As the nation awaits the release of the bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report, some are wondering whether Washington, D.C.’s Cdl. Donald Wuerl will be the next cleric to fall after Cdl. Theodore McCarrick.
Wuerl was bishop of Pittsburgh for nearly two decades, from 1988–2006 — one of the six dioceses investigated in the grand jury report. As many as 300 predator priests from all six dioceses are named, but Pittsburgh stands out for supplying the largest share: nearly one third of the total number.
According to reports, at least 90 priests in Pittsburgh alone are implicated in the findings. And — a fact largely unknown to the public — Wuerl was named in multiple lawsuits during his tenure there, accused of conspiring to cover up sex abuse.
A Pederast Ring in Pittsburgh
Though often portrayed as a bishop tough on sex abuse and years ahead of his time in implementing “zero tolerance,” Wuerl’s actual history tells a different story.
The strangest case is one early on in his career: a priest pederast ring involving sadomasochism, drugs and teen altar boys. Three of the priests were eventually prosecuted, while the fourth alleged member wound up murdered in a small apartment in Havana, Cuba.
A Murdered Priest
On the morning of May 27, 2001, Fr. George Zirwas was found dead in an apartment on Calle Mazón, just east of the University of Havana. His Cuban boyfriend of three years, Ulises Sierra Tabares (a nurse in a psychiatric ward at Havana’s Manuel Fajardo Hospital), discovered the body.
“I looked in,” Tabares recounted, “and he was lying face down on the bed, and his neck and the side of his face I could see — the skin was dark, black. I ran out into the street in a panic. I was calling, ‘George is dead! George is dead!’ It was the only thing that came out of my mouth.”
News of the 47-year-old American priest’s death reached the U.S. State Department, which worked with the Swedish Embassy in Havana to bring his body back to the United States.
Abel Medina Valdes, a Cuban “rent boy” Zirwas had picked up the night before and brought back to the apartment, would later confess to murdering the priest by injecting an animal tranquilizer into the base of his neck, causing respiratory and cardiac paralysis.
Details also emerged of Zirwas’ life in Havana; though the diocese claimed he spent his time ministering to the poor there, rumors swirled that Zirwas had led a “flamboyant” gay lifestyle, and had even facilitated foreign sex trafficking, serving as liaison to American men looking to hook up with young Cuban prostitutes. On at least one occasion, Tabares witnessed a fellow Pittsburgh priest visiting Zirwas, although he did not reveal the name.
The diocese itself remained tightlipped, Wuerl’s spokesman, Fr. Ronald Lengwin, only revealing that Zirwas had been placed on administrative leave years earlier, though refusing to reveal why.
It was later discovered Zirwas had also taken two leaves of absence during a priestly career marked by frequent shuffling from parish to parish. Worse, Zirwas was associated with a pederast ring involving three other Pittsburgh priests.
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