicity surrounding the circumstances surrounding the life of the shooter, and the attempted murder of Ference, may have forced Catholic Church leaders to use as much influence as possible to quash the case. More on Corporal Griffin later.
It would seem that church leaders were successful. McKeesport police never once contacted the Ference family either to obtain their side of the story; explain the dangers associated with an attempted murder case or even to find out how the family was doing. According to Mike Ference, he traveled to McKeesport to quiz Brletic and another officer about the crime, only to discover, little if any investigating was ever conducted.
In early January, 2009??, Clairton Public Safety Director Bill Scully paid a visit to the Ference home; he brought notes and plenty of information to confirm Mike Ference’s suspicions – the case was deliberately botched.
Scully claimed that the shooter may have been sexually abused by Father John Wellinger, a priest who had befriended the shooter and his gang of friends when they were students at St. Clare Elementary School and Wellinger was the assistant pastor.
Scully knew in January of 1990 that Wellinger had fed drugs and alcohol to Greg Witkowski in 1987 and may possibly have assaulted the young boy as well. Ann Witkowski’s, name with corresponding notes was penciled in on the yellow tablet paper Scully used to jot down notes and then pass on to Ference. Scully’s in-laws who were parishioners at Holy Spirit Church were also aware of the Witkowski assault, like dozens and dozens of other West Mifflin residents and Holy Spirit parishioners.
Scully linked the suicide of Greg Ghion to Wellinger, as well. Ghion was 16-year-old boy who took a gun to his head much like the shooter described above. Was Ghion another victim of Wellinger, maybe? Sadly, there’s not much concern in PA when children turn up dead. There’s no quick response – like in law enforcement – when the call comes of the police radio – officer down.
Scully was a seasoned investigator with multiple years of experience, yet, he openly admitted that he was too scared to do his job. Too frightened to share information with the District Attorney’s office or leak information to a legitimate news source, Scully left it up to the victim’s family to handle the investigation. Scully admitted he was afraid to do his job because he was scared he would lose his position.
Was Scully trying to help Ference, or did Scully use information passed on to him by amateur investigator Ference to advance his own career? Would Scully pass on details of Ference’s investigation to the Pittsburgh Diocese or to government and law enforcement authorities to thwart Ference’s work and make sure justice was never served?
A quick google into Pennsylvania corruption and you’ll find Catholic priests perjuring themselves to help Mafia godfathers, several former Mon Valley Police chiefs in or out of jail for a variety of offenses ranging from extortion to rape and even two Luzerne County, PA State judges who sent children to juvenile detention centers for cash – $2.6 million. Google the list of PA government officials under investigation, indicted, going to jail or pleading guilty to all sorts of crimes, it’s enough to slow down even the most advanced computer system.
Ironically, the detention centers are owned Gregory Zappala, brother of current Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr. Their father is retired PA State Judge Stephen Zappala. DA Zappala has steadfastly refused to conduct a grand jury investigation into clergy abuse in Allegheny County. The DA claims there’s no reason. Yet, Ference an amateur investigator has turned up plenty of reasons to think otherwise.
Even Captain Brian Washowich of the McKeesport Police Department openly admitted to Ference that a grand jury was needed to clear up the case Ference has spent 20 years investigating. Could it be that Zappala, a graduate of Central Catholic High School – a prominent Catholic high school in Pittsburgh known for churning out great sports players as well as educating Mafia kids – has his priorities out of whack. Or is he doing exactly what loyal Allegheny County Democrats are supposed to do? Although Gregory Zappala has not been indicted in the Cash for Kids plot, according to Ference, the feds have arrested plenty of Zappala’s associates in the meantime.
As Public Safety Director for the City of Clairton, Scully had the authority, based on his job description, to appoint and supervise if necessary, citizen volunteers. For the record, Mike Ference has been a Clairton citizen volunteer since January of 1990, duly appointed by Public Safety Director William Scully. As a Clairton citizen volunteer, Ference has investigated the case for the past 20 years; interacting with multiple law enforcement agencies and government organization. Ference admits, he’s had little or no training, but has persevered nonetheless and will continue to function as a Clairton Citizen volunteer investigating the attempted homicide of his son Adam, until officially relieved of his duties by appropriate Clairton officials.
Scully cautioned Ference about talking to the media back in 1990; advising the Clairton citizen volunteer not to discuss details with reporters. When it appeared that the case was going nowhere, Ference met with an investigative reporter (at least he claimed to be an investigative reporter) from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ken Evans. When Scully found out Ference reported his finding to the media, Scully complained to Ference. When Scully found out it was Ken Evans, he seemed to be okay with the choice.
More information will follow.