Church Files Show Missteps as Priest's Abuses Continued
April 6, 2002
By BENJAMIN WEISER and DANIEL J. WAKIN
New York Times
When the Rev. Edward A. Pipala, a Catholic school teacher
in Staten Island, appeared at the offices of the New York
Archdiocese at 5:45 one morning in 1977, he was nervous and
scared. The mother of a teenage student had accused him of
a sexual encounter with her son.
Father Pipala met with the archdiocese's chancellor, a
longtime friend, and acknowledged the incident.
"I think I need some help," he told the chancellor,
according to a deposition he made later.
The archdiocese decided to handle the case informally,
without reporting the abuse to the police. Instead, a
church official ordered Father Pipala to begin therapy with
He was sent to a parish in Westchester County run by a
pastor known as a stern taskmaster. The archdiocese
promised the teenage boy's family that Father Pipala "would
not work with children," an internal archdiocese memo
Over the next 15 years, the archdiocese abandoned its
promise, failed to follow through on his therapy and
allowed the priest to benefit from friendships with
influential peers, according to interviews and church and
As a result, Father Pipala served in two parishes running
youth groups, and eventually became pastor at a third, in
Goshen, N.Y. During that time, he molested as many as 50
boys, law enforcement officials said, initiating many of
them into a fraternity he called the Hole.
The case came to light in 1993, devastating families and
handing the archdiocese one of the most embarrassing and
publicized cases of clergy sexual misconduct in the
American Catholic Church. Father Pipala served seven years
in prison and was removed from the priesthood.
Details of the abuse became widely known, but the
archdiocese's handling of the case, spelled out in church
files and sworn depositions by church officials and Father
Pipala, was largely kept from public view until now.
On Wednesday, amid the latest nationwide scandal over the
sexual abuse of minors by priests, the archdiocese
announced new guidelines for dealing with the problem.
They require the establishment of a paper trail, a formal
investigation by church officials and a decision by a panel
of lay and clergy experts on whether to alert law
No one knows whether such rules would have stopped a serial
molester like Father Pipala, who also proved adept at
manipulating the system. But an examination of the
archdiocese's handling of his case shows what can happen in
the absence of both strict rules and vigilance at all
levels, from parish priests to high-ranking church
In addressing Father Pipala's 1977 incident, the church did
follow prevailing psychiatric wisdom about pedophilia and
related sexual conditions: that they were medical illnesses
that were curable or at least controllable, and did not
necessarily require the involvement of law enforcement.
Details of how the church dealt with the priest in the
ensuing years, however, portray an archdiocese hobbled by
gaps in communication within its own ranks.
In 1988, when Father Pipala was made pastor of St. John the
Evangelist in Goshen, a church official who had handled the
1977 abuse case even warned the archdiocese against
"I would not have made Ed Pipala a pastor," the official,
Msgr. Thomas P. Leonard, recalled telling one of his
successors as director of priest personnel, according to a
In an interview this week, Monsignor Leonard added that the
archdiocese should never have allowed him to work again
Through an acquaintance, Mr. Pipala, now 63, refused to
comment. "I think he sees it not only as a question of
morals but as a question of sickness," said the
acquaintance, the Rev. John Grange, a former classmate of
Mr. Pipala's who is in occasional contact with him.
"He gets care," Father Grange said. "It relieves him
somewhat of the terrible guilt he feels. And he feels
A spokesman for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said he
had no comment on the Pipala case, because those who made
decisions at the time were either dead or no longer
officials at the archdiocese, and because the man was
removed from the priesthood after his release from prison
in July 2000. "We are not going to go through our old cases
and rehash them in the media," Mr. Zwilling said.
Interviews with people who knew the former priest, internal
archdiocese records, his own correspondence with church
officials and depositions in more than a dozen lawsuits
brought by victims that were secretly settled by the
archdiocese, show how the priest was able to flourish
despite the 1977 incident and continuing questions about
Throughout Father Pipala's career, church officials seemed
unsure of just what to do with their fellow priest,
singularly undistinguished as a student but regarded early
on as a gifted leader of young people.
"He said he needed psychiatric help because of his
homosexuality," Monsignor Leonard said in his deposition.
But the church did not want to cast out one of its own, he
"He has to have a place to stay; you give yourself over to
the church, you have to be cared for," Monsignor Leonard
After Father Pipala went to prison, he was visited by
Cardinal John J. O'Connor, who led the New York Archdiocese
from 1984 until his death in 2000.
Bishop James F. McCarthy, the cardinal's secretary, said in
a recent interview, "Even if the priest screwed up, he's
still your priest."
As a Young Man`Disagreeable' Student
Has a Calling
Father Pipala's road to the priesthood was not auspicious.
