DA Still May Prosecute Barred Priest

By Matthew Junker
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
August 10, 2002

While Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon announced this week she would not prosecute a banned priest for a 20-year-old case of alleged child sexual abuse, the district attorney in Westmoreland County hasn't made a decision yet.

John Peck, who said in March that he was reviewing eight cases of alleged abuse of boys by priests for possible criminal prosecution, said he has yet to make a determination on the case of the Rev. Gregory Premoshis, the former president of Geibel High School.

After a federal suit was filed against Premoshis by a former student last week, the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg confirmed that on July 11 Premoshis was barred for life from acting as a priest.

The local investigations into the decades-old allegations of pedophilia arose from a national furor after the trial of a former Boston-area priest accused of abusing more than 130 people while church leaders shuffled him from one unsuspecting church to another.

Peck said he intended to announce a decision on whether to prosecute in a matter of weeks.

"I don't want to deal with (the cases) piecemeal," he said.

While Peck's decision has not yet been made, he said in March that his decision on some cases might simply amount to referring cases, along with investigatory files, to other counties where the alleged inappropriate sexual conduct occurred.

Peck also said his detectives had been in contact with Premoshis' alleged victim, Charles Hartz Jr., 38, a former Geibel student, now of Michigan. The alleged molestation took place 20 years ago, according to the lawsuit filed by Hartz.

Vernon said Friday that, through an assistant, she was aware of Peck's investigation, but had not been in contact with Hartz.

Nonetheless, Vernon said she does not see how Peck could decide differently.

"From my information, most of the conduct occurred in Fayette County," she said.

The stumbling block to indicting Premoshis is the state statute of limitations, which currently is five years past an alleged victim's 18th birthday.

While the Legislature has approved an increase to 12 years that takes effect later this month, Hartz has passed that deadline as well.

"In any county, we're beyond the statute," Vernon said.

Hartz is seeking an unspecified amount of damages in excess of $525,000.

Within his suit, filed Aug. 1 in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Hartz states that Premoshis served or obtained liquor for him so that Hartz would gratify Premoshis sexually.

The suit also states that Hartz believes the alleged conduct is responsible for his failed marriage and a more recent broken engagement.

The diocese has yet to decide the case of another active priest.

Premoshis and another priest, who had served only as military chaplain for the past 20 years, were removed from active ministry.

Two retired priests also were asked to refrain from public ministry for the rest of their lives.



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