PITTSBURGH — A Roman Catholic priest who was removed from public ministry in 2009 after an allegation of past child sex abuse later deemed “credible” by his bishop has now been indicted on a federal charge of possessing child pornography.
The indictment announced by federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh doesn’t specify how much pornography the Rev. David Dzermejko allegedly had on his computers in January. The 64-year-old priest now lives in Braddock but was pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church parish in Charleroi when he was removed four years ago.
A woman said her late husband had been molested as a child by the priest. Another man claimed childhood abuse by the priest after the woman came forward. Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said then that Dzermejko denied wrongdoing.
Dzermejko had been assigned to that church, about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, for 18 years, the final 10 as its pastor, when the abuse allegations surfaced. He was initially placed on administrative leave after a diocesan spokesman said there appeared to be “some semblance of truth” to the abuse allegations, and he was eventually removed from all public ministry after Bishop David Zubik said church officials deemed the allegations “credible.”
Dzermejko was never criminally charged in the alleged abuse, which dated to the 1980s and involved another parish.
Defense attorney John Knorr said prosecutors have so far provided few details. He noted that Dzermejko pleaded not guilty last week, “and we’re expecting that he’ll persist in that.”
The one-count child pornography indictment, which carries up to 10 years in prison if the priest is convicted, said only that Dzermejko possessed an unspecified number of photographs in computer graphic files featuring “minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” The conduct isn’t detailed in the indictment, which also includes a forfeiture petition seeking the priest’s laptop computer, a personal computer, an external hard drive and a smartphone.
The indictment was returned under seal May 7 and unsealed Friday but not announced until Monday. Dzermejko had surrendered Wednesday and has been allowed to remain free on $50,000 unsecured bond.
Zubik said the diocese is fully cooperating in the investigation and stressed that Dzermejko cannot celebrate the church sacraments publicly, wear priestly vestments or present himself publicly as a priest.
The bishop said diocesan officials didn’t know about alleged child pornography possession. The indictment stated the priest possessed those items on Jan. 13, nine days after the bishop sent all diocesan priests a letter reminding them that viewing or possessing pornography of any kind is unacceptable under church law.
Zubik sent that letter two days after another suspended priest, the Rev. Bartley Sorensen, was sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison for collecting thousands of child pornography images on his computer, in books and on compact discs.
“The use of pornography by clergy violates the promises we made to God at our ordination,” Zubik said in the January letter. “The culture of adult pornography is a culture that also creates child pornography. It is one and the same. I cannot state it more strongly.”
As to the new charges against Dzermejko, the bishop said in a statement Monday, “The alleged behavior is heinous and the community — and the children of our community — must be protected.”