Emmaus priest charged with child porn free on unsecured bail
By Sarah Cassi
Lehigh Valley Live
September 13, 2016
|Monsignor John Stephen Mraz. |
A monsignor at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Emmaus is free on unsecured bail after being arraigned Tuesday on child pornography and related offenses.
The Rev. John Stephen Mraz, 66, surrendered himself Tuesday morning and was arraigned on charges of child pornography, criminal use of a communication facility, and selling obscene materials.
Bail was set at $50,000 unsecured. Mraz presently lives at the Holy Family Villa for priests in Bethlehem, and will return there, District Attorney Jim Martin said.
A person who answered the phone at the church at 415 S. Sixth St. in Emmaus said she didn't know about charges against Mraz.
Mraz has worked at Reading Central Catholic and Allentown Central Catholic over the years and has held posts in the Allentown Diocese.
"I would ask that people not rush to judgment. Often times these situations with the Catholic church have happened in the past, but Monsignor Mraz is a separate individual not to be cast into a group of priests that may have done certain things," defense attorney John Waldron said.
Martin said on July 25, the priest asked a friend and church parishioner to update his laptop, and the person discovered pictures of nude males in the computer's recycle bin but gave the computer back.
Mraz then asked the friend to update a second laptop, and the man found files with names that indicated they depicted the sexual abuse of children, Martin said.
"These discoveries made him uncomfortable" and the man informed the diocese, which then contacted investigators, Martin said.
Martin said he personally spoke to the tipster, and lauded the man's help with the investigation.
"While it was disappointing to him, he recognized he had a duty to report it and did so immediately," Martin said.
Detectives raided the rectory of St. Ann's church, where Mraz previously lived, and took laptops, cellphones and tablets, authorities said.
"Numerous" files of child pornography were found on the laptops, Martin said, and forensic analysis showed that Mraz actively searched for images and videos of underage males engaged in sexual activity.
"This was not inadvertent," the district attorney said, adding Mraz was interviewed by detectives.
Mraz is confined to a wheelchair, according to Waldron.
"Physically he's ill and then also this is going to create quite a lot of anxiety for him at the present time," Waldron said.
Waldron said he plans to have a forensic psychologist evaluate his client.
"At this point in time it's my understanding that he's still in active ministry with the church. I don't know how or when or if that'll change," Waldron added.
Mraz was born in Bethlehem and attended Bethlehem Catholic High School and Lehigh University, according to a July 2005 Morning Call article.
Mraz was ordained in 1975, according to the diocese.
He taught at the former Reading Central Catholic High School, Allentown Central Catholic High School and was vice principal and director of spiritual activities at Marian High School in Tamaqua.
Mraz served as chaplain at the Newman Center at Lehigh University and assistant superintendent in the Diocesan Office of Education. He served as pastor since 2008 at St. Ann Parish in Emmaus.
Reporter Kurt Bresswein contributed to this report.