Priest told to leave Charleroi parish

Accused of sexually assaulting a minor

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A veteran Catholic priest recently accused of a long-ago sexual assault was abruptly told to pack his belongings and leave his parish in short order, the pastor's lawyer said yesterday.

John P. Liekar Jr. said the Rev. David F. Dzermejko told him that a priest from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh "met with him, made the allegation and told him to get out. He had one hour to gather what he could and he had to get out on the street."

The diocese on Monday placed Father Dzermejko, 61, on administrative leave from Mary, Mother of the Church parish in Charleroi while an internal inquiry runs its course.

Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Laura Ditka, who heads the office's child abuse unit, was notified about the situation by the diocese.

Father Dzermejko has served in the parish for 18 years. The allegation of sexual assault against a minor does not involve the parish, according to the diocese, which would not release any other information.

"He just absolutely, totally, completely denies any wrongdoing," Mr. Liekar said. "He was sobbing and said, 'I have never done anything like this.' He was aghast. He said, 'It destroyed my life.' He said he didn't know what to do."

Father Dzermejko has been in the news at least twice before under unusual circumstances, according to old newspaper clippings.

In 1977, he was riding his motorcycle Downtown when he stopped to help a drunken man who claimed he had been hit on the head. Father Dzermejko climbed into an ambulance with the man and left his helmet with a stranger in the crowd, who offered to take it to a bar for safekeeping.

Father Dzermejko could not find the man or his helmet.

Five years later, in June 1982, the pastor was kidnapped at gunpoint and then made more headlines by changing his story to the FBI. At the time he was assistant pastor of St. Teresa Church in Ross.

The Rev. Dzermejko said two hitchhikers took him captive at gunpoint on Interstate 70 near St. Clairsville, Ohio, bound and gagged him, and then forced him into the back of his own car.

After being driven around for five hours while his abductors threatened to shoot him, the priest said he was taken out of the car, pushed over a six-foot embankment and then rolled down a hill. He was found wandering along Interstate 79 near Elkview, W.Va., north of Charleston.

Father Dzermejko admitted at the time that he gave authorities false information because he feared for his life.

He initially told police he was kidnaped in Ross and never mentioned hitchhikers. He also said he was on the way to visit his parents in Braddock, but that later changed to stopping in on a "priest friend" in Cincinnati.

It could not be determined how the investigation was resolved; the FBI in Pittsburgh could not immediately locate information about the case yesterday.


Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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