Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

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Diocese of Pittsburgh

Dioecesis Pittsburgensis
An image of a coat of arms: a golden sword laid over a fess chequy blue and silver and two gold rounded crosses pattée in chief, with a bishop's mitre surmounting the shield.
CountryUnited States
TerritoryPennsylvania counties of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence, and Washington
Ecclesiastical provinceProvince of Philadelphia
Headquarters111 Boulevard of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Area3,786 sq mi (9,810 km2)
- Total
- Catholics
(as of 2016)
632,138 (33%)
DenominationRoman Catholic
RiteLatin Rite
EstablishedAugust 11, 1843
CathedralSaint Paul Cathedral
Patron saintMary Immaculate (primary) and St. Paul the Apostle (secondary)[1]
Current leadership
BishopDavid Zubik
Bishop of Pittsburgh
Metropolitan ArchbishopCharles J. Chaput
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Auxiliary BishopsWilliam J. Waltersheid, Auxiliary Bishop
Vicar GeneralVery Rev. Lawrence A. DiNardo, VG, JCL
Emeritus BishopsWilliam J. Winter, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus
Diocese of Pittsburgh map 1.png

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh (Latin: Dioecesis Pittsburgensis) is a Roman Catholic diocese. It was established in Western Pennsylvania on August 11, 1843. The diocese includes 188 parishes and 225 churches in the counties of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence, and Washington, an area of 3,786 square miles (9,810 km2) with a Catholic population of 632,138 as of 2016.[2] The cathedral church of the diocese is the Cathedral of Saint Paul. As of July 2018, the diocese had 202 active priests.[3]

Cathedral of Saint Paul, seat of the bishop of Pittsburgh.


The Diocese of Pittsburgh was erected from the Diocese of Philadelphia on August 11, 1843.[4] Territory was lost to the newly created Diocese of Erie on July 29, 1853. The short-lived Diocese of Allegheny was created out of the Pittsburgh diocese on January 11, 1876; the territory was reincorporated on July 1, 1889. The Diocese of Altoona was formed on May 30, 1901, and the Diocese of Greensburg on March 10, 1951, out of Pittsburgh diocesan territory.[4]

Bishop Wuerl's installation mass was held at St. Paul Cathedral on March 25, 1988. Bishop Wuerl appointed Father David Zubik his secretary. Bishop Wuerl spoke to Father Zubik about his desire to "put the diocese back on the map" by improving its operations and improving its image.[5]

Bishop Wuerl had to contend with anger at his predecessor's decision to not wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday. Bishop Wuerl washed the feet of six women and six men on his first Holy Thursday as head of the diocese at St. Paul Cathedral. The next year he washed the feet of prisoners in the Allegheny County Jail. In future years he would wash the feet of occupants of nursing homes and other facilities that serve marginalized people. He did this for both men and women.[5]

At the time of Bishop Wuerl's installation, the diocese was running a projected deficit of $3.8 million for the fiscal year. 48 of 333 churches owed the diocese $5.6 million for insurance and other expenses. Bishop Wuerl's first step to deal with the financial crisis was to hold a meeting to inform all priests in the diocese about its financial condition. He then appointed an eleven-member committee composed of lay financial experts to study how to reduce the deficit.[5]

The biggest financial problem facing the diocese came from its school system. Many of the parishes were built when Catholic immigrants were swelling the population of Pittsburgh to work in the steel mills. During this era, parishes were established along ethnic lines so that parishioners could attend services in their native tongues and maintain their national traditions. This resulted in having as many as six-to-eight parishes within blocks of each other. After World War II, there was a major effort to build a school for every parish. These schools were usually staffed by nuns who were given nominal compensation. This system began to break down in the 1970s. First, the Baby Boom subsided resulting in a massive reduction in student population. Second, Catholics became less likely to send their children to Catholic schools. Third, during this period there was a massive culture shift among nuns, partially in response to Vatican II, that resulted in many sisters choosing missions unrelated to education. They had to be replaced with lay staff paid market salaries.[5]

