Priest Given Probation for Indecent Assault on Teen
Despite 'Red Flags' Raised by Sexual Offense and His Position, Pottsville
By Chuck Ayers
Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
March 21, 1998
A Pottsville priest charged with the indecent assault of a 17-year-old boy who was hitchhiking in Schuylkill County last June has been placed on probation.
The Rev. James J. Mihalak, pastor of Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church, was recommended for two years' probation in an ARD program two weeks ago, despite "red flags" raised by the sexual offense and Mihalak's position, Schuylkill County District Attorney Claude A. Lord Shields said.
Shields said that based on Mihalak's psychological evaluation and the therapy he is receiving, Mihalak qualified in spite of the reservations.
"The only thing that really stood out as a red flag was his job," Shields said.
But Shields said, "He was eligible for ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) because of the nature of the charges and the treatment program he is participating in."
Mihalak, 47, has been suspended from church duties and will remain suspended for the duration of the supervised probation, according to Deacon John W. Murphy, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Allentown.
"Ultimately, it's the bishop's decision as to what happens" with Mihalak's status with the diocese at the end of the probation, Murphy said.
According to court documents, Mihalak fondled the youth during a meandering drive through Schuylkill County the afternoon of June 20.
Police said the boy was hitchhiking near the Cressona Mall in North Mannheim Township when Mihalak picked him up and repeatedly plied him with compliments on his muscle tone, feeling his arms, legs, stomach and chest while they drove.
He twice asked the boy if he wanted him to pull off the road but the youth declined, saying he wanted to go home, according to police.
On a back road outside Tuscarora, police said the priest put his hand in the youth's pants.
When Mihalak saw the boy crying, he turned the car around and the teen got out on Route 209 near Tuscarora.
If Mihalak successfully completes treatment and probation, the charges will be dropped and his record expunged.
On the other hand, Shields said, "If he fails that, he goes back on the trial list."
When charges were first brought against the well-liked priest, the parish was rocked by the allegations and many parishioners spoke in his defense.
Since Mihalak's removal from active ministry, the Rev. Bernard F. Flanagan has assumed permanent duties at the church. Flannagan also is a professor at Nativity High School, Pottsville, according to Murphy.
Mihalak held a host of positions in the diocese before serving at Mary Queen of Peace.
He was paster at St. Ann's Catholic Church, Frackville, and St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Shenandoah.
While at St. Stanislaus, he was an instructor at Cardinal Brennan High School, Fountain Springs, and was part-time chaplain at Frackville State Prison.
In 1983-84, he was principal at Pius X High School, Roseto, and before that taught at the school for six years.
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