The day a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report that said more than 300 priests in that state had sexually abused children, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston began cross-checking records.
They found that only one of those priests had served in West Virginia: Father Raymond Lukac, who was assigned to Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksburg in 1964, diocese spokesman Tim Bishop said.
“I think it’s important to point out the report does not show any record of abuse during his short time here,” Bishop said.
Before coming to Clarksburg, Lukac allegedly sexually abused four females. When he was at Holy Trinity Parish in Ford City, Pennsylvania, he was sexually involved with a 17-year-old girl, according to the report.
Father Matthew Yanosek, the head pastor at that parish, found a wedding ring and a marriage certificate in Lukac’s room, according to the report. The marriage certificate indicated Lukac had married the girl on Nov. 20, 1956 — her 18th birthday. The certificate had the church’s seal and Yanosek’s forged signature.
Yanosek wrote a letter to the bishop imploring him to remove Lukac.
“[Lukac] has lied to me so many times, and I suspect him of thievery. For the best of all concerned, I beg your Excellency, please replace him,” Yanosek wrote.
The bishop did not heed Yanosek’s warning, and Lukac and the teen eloped to Virginia.
Lukac later returned to the church and was sent to a facility that provided evaluations and treatment for priests accused of sexual abuse of children or other improper acts. He then worked at parishes in Indiana and Illinois before coming to Clarksburg.
During his time in Clarksburg, it was noted that Lukac was “rather strong in his language” when speaking to high school students, according to the report.
Joseph Hodges, the bishop in Wheeling at the time, wrote that he did not want to lose Lukac, but felt it might be better for him to be moved. Lukac was then assigned a position as a part-time chaplain for the Veterans Administration Service.
Lukac served at seven different dioceses, but Bishop said transience is common among priests — which is why the diocese cross-checked the report immediately.
“We’ve looked into it for obvious reasons,” Bishop said. “Our dioceses are close and priests move, which is especially common with the priest shortage.”
Another priest mentioned in the report, Father David F. Dzermejko, never served in West Virginia, but would allegedly take boys to bars in Wheeling when he was posted about 50 miles west in Cambridge, Ohio.
In 2002, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston implemented the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People, as did churches across the nation. The charter came about months after the Boston Globe’s spotlight team uncovered abuse scandals in the Catholic church.
“Let me assure you that since 2002, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has had strong policies in place to ensure employees or volunteers in our parishes and schools have been screened before they are in a position to deal with children,” Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote in a statement.
All of the dioceses’ employees and volunteers receive sexual abuse awareness training, according to the statement. The diocese has policies to investigate claims of sexual abuse of children by anyone working for the diocese.
“We remain vigilant in the protection of children and adults,” Bishop said. “We have to make sure these heinous acts of the past do not become the reality of today.”