Bishop Wuerl asked his committee of lay advisors to address the debt and deficit spending associated with Catholic education in Pittsburgh. 1n 1988, that committee determined that 48 of the then 333 parishes owed a total of $5.6 million. A rescue plan was announced in February 1989. Bishop Wuerl announced that $1.1 million owed to the diocese for insurance and the Parish Share Program would be forgiven. Indebted parishes would be given low-interest loans to refinance their other obligations.[5]

Despite the financial condition of the diocese, Bishop Wuerl decided to expand health services. His predecessor had closed a clinic that taught natural family planning after it was criticized for working too closely with secular family-planning groups. Bishop Wuerl created a natural family planning advisory board that created a program of medical education hosted at Catholic hospitals. Bishop Wuerl worked with hospitals and community groups to create a group home for people suffering from AIDS. This was done when AIDS was little understood and almost always fatal. In 2003, Bishop Wuerl conducted a successful $2.5 million fundraising campaign to create the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center. The clinic primarily serves the uninsured working poor.[5]

Bishop Wuerl worked to regain control over a hospital that was founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale. The sisters had signed over control of the hospital to its lay board, severing any formal link with the Catholic Church. The lay board strongly resisted returning control to the sisters but ultimately acquiesced.[5]

Under Bishop Wuerl, the diocese had to reorganize itself in response to demographic changes, the decline of the steel industry, and the church's weak financial position. That process was officially terminated in March 1994. The number of parishes had been reduced to 56 from 163. The number of church buildings fell from 332 to 294. The number of weekend masses was reduced from 835 to 573.[5]

Under Bishop Wuerl, the diocese began to emphasize placing women into positions of responsibility and authority. Rosemarie Cibik, a former superintendent of public instruction, became the first lay superintendent of Catholic schools in Pittsburgh. Rita Joyce, a canon and civil lawyer, became the first lay member of the diocesan marriage tribunal. Sister Margaret Hannan was appointed to the position of associate general secretary of the diocese. Later she rose to the position of chancellor, the highest canonical post that can be occupied by one who is not ordained.[5]

In 2012, the Pittsburgh diocese was the first of 42 Catholic groups to file 12 federal lawsuits against the Obama administration for implementing a regulation that would force them to facilitate access to contraceptives and other medical products whose use violates church teaching. Speaking of the regulation Bishop Zubik said, “The mandate would require the Catholic Church as an employer to violate its fundamental beliefs concerning human life and human dignity ..." These cases were consolidated and made it to the Supreme Court as Zubik v. Burwell.[6]

As of May 2018, the diocese was preparing to consolidate its 188 parishes into 57 multi-parish groups. The integration process will formally begin in October 2018 and will last two to five years. The multi-parish groups will consist of two to seven nearby churches. A pastor-led team for each group will serve the needs of its parishes during consolidation. As the parish communities are consolidated, they will be combined into new parishes. The bishop will receive three suggested names for each new parish and detailed recommendations on how parish programs should be individually tailored.[7]

As of 2018, it was the practice of the diocese to hold a twice-yearly "The Light is On For You" campaign to help Catholics who have lost connection to the church to return to the sacrament. The campaign reaches out to Catholics who have not been to confession for years and makes it as convenient as possible for them to return. During the campaign confession is available at all churches for extended hours.[8]


Bishops of Pittsburgh[edit]

  1. Michael O'Connor (1843-1853), appointed Bishop of Erie
  2. Michael O'Connor (1853-1860)
  3. Michael Domenec (1860-1876), appointed Bishop of Allegheny
  4. John Tuigg (1876-1889)
  5. Richard Phelan (1889-1904)
  6. Regis Canevin (1904-1921), appointed Archbishop (ad personam) in 1921
  7. Hugh Boyle (1921-1950)
  8. John Dearden (1950-1958), appointed Archbishop of Detroit (elevated to Cardinal in 1969)
  9. John Wright (1959-1969), appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (elevated to Cardinal in 1969)
  10. Vincent Leonard (1969-1983)
  11. Anthony Bevilacqua (1983-1987), appointed Archbishop of Philadelphia (elevated to Cardinal in 1991)
  12. Donald Wuerl (1988-2006), appointed Archbishop of Washington (elevated to Cardinal in 2010)
  13. David Zubik (2007-present)

Coadjutor Bishops[edit]

