Convicted St. Pete Priest Removed from Parish
By Stephen Thompson
Tampa Tribune (Florida)
April 11, 2002
TV REPORT PUTS 1985 CASE BACK INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
ST. PETERSBURG - The Rev. Matthew Berko has been ordered to step down as pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church, 17 years after he was convicted of molesting a 14-year-old girl in the Toronto area.
"What a shame this thing can't die on the vine," Berko, 74, said Wednesday at the doorstep of his St. Petersburg home. "It's taking a toll on my health."
His 1985 conviction and a subsequent lawsuit were publicized in the area at the time. ABC News, however, retold Berko's story last week, saying it was another case of a Catholic priest accused of pedophilia who was allowed to continue preaching.
Berko's boss, who is based in Parma, Ohio, said he hadn't heard of the Canada conviction until the broadcast, when he received a flurry of telephone calls.
The decision to remove Berko from his St. Petersburg parish was swift, said Bishop Robert Moskal of the diocese of St. Josaphat in Ohio.
"It's the policy of the bishops' conference in the U.S. that whenever such allegations are made to immediately remove the priest until something is proven to the contrary," Moskal said. "Later on, I found out that people and priests knew about this in Canada, but no one came forward and mentioned a word to me about that.
"I said, "Why didn't you tell me?' "
Berko's victim, Alexandra Myhal, is a 33-year-old office worker for a tire company in the Toronto area. Myhal on Wednesday said that at the time of the assault, she was president of the church's youth club and often went to the rectory in Mississauga to make copies and perform other club duties.
One day in January 1984, she said, Berko invited her into the recreation room. He asked her personal questions, offered her wine, and eventually leaned over and kissed her or asked her to kiss him. Then he molested her, she said.
Berko said he pleaded guilty to the molestation charge but only to avoid embarrassing his family and the church. He served a year of probation working in Stamford, Conn., under the auspices of Basil Losten, the Ukrainian Catholic bishop there.
Berko returned to his parish in Mississauga and resumed his duties.
Myhal and her family sued and won a judgment against him, which has yet to be paid, and Berko left the area.
Moskal said Losten contacted him then about Berko serving Epiphany of Our Lord in St. Petersburg.
Berko had been pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord for about five years when the conviction was brought up last week by the network program, and Moskal said he had been doing a good job.
On Wednesday, Berko said Losten once again was helping him in his time of need. Berko said Losten had offered him a post upon hearing of his removal.
But Moskal said it is unlikely Berko ever again will serve as a pastor or assistant pastor, at least in the United States. He might be able to work in a diocesan office, Moskal said, as long as he has no contact with children.
Losten could not be reached for comment. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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