“Everyone is afraid of not knowing where Fr. Wingle went to . . . we are all hoping that he is okay!”
It’s been a month since Bishop James Wingle cited a lack of “stamina” as the reason for abruptly resigning as head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines.
His portrait still hangs in the hallway of the chancery in Thorold, and a picture of him remains on the diocese website, just to the right of the Pope’s.
Yet no one seems to know what’s become of him. Not even his temporary replacement, the young Monsignor Wayne Kirkpatrick, knows where Wingle is. He has a big box of mail for the bishop but no forwarding address.
With the Roman Catholic Church embroiled in a growing sex scandal, Wingle announced his departure on April 7 with a vaguely-worded letter that referred to unspecified “shortcomings.” He said he was going on a sabbatical, “centered on prayer and personal renewal.”
His exit has baffled and worried people he worked closely with. Only days earlier, Wingle was handing out Easter candies to nuns, attending meetings and making plans. And then — gone.
Speculation was rampant. It still is.
This from a posting on an online Catholic forum: “Everyone is afraid of not knowing where Fr. Wingle went to . . . we are all hoping that he is okay!”
Says Rev. Thomas Rosica, chief executive officer of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and a communications adviser to the Vatican: “He’s out of the country — that’s all we know. Where? God only knows.”
Wingle, 63, is an avid traveller. He became a bishop in 1993, serving first in Yarmouth, N.S, and later, in St. Catharines.
He is well-respected and outspoken. He denounced the nomination of Dr. Henry Morgentaler for an Order of Canada and was one of the key organizers of World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002.
The bishop’s resignation was accepted by the Pope three days after Easter Sunday, under a part of Canon law that requests a bishop resign if he can no longer fulfill his duties due to illness or other serious reasons.
“It came as a surprise to us all,” Kirkpatrick told The Catholic Register. “People were really shocked.” Monsignor Dominic Pizzacalla, the diocese’s Vicar General, described Wingle at the time as having worked under “tremendous pressures and stress.”
The resignation came two weeks after a former priest, Donald Grecco, pleaded guilty to sexually molesting three former altar boys between 1978 and 1986 while a parish priest in Cayuga and, later, in Welland.
Two of the victims had previously complained directly to the diocese. One came forward in Sept., 2001, four months before Wingle was installed as bishop of the diocese. The second came under Wingle’s watch in 2005.
The second victim was interviewed by a senior church official, and court was told that “nothing” was done. Police arrested Grecco in 2008 following a three-month investigation. An Ontario Provincial Police search warrant, executed on the diocese, uncovered the first victim. A third came forward after police issued a press release.
Grecco pleaded guilty in a Hamilton court to all charges on March 23. He is to be sentenced on June 3.
Could the Grecco case have something to do with Wingle’s resignation?
No one’s saying. Kirkpatrick won’t divulge what steps Wingle or the church took when the victims came forward with their allegations. He said he won’t discuss the case because it is still before the courts.
Pizzacalla interviewed the victim who came forward in 2005. He told the Star that church protocols for dealing with sex abuse allegations were followed.
“There are procedures that we go through and the procedures were carried out,” he says.
Pizzacalla refused to specify what those procedures are, saying they could be found on the diocese’s website. Unlike other dioceses, it appears St. Catharines does not post its policy.
Rosica says people have a right to know what actions Wingle and the diocese took.
“It doesn’t smell right,” says Rosica, a Toronto-based member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which advises the Pope on, among other things, how to handle sex abuse scandals.
“When the (resignation) announcement came out, I had a number of bishops phoning me and say, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And I said, ‘You’re asking me!’ ”
He adds: “The timing was unbelievable.”
Wingle’s resignation and whereabouts are also a mystery to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, an association all the country’s bishops belong to but which exercises no authority over the way dioceses are run.
“If you find out, tell me,” said conference spokesperson Christine Choury, referring to Wingle’s whereabouts. Choury was stunned to learn that officials at the St. Catharines diocese refuse to speak to the media about Wingle.
Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, a member of the conference’s permanent council, says he too is in the dark about Wingle.
“People are raising all sorts of questions, so I can understand people’s desire to know,” he said. “At the same time, I believe there’s a right to personal privacy. This can be a very private issue which has nothing to do with what is preoccupying people, and I think we have to respect that.”
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