Priest Scandal Again Shifts to the Bay Area

By William R. Levesque and Waveney Ann Moore
St. Petersburg Times
April 3, 2002

St. Petersburg -- The growing national furor over priests accused of sexual misconduct focuses again on St. Petersburg today with an airing of charges in two cases with local ties.

A Minnesota lawyer said he plans to file suit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court today against the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg and the Vatican on behalf of a man who says he was abused at a Catholic school in the 1980s.

And tonight at 10, ABC News broadcasts a special about the crisis facing the Catholic church. ABC News said the report will include details about the 1985 molestation conviction of the Rev. Matthew Berko, pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church in St. Petersburg.

Berko's church recognizes the pope as its head, but it adheres to an eastern tradition of worship and is not under the jurisdiction of Bishop Robert N. Lynch and the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

These latest allegations come less than two weeks after the St. Petersburg Diocese said it had paid more than $100,000 to a former employee who alleged Lynch sexually harassed him.

St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeffrey Anderson announced Tuesday that he plans to file the Pinellas-Pasco lawsuit on behalf of the man abused in the 1980s and a second lawsuit in federal court in Portland on behalf of a man abused in the 1960s.

Anderson has scheduled a news conference today naming the Vatican, two religious orders and the dioceses of St. Petersburg, Portland and Chicago in a suit accusing the church of conspiring to hide two abusive clergymen by moving them across state and national lines.

In the second case, ABC News said it will report that Berko pleaded guilty and received a one-year suspended sentence for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Canada 17 years ago. A year later, Berko returned to work at the girl's church, ABC News said.

Though some parishioners supported the priest, other members of St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Mississauga picketed the local bishop's house in Toronto to protest Berko's return.

In an interview with ABC News, Berko said he didn't remember the victim after he was shown a picture of her.

Asked why he pleaded guilty, Berko told ABC News, "There is a lot of circumstances involved in that pleading, which I pled only because of the advice of my attorney. I am still innocent as far as I'm concerned."

Berko said his current superiors knew about his criminal history. "There is no secret," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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