Priests with ties to Detroit among 300 accused in Pennsylvania report

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Two members of the Fortney family console each other, as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro describes the abuse their family suffered at the hands of Father Gus Giella, during a news conference on the findings of the Grand Jury Report on Child Sexual Abuse in six Catholic Dioceses in Pennsylvania at the State Capital on Tuesday.

Three priests with ties to Metro Detroit are among 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania accused of molesting more than 1,000 children since the 1940s, according to a state grand jury report released Tuesday that accused senior church officials of covering up complaints.

The accused include:

♦Ronald Yarrosh, who worked as an assistant promotion director for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Detroit in 1974 and 1975. He returned to Detroit from 1977 to 1981.

Yarrosh worked in Pennsylvania parishes from 1982 until April 2004, when the Pennsylvania State Police searched his rooms found a "tremendous amount" of child pornography, the grand jury's report said.

The Pennsylvania State Police filed 110 counts of sexual abuse of children against Yarrosh after discovering hundreds of child pornography photos, books, magazines, videos and DVD's in his possession.

♦Robert E. Spangenberg, who worked an associate pastor at Old St. Mary's in Detroit's Greektown, sometime between 1974 and 1977, starting a new job in a parish in Pennsylvania in 1977. He worked in parishes in five other states through 1997.

The diocese was first notified of a problem with Spangenberg's ministry in 1988. A woman wrote to the diocese and to the Vatican in order to obtain help for her son, the report says.

Documents provided by the Diocese of Pittsburgh show Spangenberg was involved with at least two children. The report does not say where those alleged incidents occurred.

Spangenberg died in 2006.

♦Anthony J. Cipolla, who was a priest from 1972 to 2002 in multiple parishes in Pennsylvania.

Cipolla was first accused of sexually abusing children, specifically, two brothers who were ages 9 and 12 in 1978 while Cipolla was assigned to St. Francis Xavier in Pittsburgh. The abuses occurred in Cipolla' s bedroom in the rectory and also in a hotel room in Dearborn, the report said.

Cipolla was moved by his superiors from parish to parish throughout the diocese several times during his tenure, for a total of eight moves in a 16-year period, the report says.

Cipolla died in 2016.

An official with the Archdiocese of Detroit confirmed Wednesday that Yarrosh and Spangenburg worked in Detroit. No record of Cipolla serving in ministry in the archdiocese was found, said Holly Fournier, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Fournier said the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions confirmed that from 1977-81, Yarrosh was based in Detroit while traveling the country to make mission appeals during masses.

"We have no records of allegations brought to the AOD. In addition, we weren’t notified by his order or the Allentown diocese regarding the later allegations," Fournier said of Yarrosh.

Fournier said Spangenburg was a religious order priest, with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit Province of the United States, also known as Spiritans.

"He briefly served as associate pastor at Old St. Mary’s in Greektown from July 1975 until December of that same year when he moved to a parish in Pittsburgh," Fournier said.

"We have no records of allegations brought to the AOD. In addition, we weren’t notified by his order or the Pittsburgh diocese regarding the later allegations," she said.

Fournier said regarding Cipolla, she found an article that indicates he may have taught at St. Anselm School in Dearborn Heights for one year, in the late 1960s or early '70s.

"This would have been before his ordination into the priesthood in 1972. However, we were unable to find any record of his employment, so we can’t confirm this," she said.

The archdiocese has no records of allegations against Cipolla, she said.

"The accusations against him, including about an incident in Dearborn, were brought to Pittsburgh police and the Pittsburgh diocese. To our knowledge, the abuse was not reported to Dearborn police, and the Pittsburgh diocese did not advise us on this case," Fournier said.

On Monday, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron issued a letter calling for an accounting for the failures that have occurred.

"This summer’s news reports affirm why we — as bishops, priests, Church representatives and lay people — must be ever vigilant to protect children from abuse and must re-double our efforts of outreach and healing to those most harmed by sexual abuse," Vigneron said in his letter.

The roughly 900-page report accused senior church officials, including a clergyman who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., of systematically covering up complaints.

The “real number” of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward, the grand jury said.

U.S. bishops adopted widespread reforms in 2002 when clergy abuse became a national crisis for the church, including stricter requirements for reporting accusations to law enforcement and a streamlined process for removing clerics who abuse children. But the grand jury said more changes are needed.

"Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the report. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”

Top church officials have mostly been protected and many, including some named in the report, have been promoted, the grand jury said, concluding that “it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”

In nearly every case, Pennsylvania prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed.

More than 100 of the priests are dead. Many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two as a result of the grand jury investigation, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty, though some of those named had been charged years ago.

The investigation of six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — is the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state, according to victim advocates. The dioceses represent about 1.7 million Catholics.

