Removed Charleroi priest pleads guilty to possessing child porn

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The Rev. David F. Dzermejko went to the seminary after eighth grade, attained a master of divinity degree and served the Roman Catholic Church in roles including as pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church in Charleroi.

For the past decade, though, he harbored a secret that he admitted to Thursday in U.S. District Court: He was using the Internet to download child pornography and to maintain contact with teenage boys he met on jaunts to Thailand, he confirmed after a prosecutor laid out the case against him at a plea hearing.

"I plead guilty," the frail, 65-year-old Father Dzermejko told Judge Nora Barry Fischer, who set his sentencing for possessing child pornography for March 20. Federal sentencing guidelines suggest he could get three to four years in prison, though his attorney plans to argue for a lesser sentence.

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh placed Father Dzermejko on administrative leave in June 2009 after credible abuse allegations emerged against him, said diocesan spokesman the Rev. Ron Lengwin. The allegations were reported to law enforcement.

In 2010, Father Dzermejko's canon lawyers denied the allegations. No criminal charges were filed.

"He's not a priest in good standing," Father Lengwin said.

In January 2013, Father Dzermejko was living in an apartment near Bishop Canevin High School that was provided by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, according to assistant U.S. attorney Carolyn Bloch.

She said a detective with the Allegheny County district attorney's office got a tip from Microsoft Corp. that someone at that address had loaded an image of a naked, pre-pubescent child.

Agents assigned to the Crimes Against Children Task Force searched the apartment. Father Dzermejko admitted to looking at child pornography on the Internet for a decade, Ms. Bloch said.

Father Dzermejko also told agents that he had traveled "to Thailand on numerous occasions during which he would meet with teenage boys," said the prosecutor, adding that the priest kept in touch with some of them through email. U.S. attorney David Hickton's office said Father Dzermejko admitted to "sexual encounters with teen boys" in Thailand.

Ms. Bloch said Father Dzermejko's pornography collection contained photos, but no videos, of pre-pubescent and post-pubescent boys naked or involved in sex acts. She added that none of the images were violent.

Asked whether he agreed with the prosecutor's summary, Father Dzermejko said, "Yes, your honor." He declined comment after the hearing.

He remains free on $50,000 unsecured bond, confined to Western Pennsylvania.

After Father Dzermejko is sentenced, the diocese will decide whether to take his case to the Vatican for potential action that could result in his removal from the ministry, or his placement on "prayer and penance" status, Father Lengwin said.

The diocese also reissued a January statement by Bishop David Zubik indicating, in part: "Viewing child pornography is a criminal act for which society will hear no excuse, accept no extenuating circumstances or grant any mercy."


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published November 7, 2013 10:23 AM


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