Former Charleroi Pastor Indicted on Child Pornography Charge
By Brian Bowling
May 20, 2013
A federal grand jury indicted a former pastor in Charleroi for child pornography in an investigation with which the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said it is cooperating.
The diocese removed him from ministry four years ago when allegations of sexual abuse surfaced.
Court documents, unsealed Friday, show the grand jury indicted David Dzermejko, 64, of Braddock on May 7 and he pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.
Dzermejko, the former pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church parish in Charleroi, is free on a $50,000 unsecured bond.
The one-count indictment, which carries up to 10 years in prison if Dzermejko is convicted, said only that he possessed an unspecified number of photographs in computer graphic files featuring “minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” A forfeiture petition seeks the priest's laptop computer, a personal computer, an external hard drive and a smartphone.
Defense attorney John Knorr said prosecutors provided few details. He noted that Dzermejko pleaded not guilty last week “and we're expecting that he'll persist in that.”
“The alleged behavior is heinous and the community — and the children of our community — must be protected,” Bishop David Zubik said in a statement the diocese released.
Christine Cardinale, an attorney from North Charleroi and lifelong member of Mary, Mother of Church Parish, called the charges “very regrettable” and said Dzermejko is innocent until proven guilty.
“There was never any sign of anything like this,” Cardinale said. “I hope he is not proven guilty and I would be very surprised if he is.”
The diocese removed Dzermejko from active ministry in June 2009 and forbade him from celebrating the sacraments publicly, from wearing clerical attire or presenting himself as a priest.
“We had no knowledge that he was involved in the activity for which he has now been charged,” Zubik said.
Dzermejko lost his privileges as a priest when allegations surfaced that he sexually abused two minors more than 20 years ago. A woman said the priest molested her late husband as a child. Another man claimed childhood abuse by him after the woman came forward. Diocesan officials said then that Dzermejko denied wrongdoing.
A diocesan review board investigated and found the claims “credible,” said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, diocesan spokesman. When the church received the first accusation, “that allegation was immediately turned over to civil authorities,” Lengwin said.
Dzermejko had been assigned to the Charleroi parish for 18 years, the final 10 as its pastor, when the abuse allegations surfaced. He was initially placed on administrative leave. The alleged abuse involved another parish.
A third person made an allegation in January 2012. Although all of the accusations were forwarded to police, none resulted in criminal charges because they allegedly happened beyond the statute of limitations.
Lengwin said Dzermejko was living in his family home when the child pornography was discovered. While the church has sent priests to treatment centers for evaluation and treatment, that's a personnel matter he can't discuss, he said.
“We did everything that was available to the church,” Lengwin said.
In a letter to all priests and deacons of the Pittsburgh Diocese on Jan. 4, Zubik emphasized that “viewing child pornography is a criminal act.”
The indictment said Dzermejko possessed pornographic files on Jan. 13.
Zubik sent that letter two days after another suspended priest, the Rev. Bartley Sorensen, was sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison for collecting thousands of child pornography images on his computer, in books and on compact discs.
“The use of pornography by clergy violates the promises we made to God at our ordination,” Zubik said in the January letter. “The culture of adult pornography is a culture that also creates child pornography. It is one and the same. I cannot state it more strongly.”
He reiterated that stance in his statement Monday: “In society, viewing child pornography means imprisonment; in the church viewing child pornography is a crime in church law that means destruction of a priestly vocation and being permanently barred from ministry.
“May we all dedicate ourselves to rooting out this evil from society.”
Lengwin said the diocese will wait for the results of Dzermejko's federal prosecution before sending his case to the Vatican.
“The civil process has to end and then we do send it to the Holy See,” Lengwin said.
Staff writer Chuck Brittain and The Associated Press contributed. Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.