He flunked out of Cathedral College, a Catholic preparatory
school in Manhattan, in 1957, after teachers rated him
"disagreeable" at times and without much hope for
He went on to the seminary, though, and was ordained a
priest in 1966.
By 1975, he was teaching at Moore Catholic High School in
Less than two years later, early in 1977, the woman
complained to an archdiocese official that Father Pipala
had molested her 14-year-old son, according to records.
She said her son had complained that while on an overnight
outing, Father Pipala had slept in the same bed with him
and touched his genitals. The boy, shaken, had pretended to
The archdiocese official suggested that the family confront
Father Pipala, which they did.
Father Pipala said in his deposition that he then presented
himself to Bishop Joseph O'Keefe, the No. 2 official in the
archdiocese and a friend. In their morning meeting, Father
Pipala did not admit to the touching, but said he had
become sexually aroused when embracing the boy, according
to the deposition.
The matter was referred to Monsignor Leonard, the
archdiocese's personnel director. Monsignor Leonard said he
saw his responsibility as helping Father Pipala to contact
a therapist who could help him.
"We went by what was possible at the time, and followed
what the medical advice of the time suggested," said
Monsignor Leonard, 74, now pastor at Holy Trinity Church on
West 82nd Street.
Bishop O'Keefe terminated Father Pipala's assignment to the
Staten Island school and transferred him to the Church of
St. Joseph in Croton Falls, N.Y., where he was to work
under the supervision of a strict pastor, Daniel Brady, and
not be in contact with children.
Monsignor Leonard said he may not have explicitly told
Father Brady the details of the incident, adding that he
felt torn between Father Pipala's need for medical
confidentiality, and his own obligation as a church
"Where do you cross that line where you're trying to help
somebody without ruining their reputation?" he asked.
Monsignor Leonard said he did implore Father Brady to be
sure that Father Pipala was not around children, and that
he got the treatment he needed. Monsignor Leonard soon left
his personnel post and had no further involvement in the
Over the next year, Father Pipala saw Richard D. Milone, a
psychiatrist in Harrison, N.Y.
Dr. Milone declined comment on the case, citing patient
confidentiality. Dr. Milone confirmed that, at the time,
pedophilia and related conditions were seen as reversible,
a view that did not change until the mid-1980's.
Within six months of starting treatment, he began a
relentless campaign to become a pastor. Writing to
Monsignor Leonard, he said that his therapist "feels I am
more likely to function more efficiently as a pastor in a
Monsignor Leonard said in his deposition that he tried to
discourage those ambitions. "When you say pastor," he
wrote, "that adds another dimension that I am unable to
answer at this moment."
On June 6, 1977, Father Pipala wrote to then-Monsignor
O'Keefe with a progress report, saying that his therapist
felt he was "doing very well" and blaming the incident on
repressed tensions and anger. He said he worried that the
incident would be a stigma on his record.
In 1979, he appealed directly to Cardinal Terence Cooke for
a pastorship, saying three years had passed since his
"health problems" and that a doctor had given him a "clean
bill." He was rejected.
Two years later, after stressing his work with young
people, he won a job as associate pastor at the Church of
the Sacred Heart in Monroe, N.Y., under a pastor he had
known since early in his career.
Youth ProgramsA Teenage Club
Father Pipala settled into his job, coordinating the youth
ministry and working in drug and alcohol programs. His
license plate read, "Fred 66," a play on his nickname,
Father Ed, and the year of his ordination.
He also assumed a darker role: founder and leader of a club
called the Hole, based in the church basement.
It had several dozen members - all teenage boys, some with
strained relations with parents, others from broken homes.
The priest said in his deposition that he based the Hole on
the "philosophy of having someone who would be there all
the time, a place that one could go to share their thoughts
and feeling and not ending up in some bar talking to some
Yet, he said he gave the boys beer and liquor and showed
them pornographic videos. Father Pipala created an
initiation ceremony in which the teenagers, sworn to
secrecy, joined him in masturbating into a red cloth, an
act he would later compare to an ancient "tribal" ritual.
Each boy was given a small square of the cloth, and a
T-shirt with his number on the back.
By the time of his arrest in 1993, prosecutors said his
abuse had extended to oral and anal sex. They said dozens
of minors were initiated into his club and that he molested
boys in rectories, at a Jersey Shore condominium and during
a vacation in Massachusetts.
Throughout his seven years in Monroe, Father Pipala
continued to be frustrated in his attempts to win his own
parish, letters from his personnel file show.
But when he wrote archdiocese officials asking if there
were any doubts about his "health situation," they told him
not to worry.
"In response to your direct question whether you should
pursue the pastorate - my direct answer is `yes,' " Bishop
O'Keefe wrote back on Feb. 25, 1985. "You have many years
ahead of you to continue a fruitful priesthood. Be patient.
