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Retiring priest psychologist served the FBI and the diocese

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Father Anthony J. Pinizzotto stood amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center Sept. 12, 2001, totally in awe of the men and women working around him. The priest was there in his capacity as a forensic psychologist for the FBI, but in the end, caring for the psychological needs of the first responders was secondary.


“Everyone who was there just rolled up his or her sleeves and started to dig in the rubble. Everyone on hand helped out in the recovery, and tirelessly,” said the Oblate-turned-diocesan priest. “That saying that people use commonly, ‘no stone was left unturned’ — I tell you no stone was left unturned looking for survivors or eventually recovering (bodies).”


Father Pinizzotto was moved as he witnessed firefighters and police men and women carrying the bodies of one of their own. “I was struck by the dedication of the men and women of the fire department and police department,” he said. “(There was) such an emotional tenor on those scenes that I’ll never forget. That was touching, even to an old grizzled forensics psychologist.”


Being at Ground Zero stands out of all his experiences in a lifetime of service to his church and country.


Born Dec. 20, 1949, in Harrisburg, Pa., Father Pinizzotto attended St. Ann Parochial School in Steelton, Pa., and graduated from Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg in 1967. He entered the Oblates later that year and made his first profession of vows in 1968. He made his perpetual vows in 1971 and earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa., in 1974.


He earned a master’s degree in theology from De Sales Hall School of Theology in Chillum, Md., in 1978, the same year he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop John B. Minder at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Harrisburg.


Father Pinizzotto went on to earn a master’s degree in forensic psychology from City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1981 and a doctorate in psychology from Georgetown University in Washington in 1987.


While working on his degrees, Father Pinizzotto also taught at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia and the Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del.


While teaching psychology at Georgetown, Father Pinizzotto was recruited by the FBI. In 1988, he began working as an FBI forensic psychologist, first in Washington, then at Quantico while in residence at St. William of York Church in Stafford. He was the first psychologist to be promoted to the level of senior scientist within the FBI.


He relied on his faith as he processed the evil he witnessed on the job. Why and how God allows people to hurt one another still remains a great struggle for him to understand. “I know about free will, I know the answer that we give in theology but that’s so different when I’m dealing with a victim who was literally tortured. Why does God allow that to happen?” he said. “Whenever any of those atrocities happened, I brought it to Our Lord in the garden, where he experienced more psychological and spiritual terror, I think, than any of us. Yet he got through it knowing that he had a loving God.”


In 2008, Father Pinizzotto retired from the FBI and moved to St. Timothy Church in Chantilly, where he performed psychological assessments for the tribunal and continued working on projects with law enforcement agencies. In 2012, he became parochial vicar of St. Luke Church in McLean. His incardination into the Arlington Diocese was finalized in 2014.


In retirement, he plans to live at St. Agnes Church in Arlington and spend time writing about the psychology of St. Francis de Sales, as well as continuing his work for the tribunal and law enforcement. For years, Father Pinizzotto has researched and written about the use of deadly force by law enforcement and violence against law enforcement, a topic that has become especially timely of late. “I’ve already gotten a request from one large department to work on a contract basis to review cases where deadly force has been used,” he said.


Looking back, Father Pinizzotto says he’s enjoyed all the unexpected places his ministry has brought him. “I've seen the best and worst of people,” he said. “But clearly it’s the best in people that shines out the most and gives me hope for the future.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020