Commentary, National

Pittsburgh Priests I Knew Now Named in the Grand Jury Report: William B. Yockey

Pittsburgh, Mount Washington, Mt. Washington, William B. Yockey
The city of Pittsburgh as seen from Mount Washington. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Pittsburgh, PA-(ENEWSPF)- The impact of the Pennsylvania grand jury report has only started to resonate. Pittsburgh priests I knew, my family knew and trusted, priests my former neighbors knew and trusted, were named in this report. This is a first of a series of articles that will share details from the grand jury report of priests in Pittsburgh that I knew 30 or more years ago. That they were so influential on my faith and family when I knew them, reading now the things they allegedly admitted to or allegedly did — that makes the hurt all more real. I begin this series with details of William B. Yockey, who I met in the summer of 1986 when I served as a “Summer Seminarian” at St. Winifred Parish in Mt. Lebanon, PA.

There were Catholic priests in Pennsylvania who were accused of sexual misconduct with minors — or admitted to church officials that they molested children and teens — and the church did not act at all, or did not act appropriately.

That’s an extreme understatement.

In a previous piece, I noted priests from Pittsburgh who I knew who are now named in the grand jury report, including then-Father Donald Wuerl, now Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. My jaw continues to drop as I read each case individually.  This is not a report that should be dismissed.

The existence of this report is not evidence of an anti-Catholic bias in the government, nor is continued coverage of this report evidence of anti-Catholic bias in the media. That was a common line I heard when I was in the seminary. The media was considered “anti-Catholic” because even then, in the late 1980s, reporters dared to publish pieces about the child molestation scandals in the church. Likewise, this series is not the work of a former Catholic with an ax to grind. I still show up at Mass Saturday afternoons to play guitar and mandolin at St. Irenaeus in Park Forest.

In reading these articles, remember that the other side of all of this is that the vast majority of priests in the Catholic Church are wonderful, pastoral ministers who do incredible good. Many of our bishops have failed us, and because of their actions, the incredibly positive work of the majority of our clergy is too often eclipsed by this vast failure, the compounded abuse by a system that worked to hide criminal and alleged criminal actions.

So, no more hiding anything, any time. Let’s see how that system works.

One by one, this series of articles will feature details of cases from the Pennsylvania grand jury report of priests that I knew 30 or more years ago. The shock and disbelief of many Catholics in Pittsburgh are still raw. We need to read and digest what happened and then work as a people to demand reform.

The Case of William B. Yockey

William B. Yockey shows up as number 87, the 87th of the “Offenders Identified by the Grand Jury,” according to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the “40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report I, Interim, Redacted.”

William B. Yockey was never charged with a crime, so he is “innocent until proven guilty.” But the allegations against him, some of which he allegedly admitted to, according to the grand jury report, were never reported to law enforcement by officials in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

For several summers I worked as a “Summer Seminarian” at St. Winifred Catholic Church in Mt. Lebanon, PA. The work included going door-to-door during the day taking census, meeting and speaking with parishioners; and operating a youth drop-in center in the parish gym in the evenings. In the summer of 1986, the associate pastor was Rev. William B. Yockey. Bill was a friendly, down-to-earth sort of person who still maintained friendships with young men he worked with in previous assignments. Some of them joined us on a trip to Appalachia that summer working to renovate homes.

The next summer I was in the parish with Fr. Bill, he came to me one evening shortly after the pastor, Rev. Jeremiah T. O’Shea, had departed for his summer vacation. He told me that he could not tell me why, but he had to leave the parish effective immediately.

I thought perhaps he was joking. But he did leave, returning every couple of days to pick up his mail. There was nothing I could tell the parishioners because I knew nothing.

Eventually, before he returned to the parish a couple of weeks later, he told me that a young man he had worked with in a previous assignment had been arrested on a charge of vandalizing churches. He told the arresting officers at the time that he did so because Father Yockey had allegedly molested him. Bill was ordered by the Diocese of Pittsburgh to go to St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, for evaluation, when this accusation surfaced, according to Bill. Eventually, the young man recanted, according to Bill, and Fr. Yockey returned to the parish. At the time, while he was still officially “away” from the parish, I asked him how he felt going through all of this.

