Priest Charged with Child Porn after Removal from Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese
By Andrew Del Greco
May 20, 2013
|The Rev. David Dzermejko posted these signs on a church building in Charleroi after someone vandalized it in 2007.|
PITTSBURGH —A Catholic priest who was removed from public ministry after an allegation of past child sex abuse was deemed "credible" by the Pittsburgh diocese has now been indicted on a federal charge of possessing child pornography.
The indictment announced on Monday doesn't specify how much porn the Rev. David Dzermejko allegedly had on his computers in January. The 64-year-old man, who now lives in Braddock, was the pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church in Charleroi when he was removed in 2009.
Dzermejko was first put on administrative leave after a diocesan spokesman said there appeared to be "some semblance of truth" to the abuse allegations, and he was eventually removed from public ministry after Bishop David Zubik said the allegations were deemed "credible." But Dzermejko was never criminally charged with the alleged abuse, which dated back to the 1980s and involved another parish.
Defense attorney John Knorr said prosecutors have provided few details about the new child porn allegations so far. He said that Dzermejko has pleaded not guilty "and we're expecting that he'll persist in that." Records show that the indictment was returned on May 7 and unsealed on Friday, and that Dzermejko is free on $50,000 unsecured bond.
The one-count indictment only says that Dzermejko possessed an unspecified number of photographs in computer graphic files featuring "minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct." The conduct isn't detailed in the indictment, which also seeks the forfeiture of his laptop computer, a personal computer, an external hard drive and a smartphone.
"I have pledged to civil authorities the full cooperation of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the investigation of David Dzermejko. The alleged behavior is heinous and the community -- and the children of our community -- must be protected," Zubik said in a written statement.
The diocese had "no knowledge" of the alleged porn possession, according to Zubik, who said child porn is "a criminal act for which society will rightly hear no excuse, accept no extenuating circumstances or grant any mercy. It is criminal in the eyes of society; it is criminal in the eyes of the Church. 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.
The Diocese housed Dzermejko until January when federal authorities were tipped off to the allegations of child pornography.
"These charges we just heard about today are result of them visiting his apartment January of this year and that was unexpected by us, we didn't know until it happened,"said Pittsburgh Diocese Spokesperson Father Ron Lengwin.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, say this raises questions about why accused priests are still housed and supported by the church.
The diocese says it makes more sense than putting the accused in local neighborhoods, but SNAP says the Diocese's monitoring of the former priest, is not enough.
"If they are in Diocesan building and it's owned by the Diocese, and nobody is monitoring that accused pedophile, he comes and goes as he pleases and it's proof right now this man had access to child pornography and nobody caught it," said Pittsburgh-area SNAP representative Frances Samber.
Dzermejko moved out of the Diocesan housing after the federal raid of his bedroom. He now lives in this Braddock home. Braddock neighbors said they were surprised to learn of these charges and past allegations.
"If he was on some kind of sex offender list, and he was in someone's neighborhood, people could have access to that list and see who is living amongst them," said Samber.
The Diocese says it is doing its part to find predators, sending letters asking people to report these abusers.
"We sent letters to every parish, saying if you've ever been abused by priest, contact the Diocese or the state, and that's how these allegations come in," said Father Lengwin.