St. Ann Catholic Church priest charged with child porn

By Laurie Mason Schroeder, Matt Coughlin And Pamela Lehman
Morning Call
September 13, 2016

Lehigh County D.A Jim Martin announces charges for Monsignor John Stephen Mraz, the pastor of St. Ann's Catholic Church in Emmaus. Monsignor Mraz is charged with possession of child pornography which he downloaded "for his own sexual gratification," the Lehigh County district attorney said Tuesday morning at a news conference detailing the investigation of Monsignor John Stephen Mraz.

The Rev. Msgr. John S. Mraz during the Ash Wednesday services at the Church of Saint Ann in Emmaus on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.

[with video]

EMMAUS — In late July, Monsignor John Stephen Mraz, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Emmaus, asked a parishioner to help him update his two laptop computers.

Images the parishioner, identified by police only with the initials D.M., found in the priest's files and online search history made him feel "uncomfortable," authorities said, and he reported it to the Diocese of Allentown.

Now Mraz, whose 41-year career has included posts as a chaplain at Lehigh University and a theology teacher at Central Catholic High School in Allentown, could face a jail term if convicted of charges of viewing and downloading child pornography.

"[Mraz] searched for and downloaded the images of child pornography and did so for his own sexual gratification," Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said at a news conference Tuesday morning announcing charges against the 66-year-old Mraz.

"These videos and pornographic images were made by someone and put out on the internet and it's disturbing that this happens in our society," Martin said.

The diocese said Tuesday it had removed Mraz from ministry.

According to court records, the investigation began shortly after July 25, when Mraz asked the parishioner, D.M., to upgrade his laptop. D.M. discovered the computer's recycling bin contained various images of nude males of unknown ages, investigators said.

The priest then asked D.M. to update a second laptop, and D.M. discovered a file link named "naked little boys," according to the arrest affidavit.

D.M. was "uncomfortable" with his discovery and contacted the diocese, which then contacted the district attorney's office.

Investigators obtained a search warrant and on Aug. 19 seized digital devices from the rectory at 415 S. Sixth St. The devices showed internet searches for "small boy nudes," "handcuffed nude boys" and various other terms suggestive of child pornography, according to court records.

Investigators say they also found images of two boys under the age of 18 engaged in sex.

Mraz was interviewed and admitted using the devices to search for images of child pornography, according to court records.

Martin said that none of the children in the images have been identified, and Mraz is not accused of doing anything illegal with children who attend St. Ann church or school, both of which are in the same South Sixth Street complex.

The district attorney would not say how much child pornography was allegedly discovered on Mraz's laptops, citing the ongoing investigation. Martin said the Allentown diocese has been completely cooperative.

Parishioners said Mraz has been out about a month with what officials said were "medical issues," and churchgoers had been asked at weekly Masses to say prayers for his recovery.

According to a diocese statement, "Monsignor Mraz has been removed from public ministry and cannot present himself as a priest."

Matt Kerr, the diocese spokesman, said, "The community is very shocked."

Kerr also said the parishioners had not been made aware of the investigation of Mraz until Tuesday because the diocese wanted to wait for the criminal case to move forward.

"Monsignor has been very sick, which is why he was away from the parish. The presence of the suspicious content was brought to the attention of the diocese while he was away from the parish," Kerr said. "The priests asked for prayers for the man who was then their pastor."

Kerr said counselors would be made available to the parishioners, students and school faculty.

Parents of children who participated in activities at the school were notified about Mraz's arrest via email Tuesday.

"I know most of you are aware of the charges that have been filed against Monsignor Mraz. He is in the custody of law enforcement, and is no longer pastor and will never function as a priest again," wrote Chris Kimock, coordinator of the school's PREP program, which is similar to Sunday school.

Mraz is living at Holy Family Villa in Bethlehem, a retirement home for priests. He turned himself in Tuesday morning and was arraigned before District Judge Donna Butler of Emmaus.

Mraz sat quietly in a wheelchair during the arraignment, which took place via video from the Lehigh County Jail's central booking center. He looked at the judge through the camera and said, "Thank you, judge" when Butler dismissed him.

Mraz was released on $50,000 unsecured bail. As a condition of bail, Butler banned the priest from using the internet or having any contact with children.

Following the arraignment, Butler said it was a shocking day for the Emmaus community.

Mraz is charged with sexual abuse of children and criminal use of a communications facility, both felonies, as well as possession of obscene and other sexual materials and performances, a misdemeanor. If convicted, he could be sentenced to more than 10 years in a state prison.

Joseph Hancharik, who attended Central Catholic when Mraz was a theology teacher there, said he was surprised by the allegations. Mraz was a good teacher, Hancharik said, and he learned a lot from him.

"I never had any problems with him; it was the usual teacher-student relationship," Hancharik said.

Barb Roba lives near the church on South Sixth Street and was walking her dog by the school when news of the arrest started trickling into the neighborhood.

"I am very well shocked," Roba said.

Mraz has spent time at numerous schools and parishes in the area, diocesan officials said. He was ordained in 1975 and served as a teacher at the former Reading Central Catholic High School and Central Catholic. He then became vice principal and director of spiritual activities at Marian High School in Rush Township, near Tamaqua.

Mraz has served as chaplain at the Newman Center at Lehigh University and assistant superintendent in the diocesan office of education.

Records indicate Mraz was placed in the diocese department of education in 1994 and a resident priest at the Church of St. Thomas More in Salisbury Township. Mraz was the pastor at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Northampton until 2008, when he was appointed to St. Ann.

He also served in the diocesan office for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

Mraz's attorney, John Waldron, said Tuesday morning he had not yet seen the charges against his client. Waldron asked the public to withhold judgment until all the facts are known.

Waldron said he plans to have a forensic psychologist examine Mraz.

"We haven't had any hearings, we haven't had any evaluations. I don't think the community can make any decisions until we can see where the case goes from here," he said. "Physically, he's ill, and this is going to cause a great deal of anxiety for him."



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