In time things will come together."
Another personnel director in 1986 went further. "The
future is bright with promise," said the Rev. Henry J.
Mansell, now the bishop of Buffalo.
All along, the personnel file shows, Father Pipala touted
his skill at working with young people. Finally, in July
1988, Cardinal O'Connor appointed him a pastor of St. John
the Evangelist in Goshen.
It is unclear whether Cardinal O'Connor or his predecessor,
Cardinal Cooke, knew about Father Pipala's history.
"I know that your dedication to the Lord and his Church
will have a fruitful influence on the young people of St.
John's," Cardinal O'Connor wrote.
The word that Father Pipala was going to lead his own
parish stunned Monsignor Leonard, the former personnel
During a priest's gathering in New York a few weeks after
the appointment, he bluntly told the personnel director who
had recommended the promotion, the Rev. Lawrence M.
Connaughton, that it was a mistake.
"He said nothing," Monsignor Leonard recalled in his
In an interview, Monsignor Connaughton said he did not
remember the conversation. He said the personnel board
collectively came up with Father Pipala's name, and that
there was no inkling of a problem.
"You can't help but feel badly," he said. "The community
seemed to think highly of him. Apparently he was able to
fool a number of people for a considerable period of time."
Double LifeWhen Dedication
In Goshen, Father Pipala continued to live a double life,
winning praise from some parishioners as an involved and
dedicated priest while covertly molesting boys.
But some in the parish and archdiocese were questioning his
behavior, and why he so often surrounded himself with young
boys, taking them to dinner and on overnight trips.
In 1989, for example, the parents of one boy who attended
John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen asked a summer
priest in the church whether it was appropriate for their
son to be around Father Pipala. The priest said he advised
them that it was not. "I wasn't comfortable with the way he
interacted with children," said the priest, who spoke on
the condition of anonymity.
Word of the concern got back to Father Pipala. Another of
the priests in Goshen who worked under him complained about
the parade of teenage boys through the rectory.
Father Pipala said in his deposition that he was questioned
by Msgr. Edward D. O'Donnell, the archdiocese personnel
director at the time, about the complaint and assured him
all was well.
Father Pipala said in the deposition that Monsignor
O'Donnell had suggested that he check in with Dr. Milone,
the psychiatrist in Harrison. "Just update your own
counseling situation," he said he was told.
In an interview, Monsignor O'Donnell said he was simply
responding to a complaint about too many teenagers in the
rectory and did not ascribe sexual overtones to it. He said
he did not remember being aware at the time of the 1977
incident, but he recalled running across an ambiguous
report about it in Father Pipala's personnel file several
In March 1992, Monsignor O'Donnell called to say that the
parents of a Monroe student were complaining that Father
Pipala had sexually abused their son. "He asked me if I, if
that was true, and I said `yes,' " Father Pipala said.
Monsignor O'Donnell immediately removed Father Pipala from
Goshen, and within a month the priest was sent for
long-term treatment at St. Luke Institute, a psychiatric
hospital in Suitland, Md.
But even there, records show, he was still writing to his
victims. "Hi Bro," he wrote to one. "Life at St. Luke is
interesting. I could literally write a book." He signed it,
"Love ya!, Fred."
It was not until early 1993 that the case became known to
law enforcement authorities, after a victim approached the
Orange County district attorney. That summer, Father Pipala
pleaded guilty to state charges of sodomy and sexual abuse
and federal counts of taking minors across state lines and
On April 15, 1994, as he was sentenced, Judge Pano Z.
Patsalos of Orange County Court said that Father Pipala's
superiors had known about his problem for many years.
"Unfortunately, their manner of handling such abuse was to
hide from it," he said, "by transferring you from one
community to another, thereby exposing you to new and
greater number of children for you to abuse, to violate,
and to permanently injure."
But Father Pipala was not held to account for all of his
victims. Prosecutors said only six were willing to come
forward and cooperate in the investigation.
And because the abuse dated back so far, victims were also
limited in their ability to sue. Ultimately, about a dozen
lawsuits were filed, which the archdiocese settled on
confidential terms, plaintiffs' lawyers said.
Some victims also declined to sue, said two lawyers, Marc
D. Orloff and Barbara J. Strauss, who represented some of
the victims. "Some of it may be fear, some of it may be
residual loyalty to the church, moral ambiguity about what
to do," Mr. Orloff said.
After the priest's arrest in 1993, Monsignor O'Donnell, the
archdiocese personnel director, got a call from the brother
of the boy molested years before at Moore High School, his
own records show.
In a note to the file, Monsignor O'Donnell said that the
brother asked why Father Pipala had been allowed to
continue to work with children. The brother spoke of the
"renewed anguish that he, his mother, and his brother have
had to endure."