Ex-merrillville Priest Accused of Abuse, Faking Assault Is Defrocked, Church Says
By Meredith Colias-Pete
October 13, 2020
|In 2018, police said they were investigating an alleged attack on a priest at St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Merrillville. Last month, the priest was officially defrocked. (Becky Jacobs/Post-Tribune)|
A former Merrillville priest accused of sexually abusing a girl in the 1980s, and later faking a 2018 beating at St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church was officially banned from the priesthood this summer, according to a church statement.
After a nearly two-year review, Basil J. Hutsko was defrocked, according to a letter dated Aug. 17, posted online from the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, an Eastern Catholic sect based in Ohio.
Hutsko, 67, was placed on administrative leave in October 2018. He could not be immediately reached Tuesday.
He “has been permanently removed from engaging in public ministry and does not live on premises belonging to the Eparchy. He is not permitted to celebrate Divine Liturgy/Mass publicly or to administer the sacraments. He is forbidden to wear a clerical garb and present himself as a priest. He is bound in conscience to pray and offer acts of penance for those in need of healing due to the harmful actions of clergy,” according to the letter.
Hutsko gained national attention in August 2018, after claiming an unknown assailant attacked him inside the church, yelling, “This is for all the kids!” alluding to the Catholic Church’s decades-long sex abuse scandal.
The incident was investigated by the FBI for a time as a potential hate crime. The church later concluded he made up the assault.
Around 2004, a woman came forward and alleged that Hutkso had abused her as a child between 1979 to 1983, according to a letter then-new Bishop Milan Lach read to St. Michael’s parishioners during a visit in 2018. The woman’s identity or location of the allegation was not disclosed.
When the allegation was originally made, the church recruited a retired FBI agent to conduct an investigation, the letter said. The “eparchy’s independent review board” found there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing, the letter said, as reported by Horizons newspaper, a Byzantine Catholic publication.
Lach was not aware of the abuse allegation at the time of the August 2018 attack claim. New facts in October 2018 on the case that led to church leaders to reverse their finding, a church lawyer said then.
“It is the same allegation,” attorney James Niehaus said via email. “As a result of new information, the allegation was reviewed again and now determined to be credible.”
Hutsko grew up in Whiting and attended St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church before he was ordained in February 1979 with his twin brother, newspaper archives show. He also served in parishes in Ohio and Michigan before returning to Merrillville.
He was not the only Byzantine Catholic priest with a troubling history.
A Post-Tribune story last year found the Rev. Stephen Muth worked for seven years at St. Mary’s in Whiting, despite being sued in federal civil court for child sex abuse by a Kansas City man in 2007, a lawsuit later closed. He denied the accusation.
Nearly a year after Muth retired from St. Mary’s, church superiors placed him on administrative leave in October 2018 for a “credible” sexual misconduct accusation “involving a vulnerable adult (considered a minor under canon law)." It was announced on the same day as Hutsko.
Online local and federal court records show no filings against either.
Months prior, Lach, a Slovakia native, was promoted by Pope Francis in June 2018 to Bishop of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma, overseeing Byzantine Catholic churches in 12 Midwestern states, including Indiana. The Byzantine Catholic church is affiliated, but not under, the Roman Catholic Diocese.