Western Pa. Priest Removed from Ministry over Sex Abuse Allegation Enters Child Pornography Plea
By Joe Mandak
November 7, 2013
A Roman Catholic priest removed from public ministry in 2009 after an allegation of past child sex abuse pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge of possessing child pornography, and a diocesan official said the clergyman could be removed from the priesthood entirely or be assigned to a life of "prayer and penance" by the Vatican.
The Rev. David Dzermejko, 65, of Braddock, faces a likely term of more than three years in federal prison when he is sentenced March 20, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bloch. The priest and his attorney declined to comment after Thursday's hearing.
Dzermejko was the longtime pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church parish in Charleroi when he was removed from active ministry. He never was criminally charged in the alleged abuse, which dated to the 1980s and involved another parish. The allegations surfaced in 2009 when a couple accused Dzermejko of molesting their son, who had since died. Another man came forward to accuse the priest after seeing news reports about the couple's claims.
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik determined the allegations were sufficient to remove Dzermejko from priestly duties after a diocesan review board deemed them "credible."
The Diocese of Pittsburgh issued a statement saying that it "had no knowledge" of Dzermejko's criminal activity and re-issued a statement Zubik made last January.
"Viewing child pornography is a criminal act for which society will 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," Zubik's statement read.
Dzermejko's case was referred to the Vatican in 2009, as was information about the federal child pornography charges that stemmed from a search of his residence in January and resulted in a grand jury indictment in May.
Bloch said Dzermejko's residence — then an apartment in Hampton Township supplied by the diocese — was searched because Microsoft advised the Crimes Against Children Task Force in Pittsburgh that someone using a screen name and email later determined to be Dzermejko's had uploaded child pornography on a computer.
Dzermejko's screen name was "Lord Winchester Cuthbert Thurston VII" and his Hotmail user name was "dawizard," Bloch told U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer.
During the search, Dzermejko told investigators that he had been "viewing child pornography for perhaps the last 10 years" and volunteered that he had traveled to Thailand several times to meet teenage boys for sex, "some of whom he continued to maintain an online relationship with," Bloch said.
According to federal sentencing guidelines, Dzermejko likely faces a prison sentence between 37 and 46 months, Bloch said. Defense attorney John Knorr told the judge he believes the guideline range should be shorter but didn't offer specifics.
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the church has not issued a final determination on Dzermejko's priestly status because it has been waiting for the federal case to be resolved.
Now that it has, Lengwin said the Vatican must determine "whether or not he should be removed from the priesthood or whether he has to enter a life of prayer and penance."
Dzermejko has already been barred from presenting himself as a priest in public, but he is still paid by the diocese. He now lives in the house where he grew up, which was willed to him by his parents.
If Dzermejko is removed as a priest, he'll lose the church's financial support, but he'll still receive some kind of compensation if he's assigned to a life of penance, Lengwin said.