  • Richard Phelan (1885-1889)
  • Regis Canevin (1903-1904)
  • John Dearden (1948-1950)

Auxiliary Bishops[edit]

Other bishops who once were priests of the Diocese of Pittsburgh[edit]

The following men began their service as priests in Pittsburgh before being appointed bishops elsewhere:


The Diocese of Pittsburgh's elementary and secondary schools educate approximately 17,000 students and employ nearly 1,500 teachers, making its school system the fourth largest in Pennsylvania.[9] As of March 2018, the Catholic school system in the diocese operates 69 elementary, pre-K and special schools.[9] The diocese says that enrollment in its school system has fallen by 50 percent since 2000.[10]

Elementary schools[edit]

The diocese is in the process of reorganizing its grade schools.[9] Between 2005 and 2010, sixteen elementary schools were closed,[11] with more mergers and consolidations planned.[12]

In March 2018, the diocese announced the merger of two elementary schools and the closure of one school. Saint Rosalia Academy in Greenfield was closed at the end of the academic year. The closure was endorsed by the Pittsburgh-East Regional Catholic Elementary Schools Advisory Board. North American Martyrs School and the Saint Bernadette School, both K-8 institutions in Monroeville, will merge at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. Bishop Zubik has said the new school would be known as the Divine Mercy Academy.[10]

High schools[edit]



Private or Independent[edit]

Higher education[edit]

Three Catholic colleges and universities operate within the diocese: Duquesne University, Carlow University, and La Roche College. While affiliated with the Catholic Church, they only receive indirect support from the diocese, such as tuition support for students who previously studied at Catholic grade schools or high schools.[13]

Seminarians studying for the priesthood in the Diocese of Pittsburgh complete pre-theological studies at Saint Paul Seminary in the East Carnegie neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh.[14]


Every year the diocese holds the Medallion Ball, a debutante ball, that honors young women who perform at least 100 hours of eligible volunteer work. The proceeds from the event benefit St. Lucy's Auxiliary to the Blind. In 2002, a Joan of Arc Medallion was awarded to a young woman with Down's Syndrome who had volunteered as a teacher's assistant. In 2013, a medallion winner was legally blind and had volunteered with a therapeutic horseback-riding program. It is common for attendees to perform more than 800 hours of volunteer work.[5]

Sexual abuse cases[edit]

Anthony Cipolla was ordained in 1972. In 1978, he was charged with sexual abuse of a 9-year-old boy; these charges were dropped by the mother, who said she was pressured to do so by Bishop Vincent Leonard.[15] In 1988 new charges were brought by Tim Bendig who said that Cipolla abused him from around 1981 to 1986; this case was settled in 1993, over Cipolla's objections. Cipolla consistently said that he never abused anyone.[15] In 1988, the diocese, by then under the leadership of Bishop Wuerl, banned Cipolla from ministry and from identifying himself as a priest; Cipolla appealed to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, which ordered Bishop Wuerl to return him to ministry.[15][16] Bishop Wuerl asked the court to reconsider the case on the grounds that its decision showed a lack of awareness of crucial facts such as a civil lawsuit and Cipolla's 1978 arrest for sexually abusing another boy. The court reversed its ruling in 1995 and upheld Cipolla's ban. Cipolla nonetheless continued to minister to the public forcing the diocese to make several public statements that Cipolla was not in good standing. In 2002, Cipolla was laicized by the pope.[15][17]

Just months after becoming Pittsburgh's bishop in 1988, Bishop Wuerl rejected legal advice to meet with victims of sexual abuse. After seeing the damage inflicted upon their lives and faith, Wuerl implemented a "zero tolerance" policy against sexual abuse. The Diocese of Pittsburgh was among the first Catholic authorities to seriously address sexual abuse. Carefully preparing candidates for the priesthood for a life of celibacy was a key part of Wuerl's reforms.[5]

