Fr. Ernest C. Paone – Diocese of Pittsburgh

Father Ernest Paone

Diocese of Pittsburgh

Ernest Paone Diocese of Pittsburgh Horowitz LawOrdained: 1957

Retired: 2001

Death: 2012

Assigned as follows:

  • 06/1957 – 12/1960: St. Titus (Aliquippa, PA)
  • 12/1960 – 05/1961: Epiphany (Uptown, PA)
  • 05/1961 – 10/1961: Mother of Sorrows (McKees Rocks, PA)
  • 10/1961 – 05/1962: St. Monica (Wampum; St. Theresa (Koppel, PA)
  • 05/1962 – 05/1966: Madonna of Jerusalem (Sharpsburg, PA)
  • 05/1966 – 02/2001: Leave of Absence Health Reasons
  • 09/1966 – 02/2001: Ministry in Los Angeles & San Diego, California and Las Vegas, Nevada

Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father Ernest Paone:

Father Ernest Paone was ordained a priest in 1957, who served in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. According to media reports, in May 1962, the Pastor of St. Monica where Father Ernest Paone was serving as Parochial Vicar, notified Bishop John Wright that he had interceded to prevent Paone from being arrested for “molesting young boys of the parish and the illegal use of guns with even younger parishioners.”

Sheedy advised Wright that Paone was involved in “conduct degrading to the priesthood” and “scandalous to the parishioners.” In response, the Diocese of Pittsburgh reassigned Paone to Madonna of Jerusalem in Sharpsburg rather than having Father Paone arrested for molestation.

In August 1964, the District Attorney of Beaver County, Robert Masters, sent a letter to Bishop Vincent Leonard of the Diocese of Pittsburgh with respect to a sexual abuse investigation of Paone. The District Attorney advised the Diocese of Pittsburgh that “in order to prevent unfavorable publicity,” he had “halted all investigations into similar incidents involving young boys.” No further action was taken against Paone after the decision made by the Masters and the District Attorney’s office.

In September 2017, Masters testified before the Grand Jury and was confronted with his letter which the Grand Jury obtained from Diocesan files. When asked by the attorney for the Commonwealth why he would defer to the Bishop on a criminal matter, Master replied, “Probably respect for the Bishop. I really have no proper answer.” Masters also admitted he was desirous of support from the Diocese of Pittsburgh for his political career.

For approximately one year, Paone was without a clear assignment within the Diocese. In 1966, Wright granted Paone an indefinite leave of absence “for reasons bound up with your psychological and physical health as well as spiritual well-being.”

Following this leave of absence, Paone relocated to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, however, Paone’s home Diocese remained the Diocese of Pittsburgh, meaning the ability to remove Paone from ministry or permit him to continue in ministry resided in the Bishop of Pittsburgh.

In the subsequent years, Paone would require continued authorization from the Diocese of Pittsburgh to remain in active ministry among the Catholic faithful and their children. This was demonstrated in documents obtained by the Grand Jury from the secret or confidential archives of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

A Convenient Change of Location

During the decades between Paone’ s departure from Pennsylvania in 1966 and 1991,
Paone served as pastor of a parish in Diamond Bar, California. Paone reported to the Diocese that his service included hearing “many confessions in that parish.” Paone also served in two parishes in the Diocese of San Diego. Paone taught in public schools and attended at least one course at Catholic University in San Diego while maintaining all priestly faculties through the Diocese of Pittsburgh. There is no indication that the Diocese provided any interested parties information that Paone had sexually abused children or that the Diocese had played a role in preventing his prosecution for that conduct.

As Paone continued in ministry, he did so with approval from the Diocese of Pittsburgh in spite of the Diocese’s knowledge that Paone was a child molester.

Paone was permitted to transfer to the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas in 1991 to serve as the Parochial Vicar at a local parish. Wuerl wrote that he had been updated on Paone’s recent meeting with Father Robert Guay and Father David Zubik. Wuerl noted that Paone has most recently served on a high school faculty in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Wuerl’ s continued approval permitted Paone to enjoy all the faculties of the Diocese.