“Vulnerable,” I remember him saying. “If you’re alone with someone for five minutes, they can say anything later on.”

What I did not know at the time was there was more to the story of William Yockey that came to light with the Diocese of Pittsburgh in May 1991, according to the grand jury report. I have no knowledge at this time if the incident for which he said he was removed from St. Winifred’s is related to either of the allegations in the grand jury report.

Remember again, William B. Yockey was never charged with a crime, so he is “innocent until proven guilty.” But the allegations against him, some of which he allegedly admitted to, according to the grand jury report, were never reported to law enforcement by officials in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

From the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

The report details a hand-written letter dated May 27, 1991, by Father Robert Guay, himself now retired. In part, the letter stated (paragraph divisions added):

In May of 1991, a gentlemen [sic], age 25, came to one of our diocesan priests and alleged that he had been sexually molested by Yockey at the age of 16. This same gentleman also indicated that a friend of his had also been sexually molested by Yockey at the age of 18. A meeting was arranged with these two gentlemen regarding their allegations with diocesan officials. The gentlemen indicated they had gotten to know Yockey during his first parish assignment when they were in 6th or 7th grade. They became friends with Yockey, going to movies and shooting the breeze with him in his room at the parish.

After a year, Yockey was transferred to a new parish assignment and the friendship would continue. Yockey would often take (them) to his cabin outside the city to go fishing. They indicated that Yockey would always allow them to drink beer. One of the gentlemen would spend an overnight or weekends at Father Yockey’ s new assignment.

On one occasion [one gentleman] indicated that Yockey sexually molested him in October of 1981. The pair had returned to the rectory following a Halloween party. Both had been drinking. [The first victim] was a junior in High School, age 16. [The first victim] told us he “crashed out” following the party after drinking too much. He fell asleep on the couch in Yockey’s den. Yockey went to his own bedroom. At some point the victim fell off the couch and found Yockey fondling his genitals. Yockey then got on top of the victim and tried to kiss him. . . Another gentleman said a similar thing happened to him at another parish assignment in 1983. The [second victim] was 18 years of age at the time. Once again alcohol was involved by both Father Yockey and [the second victim]. The victim passed out and awoke to find Yockey feeling his genitals and attempting to kiss his genitals. . .

When Yockey was confronted about these allegations on May 20, 1991, he acknowledged that the incident with the [first victim}, age 16, was true. He also acknowledged that he, Yockey was drinking quite a lot during his first few years of ministry. When asked about the allegations regarding [the second victim}, age 18, Father Yockey does not recall anything, but he did note that they were probably drinking and that it was not impossible and won’t deny it, but he cannot remember it.

Yockey has been put on administrative leave from his assignment as chaplain to the County Jail. He is not to celebrate sacraments or … publicly. I trust this information is helpful to you in helping us discern what might be best for Father Yockey in the future. I might add that Yockey told us that he was never involved with anyone else that he is aware of.

“On July 18, 1991,” the report continues, “Yockey sent a letter of resignation to Bishop Donald Wuerl. A portion of the letter stated, ‘I have discussed my decision with Father Guay and he informed me that medical coverage and perhaps some salary would be available if I request it. I would appreciate it.'”

Later, on April 3, 2006, according to the report, a letter was sent from Father James G. Young, Episcopal Vicar for Clergy to “whom it may concern.” The letter stated:

Enclosed is a questionnaire that you sent in regards to William B. Yockey who has applied for a position with the Veterans Administration. William B. Yockey was a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh from May 1976 to August 1991, when he asked for and was granted a leave of absence for personal reasons. We have had no contact with him since that time and therefore are not able to provide any information for you.

In this letter, there was no mention of Mr. Yockey’s alleged admission to sexually molesting a minor, or of Mr. Yockey’s “potential threat to prospective victims,” according to the grand jury report.

Later still, on July 10, 2009, the report details a letter was received by Bishop David Zubik, current Bishop of Pittsburgh, from an individual who attended the Assumption in Bellevue. A portion of the letter stated:

Bishop Zubik, I was a victim of a sexual assault when I was in high school. Years later, a close friend shared a similar story involving the same priest. At that time we contacted Father John Gallagher at Assumption Parish. Father Gallagher set up a meeting with Father Guay and yourself. At some time in the near  future,  Bill  Yockey was dismissed or left the priesthood. I have never received a phone call or any contact from the Diocese concerning this matter.

