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  St. Petersburg Priest Remains in Church after Canada Conviction

By Stephen Thompson
Tampa Tribune (Florida)
April 4, 2002

TELEVISION SPECIAL DETAILS ABUSE CASE

ST. PETERSBURG - The Rev. Matthew Berko admits he was accused of molesting a teenage girl at his parish in Ontario 17 years ago.

But that's about the only thing he says he has in common with an increasing number of Catholic priests facing similar accusations.

For starters, the charge against Berko, now pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, wound through the judicial system in Canada and made it into the newspaper.

Parishioners in his close-knit Ukrainian congregation knew about the 14-year-old's accusation.

And many of them didn't believe her.

The case against Berko, which was resolved in 1985, was featured Wednesday night in an ABC News special, "Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned." The special reported Berko is among 30 priests working in the church who had faced charges of sexually molesting children.

Indeed, Berko returned to Holy Dormition Ukrainian Catholic Church outside Toronto after serving a year of probation in Connecticut. And he was welcomed with applause on a Palm Sunday, according to documents from the Eparchy of Toronto, which he provided.

"This matter has been heard and settled, and it's ancient," Berko, 74, said Wednesday in his St. Petersburg home.

Berko's victim, Alexandra Myhal, told ABC News correspondent Cynthia McFadden that Berko had fondled her and tried to molest her.

Berko said he kissed the girl - he remembered her as "Sandy" - on the cheek as he was escorting her out the door.

He pleaded guilty on the advice of his attorney, he said, so neither his name nor that of the church would be smeared. But, he said, he's innocent.

The girl's family sued, and the Canadian courts awarded them $185,000, the special reported. But the family hasn't received anything.

Berko said the courts ruled the church owed Myhal nothing, and he has no money.

His associate pastors and parish council members in Canada expressed their support for Berko in a letter to the prefect at the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome. Though the Ukrainian Catholic Church answers to the Holy See, it has a different hierarchy than the Roman Catholic Church.

Larissa Wolosheniuk, 42, was a member of the Canadian parish at the time and is now a nurse practitioner with a master's degree, working as an associate professor at St. Petersburg College. She characterized the girl who made the allegation as "very confused."

"This was one isolated incident that had no validity to it whatsoever," she said. "This is just bringing up dirt. The man has gone on with his life with his head held high."

Contact: spthompson@tampatrib.com

 
 

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