Additional Allegations Made Against Father Paone

On July 25, 1994, the Diocese of Pittsburgh received another complaint of child sexual abuse committed by Paone in the 1960s. The victim’s sister came forward and reported that after becoming aware of the abuse, her father “went to the rectory with a shotgun and told Father Paone that he better leave town.” The Diocese sent him to St. Luke’s Institute for an evaluation.

In a confidential letter sent to St. Luke’s, the Diocese acknowledged that Paone had been teaching seventh and eighth-grade students in the Diocese of San Diego for 19 years.

Paone Gets Continued Support from the Diocese of Pittsburgh Despite Numerous Allegations

Further, in another confidential memorandum sent from Zubik to Wuerl, Paone’ s various assignments and sexual abuse complaints were again listed in detail. The Grand Jury noted that this process showed no concern for public safety or the victims of child sexual abuse.

The Grand Jury discovered that this 1994 complaint resulted in the generation of Diocesan records that noted an even greater extent of knowledge regarding Paone’ s sexual conduct with children. An August 1994, confidential memorandum sent from Zubik to Wuerl advised him of this new complaint against Paone and that due to this complaint, his file was reviewed “with great care.”

Among other things, Zubik advised Wuerl that questions about Paone’s emotional and physical health were raised as early as the 1950s, while he was still in seminary. Zubik further advised of Paone’s various assignments and correspondence over the years, before also describing the multiple records documenting the Diocese’s knowledge of his sexual abuse of children as early as 1962.

Wuerl responded by dispatching letters notifying the relevant California and Nevada
Dioceses of the 1994 complaint. However, Wuerl did not report the more detailed information contained within Diocesan records. The Diocese did not recall Paone; nor did it suspend his faculties as a priest.

Only Great “External Force” Prompts Action

In January 2002, an article which detailed the Catholic Church’s practice of reassigning priests accused of sexual abuse of children was published in the Boston Globe newspaper. In response, a letter was dispatched in May 2002, by Father James Young, Episcopal Vicar for Clergy and Religious, to Father Michael Murphy of the Diocese of San Diego, advising him that due to the “recent difficulties in the Church and having raised the bar on allegations brought against our priests,” the Diocese of Pittsburgh was removing the faculties of Paone and placing him on administrative leave.

The Grand Jury noted that only this external force generated the action which should have occurred decades earlier.

In June 2002, another victim advised the Diocese of Pittsburgh that he was sexually abused by Paone in the 1960s. The abuse included fondling, oral sex, and anal sex. It occurred at the victim’s house, at a hunting camp to which Paone had access to in the woods, and, in Paone’s car. Paone also provided the victim with alcohol, pornographic magazines, and cash.

In July, the Diocese notified Paone about this new complaint. Then, in July 2002, the Diocese of Pittsburgh notified the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office of “inappropriate touching that occurred around 1962-63 when the alleged victim was age 15.”

Approximately 41 years after the Diocese learned that Paone was sexually assaulting children, he finally retired from active ministry. In spite of Wuerl’ s statements to the Vatican, the clear and present threat that Paone posed to children was hidden and kept secret from parishioners in three states. Wuerl’ s statements had been meaningless without any action.

Three years after Paone’ s retirement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh received an update. A February 2006 confidential memorandum from Father John Rushofsky, Clergy Personnel, was obtained by the Grand Jury and revealed that Paone had been “assisting with confessions for confirmation-age children, apparently asking inappropriate questions of the young penitents.” When questioned about this, Paone told local Diocesan officials that he had received permission from the Diocese.

The Diocese dispatched a letter to Paone to remind him that his faculties had been revoked.

Paone died in 2012. He was named publicly as accused in a priest profile in the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. His name was included on Archdiocese of Los Angeles Updated List of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse released in 2018, as well as on the Diocese of Las Vegas 2019 List.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Pennsylvania, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh may have legal options, but filing deadlines will apply so do not delay in reaching out to us.

Contact us at (888) 283-9922 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options today.