Editors: note nature

By Sheila Mullan
United Press International
October 11, 1988

A Roman Catholic priest was charged Tuesday with sexually abusing two altar boys over a six-year period, and is suspected of engaging in sadomasochistic rituals with other boys in Pennsylvania, Florida and Canada, a prosecutor said.

The Rev. Robert G. Wolk, 48, former pastor of Saint Thomas More parish in suburban Bethel Park, was charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corruption of minors.

Wolk left the Roman Catholic parish last year when confronted by church officials with allegations involving the two altar boys, now aged 18 and 20, Allegheny County District Attorney Bob Colville said.

Police said each of the youths, whose names were not disclosed, was first approached at the age of 12, and the abuse took place during a total of six years -- between March 1981 and May 1987 -- at a parish house, as well as at a guest house he directed for an order of nuns.

Investigators said Wolk allegedly gave the youths alcohol and cigarettes and wrote them love letters.

Bethel Park Police Chief Joseph Kletch said that according to the youths' statements, Wolk promised them the sexual activities would be kept secret.

"He told them that anything that took place would be like it was in confession," Kletch said. The youths also said they were told by the clergyman that "this would help them in their later years in their dealings with girls," the chief said.

Investigators said the alleged activities ended last year when one young man disclosed them to a college counselor, who notified the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

State police also were investigating allegations that Wolk and other unnamed priests conducted sadomasochistic rituals with several young boys in Washington and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania, as well as in Florida and Canada, Colville said.

The district attorney said he will seek Wolk's extradition from Maryland, where investigators believe the former priest has been staying at St. Luke's Institute outside Washington, D.C., since leaving the Pittsburgh-area parish.

St. Luke's is an extended psychiatric care facility for priests, said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, a spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

At St. Luke's, a woman who answered the phone Tuesday night said she could not comment on the allegations. No one else was available, she said.

Wolk's attorney, Charles Scarlata of Pittsburgh, said he was making arrangements for his client to surrender to authorities and avoid the necessity of extradition.

An arraignment on the charges was set Friday, Lengwin said.

The diocese was notified of the allegations by one of the two altar boys Sept. 22, 1987, and officials interviewed Wolk immediately and removed him from his assignment as pastor two days later, Lengwin said.

Though Wolk remains an ordained priest, "he has not publicly acted in any way as a priest," Lengwin said.

Prior to serving as pastor in Bethel Park from June 1986 until September 1987, Wolk had been an administrator in the post of assistant chancellor of the Diocese of Pittsburgh from 1972 to 1984, Lengwin said. He also was assistant pastor at Saint Thomas More from 1980 until 1984.

"With profound concern and dismay, I received the news that criminal charges have been filed against a priest of this diocese," Bishop Donald Wuerl said in a statement. "Like all people, I share some of the sorrow when children are abused or harmed in any way.

"My immediate pastoral concern is for these young people, their parents and family, as well as for the priest named in this tragic situation," Wuerl said. "I, together with the church I serve, are fully comitted to do whatever we can to heal any harm that may have been caused.

"I ask the prayers of all for every one caught up in this unhappy set of events," Wuerl said.


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