Bishop Alfred Schlert has removed a diocesan priest from ministry after the priest was observed at a high school wrestling tournament taking photographs of wrestlers without their knowledge.
Monsignor Thomas A. Derzack, 70, pastor of St. Nicholas Parish, Walnutport, also has been barred from diocesan school events and school property.
Monsignor Derzack was seen taking photos in the gymnasium of Bethlehem Catholic High School during a wrestling tournament December 27. He was not dressed in clerical attire.
Bishop Schlert removed him as a precautionary measure while the Diocese investigates. Monsignor Derzack’s actions violate diocesan standards for acceptable behavior, he said.
Using his phone, Monsignor Derzack was photographing wrestlers from behind as they were waiting to compete.
The photos were taken in a public area of the gymnasium.
A spectator at the event became suspicious, and a police officer providing security at the tournament was notified.
After being notified, the officer spoke with Monsignor Derzack, who agreed to delete the photographs and left the event. Bethlehem Police continue to investigate, and the Diocese is cooperating with their investigation.
The incident was handled in accordance with child protection procedures put in place by the Diocese. When a vigilant adult raised a concern about suspicious behavior, it was addressed immediately, the authorities were notified, and the Bishop removed the priest from ministry.
Bishop Schlert also directed that the Diocese notify Pennsylvania ChildLine and the office of the Northampton County District Attorney.
The Diocese will investigate the allegations thoroughly, in cooperation with law enforcement. The Independent Review Board, a panel of lay experts, will then review the findings and make a recommendation to the Bishop about Monsignor Derzack’s suitability for ministry.
Parishioners of St. Nicholas were informed at this weekend’s Masses.
Bishop Schlert visited the parish this weekend to pray with, and be a pastoral presence for, the parish family. The Bishop is asking for prayers for all people who may have been affected by this situation.
Anyone who knows of an incident of abuse, in the Church or elsewhere, should report it to the State ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 or to local law enforcement. To speak to the Diocese of Allentown’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, please call her direct line: 1-800-791-9209.