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Priest named in sex abuse report accused of misconduct with teen girl in Gary Diocese in mid-1960s

This file photo from Oct. 22, 1961, shows eight of 11 teachers who were new to Bishop Noll High School. The eight were, from left, Betty Jo Silzberger, Kathy O'Connor, Bernard Bittner, the Rev. Raymond Lukac, Robert Bradtke, Paul Rose, the Rev. Henry Govert, and Joeseph Michielsen.

GARY — A priest accused of impregnating a 17-year-old girl, forging a pastor's name on a church marriage certificate and later divorcing her in 1957 was accused several years later of sexual misconduct with a teen girl in the Catholic Diocese of Gary, records show.

The Rev. Raymond Lukac was among hundreds of priests identified in a damning Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday detailing child sex abuse allegations in six of that state's dioceses.

The 17-year-old was the second teenage girl Lukac was accused of abusing in the Greensburg Diocese of southwestern Pennsylvania. He was sent to a New Mexico for “treatment and repentance,” before he was assigned on "a trial basis" to the Diocese of Gary between June 1961 and June 1963, the report says. It's believed Lukac died in 2000, NBC5 Chicago reported.

The grand jury wrote in its report that letters and documents showed Lukac served as a high school teacher at Bishop Noll High School in Hammond during his time in the Gary Diocese.

"Despite having sex with a minor, despite fathering a child, despite being married and being divorced, the priest was permitted to stay in ministry thanks to the diocese’s efforts to find a 'benevolent bishop' in another state willing to take him on," the grand jury's report said.

The Diocese of Gary said Wednesday it contacted the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania – where Lukac had been ordained in 1954 – in 2012, while investigating the allegation Lukac abused a teen girl while serving in Northwest Indiana approximately 50 years earlier.

“Kelly Venegas, safe environment coordinator for the Diocese of Gary, convened a meeting of the Diocesan Review Board to examine the allegation, which then was thoroughly reviewed with due diligence," said Debbie Bosak, spokeswoman for the Gary Diocese.

“The conclusion reached was there was a lack of sufficient evidence to determine the credibility of the accusation,” Bosak said.

The Gary Diocese was not asked to provide any documents or other records for the Pennsylvania grand jury’s investigation.

When asked about the age of the alleged victim and circumstances of the alleged abuse, Bosak said, “In order to protect the anonymity of the accuser, we cannot reveal those details.”

The Gary Diocese has worked since the early 1990s to establish procedures for handling allegations of sexual misconduct, she said.

“This has included the appointment of a bishop’s delegate to facilitate and review all allegations, along with an advisory board of professionals,” Bosak said. “The diocese also requires all employees and volunteers who work with children to undergo safe environment training. Programs are run in our schools and religious education programs to teach our children what is appropriate and what isn’t, and, in compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the diocese undergoes annual audits to assure continuing compliance with guidelines.”

Allegations piled up

Lukac was ordained in 1954 in the Diocese of Greensburg, despite resistance from some church officials because of concerns about his conduct, the grand jury's report says.

He was accused in 1955 of being romantically involved with an 18-year-old female organist. He was transferred that year to another church within the diocese, and within one year the new church’s head pastor learned Lukac was accused of abusing the 17-year-old, records show.

The church's head pastor reported to Bishop Hugh Lamb that a wedding ring and marriage certificate were found in Lukac's room. The marriage certificate included the head pastor's forged signature, but it did not appear the certificate was associated with a formal, legal marriage, records say.

Lamb wrote to Archbishop of Philadelphia John O’Hara in January 1957, warning of “a danger of scandal” and asking that Lukac be removed “for the good of his own soul and for the welfare of the church.”

“Despite having the marriage certificate as proof of a relationship between Lukac and a minor, Lamb told O’Hara, ‘There is no conclusive proof that he has gone the limit in the three cases brought to our attention of the two parishes to which he has been assigned,'” the grand jury’s report says.

Details about the third victim were not contained in diocesan records, the grand jury said.

Lamb also asked O’Hara to send Lukac to a retreat, but before final arrangements were made Lukac eloped with the girl – who by that time was older than 18 – and a legal marriage was recorded Jan. 18, 1957, in Virginia.

Lukac returned to the church and was sent in July 1957 for “treatment and repentance” in New Mexico. The girl gave birth to Lukac’s child, and Lukac divorced her in December 1957, records show.

“In a letter dated June 30, 1961, the Bishop of Gary, Andrew Grutka, accepted Lukac into his diocese on a ‘trial basis,’” records say. “Lukac was given all faculties of the priesthood in the Diocese of Gary, with the exception of the ability to hear confessions.”

A letter Grutka wrote in June 1963 said Lukac was to leave the Gary Diocese and noted, “He is also troubled with impetuosity with a tendency toward indiscreetness. In my humble opinion an assignment in a boys’ school would be in the best interest of Father Lukac.”

A June 1963 letter written by Bishop Noll Institute Superintendent Brother I. Conrad said, “Father Lukac’s besetting fault seems to be a lack of prudence. This has been noticed in his dealings with some of the students, particularly the girls. … However, I am not aware of any scandals in this regard, although his conduct at times gave me a few moments of uneasiness and apprehension.”

In 2012, the Gary Diocese contacted the Greensburg Diocese because of an allegation Lukac had engaged in sexual misconduct while serving in Northwest Indiana, records show.

“The only note appearing in Lukac’s Diocesan file regarding this matter stated the following: ‘Woman approx. 1961-1964 teenage sex relation,” records say.

After leaving Hammond, church officials attempted to find another “benevolent bishop” to accept Lukac, records show. A bishop in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese agreed to consider Lukac but ultimately did not accept him.

Lukac then made his way to Posen, Illinois, where he was accused many years later of abusing an 11-year-old girl in a church rectory. He later served in Wheeling, West Virginia, and in 1967 requested a full-time chaplaincy in the Veterans Administration Service.

A woman claiming to be Lukac’s daughter contacted the Greensburg Diocese in 1993, records show. Diocese officials contacted the Archdiocese for Military Services, which claimed to have no record of Lukac.

Victims left with 'nothing'

The Pennsylvania grand jury spent two years investigating clergy sex abuse, reviewing documents that showed "credible allegations" against more than 300 priests. The grand jury identified about 1,000 victims, but said the actual number could be in the thousands because of lost records and victims who never came forward.

Just two of the priests were charged, because the statute of limitations under Pennsylvania law prevented charges in most cases. The grand jury heard from victims in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even one who was 83 years old.

"We spent 24 months dredging up the most depraved behavior, only to find that the laws protect most of its perpetrators, and leave its victims with nothing," the grand jury report said.

The grand jury said it hoped its report would encourage victims to come forward and noted the church has made some progress in improving its handling of child sex abuse allegations.

The Gary Diocese offers outreach to any possible victims of abuse, Bosak said. Victims of clergy abuse may call Kelly Venegas 219-769-9292 or Steven Butera at 219-838-8001.

Critics have said the Pennsylvania report shows the Catholic Church cannot be trusted to investigate child sex abuse allegations against its own clergy.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented many of the victims in the Boston church scandal, said anyone who believes they may be a victim should contact their local police and an attorney with experience in clergy sex abuse cases.

It's also important for victims to obtain therapy, he said.

"The injury and trauma suffered by a person who has been a victim of sexual abuse is continuing and ongoing," Garabedian told The Times for a 2014 story.

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Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.