Former Reading-area priest charged with possession of child pornography
By Liam Migdail-Smith
September 14, 2016
|Monsignor John S. Mraz|
EMMAUS - A senior Allentown Catholic Diocese priest who began his career in Reading was caught with child pornography on his computer, Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin said Tuesday.
Officials said Monsignor John S. Mraz admitted that he sought out and viewed the images for his sexual gratification. They said the investigation began after a parishioner of Mraz's Emmaus church reported uncovering a file with a name along the lines of â€œnaked little boysâ€ while performing maintenance the priest had requested.
Mraz, 66, is the former pastor of the Church of St. Ann, a neighborhood church with an on-campus elementary and middle school. He taught at the former Reading Central Catholic High School from 1975 to 1980 and was an assistant superintendent of the diocesan school system.
The allegations came as a shock to some parishioners in the neighborhood.
“I was heartbroken,” said Carmela Mannino, a neighborhood resident who splits her time at church between St. Ann and another parish where she used to live. “My stomach hurts from just thinking about it.”
Diocesan officials said Tuesday that Mraz “has been removed from public ministry and cannot present himself as a priest.” He is free on $50,000 unsecured bail following an arraignment before Lehigh County District Judge Donna R. Butler.
Martin said his investigators did not turn up any evidence of Mraz directly sexually abusing children, only that he searched for and viewed child pornography. But he said people should contact his office if they know of any other misconduct by Mraz.
“Obviously if the filing of these charges gives rise to concern on the part of parishioners or other people associated with Monsignor Mraz, I would encourage them to come forward,” Martin said. “But I have no evidence of that occurring at this point.”
Mraz's attorney, John J. Waldron of Allentown, said he plans to order a forensic psychological analysis of his client to determine how to proceed. He urged the public not to rush to judgment and remember that while Mraz has been charged with the child pornography offenses, he isn't accused of molestation.
“At this point, they're just depictions on a computer, there's no allegations of physical contact,” Waldron said. “It's still a crime obviously. But sometimes people jump to conclusions.”
According to Martin and investigators, Mraz asked a parishioner to perform maintenance and updates on his laptop the week of July 25. The parishioner found deleted files of nude males of unknown ages, they said.
Officials said Mraz then asked the parishioner to update another laptop, on which the parishioner found the “naked little boys” file. The parishioner returned the computer to Mraz the first week of August and then told diocesan officials what he found.
Martin said his office was contacted by the diocese in an Aug. 12 letter and investigated. Investigators obtained a search warrant and seized Mraz's computers Aug. 19.
Investigators said the computers contained numerous child pornography files, including an image of two young boys engaged in sex acts. They said they also found Mraz had conducted internet searches for “Small Boy Nudes,” “handcuffed nude boys” and other terms involving young boys and sexual acts.
Mraz was charged with sexual abuse of children, criminal use of a communication facility and related offenses. He lived at the church until recently moving to Holy Family Villa for Priests in Bethlehem, investigators said.
Reached for comment, the diocese provided a written statement and information on Mraz's background, adding that it would not comment beyond the statement because the matter “is now in the hands of the judicial system.”
“Last month, the presence of suspicious content on Monsignor's computer was brought to the attention of the Diocese,” the statement read. “The Diocese immediately notified law enforcement officials and cooperated completely with the investigation that resulted in the charges filed today.”
Martin praised the diocese for its cooperation with authorities.
While in Reading, Mraz resided at St. Joseph Church in Reading, Immaculate Conception Church in Birdsboro, and St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Spring Township. He came to St. Ann in 2008 after holding several pastoral and educational roles in Schuylkill, Lehigh and Northampton counties.
Shock to parishioners
The neighborhood around St. Ann was largely quiet mid-day Tuesday, other than the presence of news reporters and a road crew working on a paving job. But word about the charges got around through news reports, social media and conversations.
Carmela Mannino moved to Emmaus two years ago but said she's known Mraz for longer. He was a regular in her ex-husband's restaurant. Having grown up in a family with clergy members, Mannino said she made an effort to get to know the priest.
“He seemed like a really nice guy when I talked to him,” she said.
Mannino said she expects it will take some time for the parish to heal. She said she was concerned about the kids in the neighborhood, including her own three children who are now teens.
Her neighbor, an 81-year-old woman who declined to give her name, said she's been a parishioner at St. Ann her entire life. She got to know Mraz during his time there, sometimes ribbing him in the supermarket for looking at items that were bad for his diabetes.
“To me, it's a shock,” she said. “I just couldn't believe it.”
She said she worries about the future of the parish that saw her through her baptism and confirmation. And she said she's upset that for the weeks that Mraz was under investigation, parishioners were told he was out for health reasons.
“Why didn't they just tell us the truth and have it over with?” she asked. Then, she again tried to wrap her head around the allegations that had put her in a state of shock.
“What do people get out of it?” she asked, shaking her head. “I don't know.”