At the time of Wuerl's appointment to Pittsburgh, three priests were on administrative leave for molesting two brothers. Their parents originally asked for the priests to be removed from ministry but pressed criminal and civil charges after reflecting on their moral duty to protect others. Bishop Wuerl's advisors unanimously suggested that he not visit the family. Bishop Wuerl decided that it was his duty to minister to their pain. Wuerl said, "The lawyers could talk to one another, but I wasn't ordained to oversee a legal structure. As their bishop I was responsible for the Church's care of that family, and the only way I could do that was to go see them." Father Zubik accompanied him to this meeting. The diocese settled the civil suit, and two of the priests in question were sentenced to prison. They were never allowed to return to ministry. Charges against the third priest were impossible due to the statute of limitations. This priest was forced to retire and forbidden to say mass for anyone by nuns in the convent he was assigned to live in.[5]

Bishop Wuerl called a mandatory meeting to inform all priests that sexual contact with a minor was not merely a sin that could be forgiven, but a crime that would result in permanent removal from the ministry and maybe prison. Priests were instructed to report any allegation of sexual abuse committed by a priest or church employee to the chancery.[5]

The diocese created the Diocesan Review Board in 1989 to offer evaluations and recommendations to the bishop on the handling of all sexual abuse cases.[5]

It is the policy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to refer all allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement regardless of their credibility. Credible allegations of sexual abuse result in immediate removal from ministry. By direction of Bishop Wuerl, the diocese has had an internal policy on sexual misconduct since 1989. This policy was formalized in 1993, updated in 2002, and updated again in 2003.[18][19]

Bishop Zubik handed off the case of Rev. David Dzermejko to the Vatican after a diocese review board found that allegations of child sexual abuse against Dzermejko were credible. Dzermejko was removed as pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church in Charleroi in June 2009 after a couple informed the diocese that he had sexually abused their son. Another man came forward to say that Dzermejko had abused him as a child.[20] Dzermejko was removed within 48 hours of the diocese receiving the first allegation.[21]

Grand jury investigation[edit]

In early 2016, a grand jury investigation, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, began an inquiry into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in six Pennsylvania dioceses: Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, Greensburg, and Erie.[22] The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were not included, as they had been the subjects of earlier investigations.[22] Numerous appeals to the state supreme court raised constitutional issues such as due process, fairness, deprivation of the right to personal reputation protected by the state constitution, and the inability of many named members of the Catholic clergy to defend themselves against accusations presented in the reports.[19]

On July 27, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that a redacted copy of the grand jury report be released to the public; this release is anticipated to occur in early August 2018.[23]

On August 5, 2018, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik sent letters confirming the Diocese of Pittsburgh would cooperate with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order and release the list of clergy accused of sex abuse when the grand jury report is made public.[24][25] The letters were read during mass across the six-county diocese.[24][25] In his letter, Bishop Zubik noted that the diocese implemented policies to deal with sexual abuse 30 years ago. Clergy, church employees, and volunteers are all required to go through sexual abuse training programs and criminal background checks. Zubik also noted that 90 percent of all the allegations in the report related to the diocese of Pittsburgh occurred before 1990.[25] The grand jury report was released on August 14.[26][27] A total of 99 priests listed in the grand jury report served in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.[26]

The report also stated that some priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh ran a child porn ring in the 1970s and 1980s and also "used whips, violence and sadism in raping their victims."[28][29] The children who were sexually molested and had their pictures taken for the child porn ring were given gold crosses so they would be recognized by other abusive priests who sought to use them.[29]

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has steadily improved the quality of screening and training for future priests to ensure that only those men capable of leading a healthy celibate lifestyle are ordained, as well as posting on its website the names of 83 priests in abuse claims.[30]

Reorganization - On Mission for the Church ALIVE![edit]

