Sex Offender Priest Working at Nonprofit
By Christopher Hong
July 16, 2013
A former priest and registered sex offender hopes his past won't hurt his employer's bid to improve neighborhood blight in Wilkes-Barre.
Robert Timchak, 47, works as the office manager for In The Gap, a fledgling grass roots organization that wants to build affordable townhouses on vacant properties owned by the city. Larissa Cleary, a local real estate agent and the group's founder, will speak to city council today to ask the city to sell her lots on Hickory and South River streets.
However, there will likely be public input at the meeting about the Rev. Timchak's past. In 2009, state police received an anonymous tip alleging the Rev. Timchak, who at the time was serving as an assistant pastor for the Diocese of Scranton in Pike County, downloaded child pornography. Police searched his computer and found photographs of naked, underage boys - many around 11, authorities said - and evidence that he tried to delete them. The Rev. Timchak pleaded guilty to 17 counts of possessing child pornography in 2010 and was released from prison last June.
The Rev. Timchak, who is from Wilkes-Barre and has worked at Bishop Hoban High School, returned home after prison. Although he's technically still a priest, he's been on a leave of absence from the diocese and is banned from performing religious duties. He's become an active member of the First Baptist Church of Wilkes-Barre. There, he met Ms. Cleary, who hired him last month.
Ms. Cleary said the Rev. Timchak was open about his past, and his parole officer visited the office to ensure the arrangement didn't violate any post-release conditions. The Rev. Timchak cannot be alone with children or supervise underage employees. He is required to be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life and provide his home and employment addresses and a current photograph of himself that are available online.
The Rev. Timchak said on Monday that his new job doesn't violate any terms of his parole, and his parole officer approved the arrangement. He said his duties include taking phone calls, creating fliers, organizing paperwork and maintaining the group's website. He's also helped pass out fliers with Ms. Cleary, spoken at meetings, and is listed as a contact person on a flier advertising a block party organized by the group.
"As long as I'm not working in direct contact with kids, there's nothing that is inappropriate," the Rev. Timchak said. "If you're working as an office manager for a real estate holding company, that doesn't affect kids."
Ms. Cleary said she hired the Rev. Timchak after learning he needed a job. She said she knew his past would eventually become an issue, but she said he deserves a chance to rejoin society.
"Everything else I know about Bob is positive stuff," Ms. Cleary said. "He hasn't given me a reason not to trust him."
The Rev. Shawn Walker, pastor of the First Baptist Church, said the Rev. Timchak began attending sermons last year and fully disclosed his past before becoming a member. The Rev. Walker said he thought the Rev. Timchak deserved a second chance to rebuild his life and the opportunity to work, no matter how disturbed people are about the nature of his crimes, as long as he isn't jeopardizing anyone's safety.
"He's just working for a company. When I simplify it like that, I just don't understand the problem," the Rev. Walker said.
However, Frank Sorick, a local rabble-rouser and blogger, disagreed. Mr. Sorick said he's very concerned by the Rev. Timchak's involvement with the group and the possibility he could come in contact with children. Mr. Sorick wrote a blog post about the Rev. Timchak's new job and said he's spoken with parishioners at First Baptist Church who were completely unaware that the Rev. Timchak was a registered sex offender.
"My concerns are doing any type of community development work with a person with this type of background," Mr. Sorick said. "I've looked at Larissa's plan â¦ All of that looks great, other than Bob's involvement. A lot of neighbors are uneasy, and that makes me uneasy."
Councilman George Brown, who began working with Ms. Cleary earlier this month, said he was completely surprised when he learned about the Rev. Timchak's past last weekend. He said he wished the Rev. Timchak would have told him about it when they first met.
"Does it mean this program or idea is dead? I think that's something that all five council members will have to decide," Mr. Brown said.
The Rev. Timchak insists he tells people that he's been to prison, but admits he doesn't always tell them why. He said he hasn't tried to mislead anyone about his past and that his new job, along with his weekly counseling sessions and involvement in a 12-step program, are all an effort to be a healthy member of society and improve the community.
"My hope is that the project wouldn't be influenced negatively because of me," the Rev. Timchak said. "I don't think that's fair at all. I'm an office manager. Am I that much of a monster that I can't help out in this way?"