|Diocese Clarifies Handling of Porn Case
By Mark Guydish
October 24, 2009
State police needed freedom to investigate priest
SCRANTON – In response to questions raised about the handling of the Rev. Robert Timchak’s arrest on charges of possessing child pornography, the Diocese of Scranton issued a revised statement Friday providing more details.
Timchak, 43, turned himself in to authorities in Pike County on Oct. 19. State police at Dunmore charged him with 17 counts of sexual abuse of children and a single charge of criminal use of a communication facility and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. He was released on his own recognizance with a preliminary hearing set for Nov. 4.
The revised diocese statement notes there have been questions about “the time that elapsed between the initial allegation … and Father Timchak’s departure as assistant pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, Milford, and St. John Neumann, Lord’s Valley, in April 2009.”
The diocese also notes Timchak was a fourth-grade teacher at Notre Dame Elementary School, East Stroudsburg, from September through November 2007, and an “occasional substitute teacher” in December 2008.
“It is important to understand the time frame for this case and why it proceeded as it did,” the diocesan statement says.
On Dec. 9, the diocese received an anonymous letter about “possible improper use of a computer” by Timchak, and contacted the Pike County district attorney. State police “ordered the diocese to refrain from informing” Timchak. “The State Police wanted complete freedom to investigate without Father Timchak knowing what was occurring.”
Police confiscated Timchak’s computer on April 4, but “at the time of the confiscation of the computer, the Diocese of Scranton had no knowledge or confirmation that Father Timchak’s computer contained pornographic material.” Timchak sought medical treatment April 23 and the diocese “directed him to a facility where appropriate care was given with the knowledge and approval of the Pennsylvania State Police.”
“If Father Timchak had been accused of sexual abuse against a minor in the form of actual physical contact, and if this allegation was credible, he would have been removed immediately. In this case, there was an anonymous accusation that had to be investigated and verified before any action could be taken. The Diocese cooperated completely with law enforcement in this case from the beginning.”
Diocesan policy regarding sex abuse allegations was written to comply with “The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. The charter came in response to national scandals that began with reports in The Boston Globe and quickly spread to other dioceses.
Under the policy, if a priest admits to misconduct or if sufficient evidence is found in a preliminary investigation, he is immediately removed from priestly duties. If a priest is accused but denies guilt, the bishop decides whether he remains on duty during an investigation. In either case, appropriate public authorities are notified.
Timchak, popularly known as “Father Bob,” was ordained in 1992 and had been assigned over the years to Seton Catholic High School in Pittston, Bishop Hoban High School in Wilkes-Barre, and a Williamsport parish before heading Transfiguration Church in West Hazleton from 2002-06.
He oversaw the closing of the church school, then took a leave of absence before returning to take the assignments in Pike County. He also wrote a weekly column for The Times Leader, initially appearing in a Hazleton supplement in 2000 and later appearing in the main edition through April of this year. He also worked as a Luzerne County probation officer.
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