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St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Church

The exterior of St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Church in Merrillville is shown.

Increased security measures at Byzantine parishes in Northwest Indiana and elsewhere are underway after Monday’s violent attack on a Merrillville priest. 

The case, which has been forwarded to FBI as a hate crime, was believed to have been triggered by new revelations across the country of child abuse by clergy.  

The Rev. Steven Koplinka, of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish in Munster, said he met Tuesday with Munster police, who conducted a walk-through of the complex and suggested the church install additional security cameras.

That installation was taking place Wednesday, he said.

Asked if he was concerned about potential copycats, Koplinka replied, “I don’t know.”

“You never know. Any clergyperson, whether Catholic or Protestant, is open to that,” Koplinka said.

According to Merrillville police Detective Cmdr. Jeff Rice, the assault took place Monday morning at St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Merrillville. 

The victim — the Rev. Basil John Hutsko, a 64-year-old Byzantine priest — told police he was attacked while praying at the altar after liturgy and that he lost consciousness as a result of the beating.

Before losing consciousness, the priest stated his attacker made mention of abuse by priests against children. 

According to the Rev. Thomas Loya, of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois, who has known Hutsko for 25 years, Hutsko said he heard the suspect say, "This is for the kids," during the attack. 

The only description of the attacker is that he is a white male driving a dark-colored vehicle. 

Koplinka said he and other clergymen took self-defense/safety classes, noting lingering fears after the December 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting in Texas that killed 26 and injured 20 others. What they learned in those classes will come in handy if there is indeed another attack, he said.

During Tuesday’s service, Koplinka said he stationed extra people at entrances, including a parishioner who is a retired police officer.

Like Koplinka, Loya said the unprovoked, random attack on an innocent priest is unfortunate. 

A grand jury in Pennsylvania last week reported that at least 1,000 children were victims of some 300 priests over the past 70 years, and that generations of bishops failed repeatedly to take measures to protect their flock or punish the rapists.

However, Hutsko is not named as one of the accused in the report. The only local priest in the report with ties to Northwest Indiana was the Rev. Raymond Lukac. Lukac served with the Diocese of Gary from 1961 to 1963, during which time he also taught at Bishop Noll High School in Hammond.

Hutsko, who is recovering from his injuries, is a random target of the crime and the attack was unprovoked, Loya said. 

“That’s important to note,” Loya said.

"(Hutsko is) one of the hardest working priests I know, he's very dedicated and works hard for the church and its people," Loya previously told The Times. "He's completely innocent, and it's really regretful that a dedicated priest has to suffer. But God will use this for good."

Loya said there are four Byzantine churches in all — in Merrillville, Munster, Whiting, and Homer Glen, Illinois. 

Koplinka and Loya said they plan to address any questions parishioners and clergy have about the attack and safety measures during Sunday's upcoming service. 

FBI, local police investigating

Meanwhile, the Merrillville Police Department and the FBI continue to investigate the case.

To protect the integrity of the investigation, Merrillville Police Det. Sean Buck declined to go into specifics about the case Wednesday.

However, he did say police have "received some phone calls of interest" since Monday's attack. Buck said he has provided any and all information that comes into the department to the FBI. 

FBI spokeswoman Chris Bavender did not address questions from The Times on Wednesday about potential new leads and existence of surveillance footage in the ongoing investigation. She said the FBI remains in contact with the local police department.

Anyone with information can report to the the FBI by calling 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324). Tips can also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov

Buck can be reached at 219-769-3722 ext. 348. 

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