Details on the allegations against Yarrosh say on April 29, 2004, he was removed from priestly ministry and entered a hospital for evaluation and treatment.

On May 12, 2004, the Pennsylvania State Police filed 110 counts of sexual abuse of children against him. Yarrosh pleaded guilty to charges of theft and possession of child pornography and was sentenced to three to 23 months.

After his release in 2005, Yarrosh registered with the Pennsylvania State Police as a sexual offender. Yarrosh was still a priest, the report says.

In November 2006, it was discovered that Yarrosh had taken trips to New York City with a 7-year-old child, the report says. Yarrosh also was found to be in possession of pornography, in violation of his court supervision.

Yarrosh was sentenced to 4 to 10 years in state prison for violating the terms of his supervision. In June 2007, the diocese dismissed Yarrosh from the priesthood.

Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions remains in operation in Detroit. No one from the organization was immediately available for comment.

The grand jury report on Spangenberg did not provide a date for his employment in Detroit. Records indicate it was likely between 1974 and 1977.

According to the report, the state grand jury said most information on Spangenberg came through newspaper articles and Spangenberg's own obituary.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh was first notified that there was a problem with Spangenberg's ministry in 1988. A woman wrote to the diocese and to the Vatican, naming Spangenberg as her son's abuser.

She stated another priest from Spangenberg's order was helping them with counseling. She wrote that she was upset that her letter was simply "noted" and that she has not heard from anyone regarding the matter since.

Officials did not take the accusation by the victim's family seriously enough to remove him, the report says, but they did reassign Spangenberg to a retirement home in Florida.

The grand jury report says in 2009, an adult male reported that when he was 15 to 16 years of age, he and Spangenberg engaged in sexual encounters.

The boy reported that he was involved in street prostitution with young boys known as "Hustlers." He was befriended by Spangenberg and said Spangenberg promoted the activity by engaging the boy in sexual activities after he ran away from home.

Spangenberg also paid the boy a finder's fee for him to locate younger hustlers to have sex with, the report says. The boy reported that Spangenberg enjoyed sniffing glue while Spangenberg performed oral sex on him.

The report said Spangenberg would pay for his sexual services with money from the collection box, typically one-dollar bills, and also would pay the boy in drugs and alcohol.

In Cipolla's case, criminal charges were filed again him after the victims' mother called the Pittsburgh Police Department.

The report says the charges were not pursued to a conclusion because, according to the mother, she was harassed and threatened by church officials to drop the charges and to "let the church handle it."

Members of the Pittsburgh Police Department who investigated the abuse of the brothers testified before the grand jury. They interviewed the first victim, who said on July 25, 1978, he had gone to St. Francis Xavier church/rectory for communion instructions.

The victim reported that he was taken to Cipolla's bedroom after he had answered some questions on his catechism instructions.

In the bedroom, the victim was told, "I (Cipolla) did this to you before. I'll do this again."

According to the victim, Cipolla shut all of the curtains and told the victim to take off his clothes. Cipolla took all of his clothes off and Cipolla placed a thermometer in the boy's mouth and a stethoscope to his chest and told him he was going to examine him again.

The boy reported that Cipolla proceeded to molest and sexually assault him.

Cipolla told him that this was their secret and it would be a sin if he told anyone. He was made to sign a paper saying he would not tell anyone, the report said.

Detectives were told by parents that when the victim came home, he seemed scared. When they questioned him about it, he told them what had happened.

The second victim was interviewed by the detectives and reported that he was a victim of the same type of conduct as his brother. He believed that these incidents occurred "during the early vacation period of the summer of 1977."

He explained that after school let out for the summer and before a trip to Dearborn, he was told to get a physical examination.

Cipolla informed his mother that if her son came to the rectory, he would check her son's heart and blood pressure and they would not have to spend any money.

When the second victim arrived at the rectory, he was told to take off all of his clothing. Cipolla took his blood pressure, checked his heart with a stethoscope, then sexually assaulted him.


The first victim explained to the grand jury how the abuse affected his life, the report said.

"He noted his suffering (losing his father to suicide and losing his brother who was struck and killed by a car) and stated that he would have been able to handle it better 'without [the sexual abuse] happening to me, you know. I feel like I would've had a way more sound mind,' " the report said.

The grand jury also heard testimony by the second victim about the effect his abuse by Cipolla. He stated that Cipolla sexually assaulted him while giving him an exam at the St. Francis Xavier rectory and a second time at a hotel room in Dearborn.

He said, "Basically, when a child is fooled with in any way, shape, or form, it is a lasting injury. It is a lifelong injury...I still have, you know, my issues with authority at points; and I still have my anger issues, but making great strides," he said.

"And if there is anything that you as a grand jury can do to ensure that you -- if you can save just one child, I have done my job. You have done yours. Please, please protect the children. Please."

The Associated Press contributed.