On August 7, 2009, according to the grand jury report, “a confidential memorandum was sent from Rita Flaherty, Diocesan Assistance Coordinator, to Zubik.” A portion of the letter read (paragraph divisions added):

“In preparation for your meeting with [the victim] on August 11, 2009 at 12:00 p.m., I share the following information. The [victim] called me on July 9, 2009 to say that he was an abuse victim of Father William Yockey. He stated that he came forward in the early 1990’s when Father Bob Guay was in the Clergy Office. Father John Gallagher initially notified our office about his allegation as [the victim] first talked with Father Gallagher about this.

“The victim’s allegation against Yockey involved inappropriate sexual contact with [the victim and another individual]. At the time of the incident, [victim] was a senior in high school (age 18) but his friend was only 16. (Our confidential files confirms that both the victim and his friend, did indeed come to the diocese in 1991.) [Victim] stated that since he came forward, he has not asked anything of the diocese. At this time, he is requesting some assistance with the tuition for his three children so they can continue with their Catholic education … Since my first contact with [victim], I have been working with Ron Bowes, Father Kris Stubna and Father Jim Young to see what help might be available to the victim’s children.

“I have included a letter that was sent out to the victim’s family on July 27, 2009 showing the original amount of aid that was offered along with a revised amount. Father Young is also willing to offer an additional $2,000 in financial aid to the family as soon as he is able to figure out a confidential way to do this while at the same time, having a record for auditing purposes. Father Young planned to talk with either Fred O’Brien or Joe Luttringer about how best to accomplish this.”

And more from the grand jury report:

In a letter from Zubik to the aforementioned victim, the Bishop wrote, “I have received your letter requesting tuition support for your three children and I will make sure that your request is taken care of.” The Diocesan records contained records specifying certain payments to the victim. One such document dated April 10, 2012, noted that a total of $10,065 was provided to three of the victim’s children for their Catholic education. The money was taken from the “Catholic Charities Fund.” A document dated June 12, 2012, indicated that a total of $12,690 was provided for the catholic [sic] education of two of the victim’s children. The money was listed as “tuition assistance grants” for the 2012-2013 school year. A document dated June 6, 2013 listed that $7,860 was provided to two of the victim’s children from the Bishop’s Education Fund and Scholastic Opportunity Scholarship Fund. The payment was listed under an “educational grant award” for the 2013-2014 school year. Additional payments were made to the victim for the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years that totaled $24,130.00.

On December 17, 2013, a letter was received by Bishop Waltersheid. It was sent from an individual who stated that he was molested as a young boy by Yockey. On December 20, 2013, a meeting took place with the victim at the Diocese office. During the meeting, the victim stated his father died when he was nine years old and his mother died the following year. The victim was then raised by his maternal aunt, who lived in Wilkinsburg. The victim attended St. Bernadette in nearby Monroeville where Yockey was assigned from 1978 to 1983. While the boy attended the parish, Yockey began to molest him. The victim stated that Yockey performed oral sex on him in the rectory, in his [Yockey’ s] car, and even at the home of his aunt. During the meeting, the victim asked if there had been any other allegations made against Yockey. Waltersheid responded, “that there have been.” The victim was offered counseling by the Diocese.

The section relevant to William B. Yockey concludes, “Although the Diocese had information regarding alleged criminal actions on the part of Yockey as far back as the year 1986, there was only one document located in their files that was dated January 6, 2014 that illustrated a report to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office. The document was dated January 6, 2014. There was no mention of the history of Yockey’ s reported sexual assaults.”

David Zubik, bishop, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.

In 1991, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was bishop of Pittsburgh. In 2014, the last reference to William Yockey’s case in the grand jury report, regarding the “one document located in [Diocese of Pittsburgh] files that was dated January 6, 2014 that illustrated a report to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office. The document was dated January 6, 2014. There was no mention of the history of Yockey’ s reported sexual assaults,” Bishop David Allen Zubik served as bishop of Pittsburgh and continues to serve today in that position.