On October 15, 2018, the most comprehensive reorganization of the Diocese of Pittsburgh went into effect. This was the beginning of the implementation of a diocesan-wide planning initiative which changed the diocesan parish structure from 188 individual parishes to 57 parish groupings served by clergy teams. By 2023, there will only be 57 parishes in the diocese.[31] The goal of the reorganization is to bring together resources of various parishes in order to bring about "vibrant parishes and effective ministries."[32] The changes were triggered by decreasing Mass attendance in the area and a declining amount of priests - by 2025 the Diocese of Pittsburgh will have about half the active priests it does currently.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hill, William (June 30, 2008). "Parish eucharistic adoration to highlight Year of St. Paul". Pittsburgh Catholic. Retrieved October 23, 2017. St. Paul is our secondary patron with Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, being our primary patroness.
  2. ^ "Diocesan Statistics".}[dead link]
  3. ^ Smith, Craig (March 1, 2009). "Diocese considers plan to ease shortage of priests". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Tribune-Review Publishing Company. Archived from the original on September 9, 2012. Retrieved March 1, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Cheney, David M (November 20, 2010). "Diocese of Pittsburgh". Catholic-Hierarchy. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Rodgers, Ann; Aquilina, Mark (2015). Something More Pastoral: The Mission of Bishop, Archbishop, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Lambing Press.
  6. ^ Kengor, Paul (26 May 2018). "Showdown? Conor Lamb v. Bishop David Zubik". TribLIVE. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  7. ^ West, Perry (1 May 2018). "As Pittsburgh churches consolidate, bishop urges strong communities". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  8. ^ Rittmeyer, Brian (15 March 2018). "Pittsburgh Catholic churches offering confession for those away from church". TribLIVE. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Biedka, Chuck (March 17, 2018). "Pittsburgh Diocese announces school mergers, closings". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Schneider, Sarah (19 March 2018). "Pittsburgh Diocese Announces School Mergers Citing Declining Enrollment And Financial Challenges". 90.5 WESA. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  11. ^ Cronin, Mike (May 3, 2010). "Lawrenceville's St. John Neumann will be 16th closing since 2005". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Tribune-Review Publishing Company. Retrieved May 6, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Bishop: Ongoing Catholic church, school consolidation plans helping Pittsburgh diocese". WPXI. November 8, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  13. ^ Franko, John (December 4, 2015). "Diocese, Carlow partner to offer tuition support". The Pittsburgh Catholic. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  14. ^ Apone, Carl (November 19, 1967). "New Look in the Seminary". Pittsburgh Press. pp. 32–36.
  15. ^ a b c d Rodgers-Melnick, Ann (November 16, 2002). "Rare sanction imposed on priest". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  16. ^ Gibson, Gail; Rivera, John (April 11, 2002). "Maryland center claims success treating priests". Baltimore Sun.
  17. ^ Smith, Peter (13 September 2016). "Obituary: Anthony Cipolla / Center of high-profile sex-abuse case in 1990s, dies in Ohio". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  18. ^ Moody, Chuck (27 February 2004). "Diocese has lengthy history of dealing with the issue". Pittsburgh Catholic.
  19. ^ a b Castille, Ronald (6 August 2018). "Releasing Catholic clergy abuse report risks violating constitutional rights | Opinion". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  20. ^ "Catholic Diocese finds sexual abuse allegations "credible"". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 11 August 2010.
  21. ^ Rodgers, Ann (18 June 2009). "Catholic pastor accused of child sexual abuse". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  22. ^ a b Couloumbis, Angela (June 17, 2018). "Pa. report to document child sexual abuse, cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  23. ^ Couloumbis, Angela; Navratil, Liz (July 27, 2018). "Pa. Supreme Court: Release redacted report that names more than 300 'predator priests'". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^ a b c Kurutz, Daveen Rae. "Bishop Zubik Pittsburgh Diocese will name clergy accused of sex abuse". The Times. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  26. ^ a b
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b
  30. ^ "Pittsburgh Bishop Zubik outlines diocese response in wake of grand jury report in letter to parishioners". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 20, 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  31. ^ LaRussa, Tony (October 15, 2018). "Pittsburgh diocese's new parish groupings, clergy assignments begin today". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  32. ^ "On Mission for the Church Alive". St. Thomas More Parish. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  33. ^ On Mission - Frequently Asked Questions[dead link] "From 2000 to 2015 Mass attendance in the Diocese of Pittsburgh decreased 40 percent while participation in the sacraments declined 40 to 50 percent. Half of all parishes now experience operational deficits, and by 2025, the number of diocesan priests available for active ministry is expected to decrease from the current 216 priests to 112." Accessed June 22, 2017.


  • Glenn, Francis A. (1993). Shepherds of the Faith 1843–1993: A Brief History of the Bishops of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh: Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. ISBN none.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°26′50.83″N 79°56′59.42″W / 40.4474528°N 79.9498389°W / 40.4474528; -79.9498389