The Independent Gazette was first informed about local nonprofit In The Gap when Wilkes-Barre City Councilman George Brown began lauding the organization at the South Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch meeting held on July 1 of this year. Shortly after that crime watch meeting the Independent Gazette started receiving calls from neighbors who reside along South River, Academy, Sullivan, and Carey Avenue, all voicing their reservations over what they called “a serious cause for concern” regarding one of the group’s listed contacts.
The In The Gap Block Party contacts are Larissa Cleary and Robert Timchak. Cleary is a realtor based in Kingston and Timchak is a former Roman Catholic priest who was known within the Diocese of Scranton as “Father Bob” until he was placed on a leave of absence in April 2009 by the Diocese of Scranton. That diocesan status is ongoing.
Robert Timchak was arrested on child pornography charges in 2009 and later sentenced in November 2010 to 6–72 months imprisonment after pleading guilty that August to 17 felony counts of possessing child pornography. Timchak is required by law to remain registered throughout his lifetime on the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Megan’s Law website as a Tier 3 offender, with a primary offense listing of “6312—Sexual Abuse Of Children.”
According to the the Diocese of Scranton website, one Reverend Robert M. Timchak is still listed as a priest but contact is directed to the care of the Reverend Thomas M. Muldowney, Vicar General and Director of Clergy for the Diocese of Scranton.
The Gazette had an opportunity to visit the Chancery for the Scranton Diocese at 300 Wyoming Avenue in Scranton and spoke with the Chancellor for the Diocese, Teresa Osborne, who was very helpful and forthcoming in responding to the Gazette’s questions concerning Timchak.
As to the question of why Mr. Timchak is still listed on their website, Ms. Osborne answered, “Technically he is still a priest.” She continued, “The Diocese has petitioned Rome for involuntary laicization at which time the Holy Father [Pope Francis] will determine ultimate status as a priest.” Laicization is synonymous to defrocking and unfrocking, referring to the removal of an individual’s privileges to exercise the functions of the ordained Roman Catholic ministry.
“No faculties (assignments) are designated to Mr. Timchak. He cannot present himself as a priest or publicly celebrate the sacraments,” noted Osborne.
In The Gap’s website states that they are a “newly formed nonprofit organization [seeking] to help working class families.” The group also claims to be aligned with one of Reverend Shawn Walker’s efforts, Be Relevant Ministries, and that In The Gap already enjoys a healthy working relationship with the City of Wilkes-Barre.
Reverend Walker told the Independent Gazette that he was aware of the state police registration, and stated that he could not speak on behalf of In The Gap, but observed, “Timchak has a long road ahead of him, and that’s an issue between him and his pastor.”
Councilman George Brown said he was shocked to learn that one of the group’s organizers had pled guilty to no fewer than 17 felony counts of possessing child pornography, telling the Gazette, “I don’t know anything about this ‘Father Bob.’” Brown added that he only possessed a basic knowledge of the organization’s plans to return blighted properties to the tax rolls, and stated that Greg Barrouk, Director of Economic Development for the city should have more information as “Greg has been working quite close with the group,” according to Brown.
In an email response to our questions regarding In The Gap, Barrouk wrote, “I met with them several times regarding a proposal that they plan on bringing to council [next] Tuesday.”
According to a city resident who asked that her identity not be made public, she contacted Councilman Brown and the very next day several representatives from In The Gap showed up at her residence offering to assist her with $10,000 in home repair funding.
Calls made to In The Gap organizers by the Independent Gazette seeking comment were not immediately returned.
In The Gap will be holding a community block party on Saturday, August 10, beginning at Noon on the lot they hope to soon revitalize. The lot is located near the corner of Sullivan and South River Streets. Advertising for the event states that all are welcome to attend.
An online ad placed on the popular listing service Craigslist on July 8, titled “Looking for a church to get married in?” directs interested individuals to the the First Baptist Church of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (also run by Rev. Shawn Walker) and states: “To discuss your unique needs contact Bob Timchak,” listing Timchak’s phone number, which is also the phone number listed on the In The Gap Block Party flyer for “Bob.” The flyer is currently being circulated in South Wilkes-Barre and is also available on the In The Gap website at www.inthegap.be/downloadables/.
Parishioners of the First Baptist Church of Wilkes-Barre told the Independent Gazette that they know Timchak as “Father Bob” whom they describe as someone who often provides sermons and assists with church activities, but were shocked to find out about his publicly-documented past.
The Diocese of Scranton Voices Concerns
Chancellor Teresa Osborne emphasized to the Gazette that under no circumstance can Mr. Timchak represent himself as a priest and that the diocese will be following up with their own investigation concerning the activities of Mr. Timchak.
In addition, Ms. Osborne provided the Gazette with Mr. Timchak’s work assignments beginning with his ordination in June 1992 at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton:
1992 Assistant Pastor, St. Mary’s, Wilkes-Barre
1994 Director of Formation, Seton Catholic, Pittston
1996 Director of Formation, Bishop Hoban High School, Wilkes-Barre
1998 Assistant Pastor, Annunciation Parish, Williamsport
2000 Pastor, Transfiguration Parish, Hazleton
2001 Pastor, Peter and Paul, West Hazleton
2005 Chaplain, Bishop Hafey, Hazleton
2007–2009 Assistant Pastor, Saints Vincent de Paul, Milford, and John Neumann, Lords Valley
2009 Removed from Service
For more information on the Pennsylvania State Police and their Megan’s Law website, please visit www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us
UPDATE #1 (July 15 @ 10:15 pm): In the wake of the online publishing of our article regarding the In The Gap Block Party and one of the group’s organizers, Robert M. Timchak, the Gazette has been informed by the Pennsylvania State Police that Mr. Timchak is currently under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation, and assigned to agent Wayne Woznikaitis of the Scranton state probation field office.
According to the Pennsylvania State Police, one condition of Timchak’s probation is his registering any and all employment with the PSP’s Megan’s Law website, and this would include the volunteer work with First Baptist Church of Wilkes-Barre.
When asked why his volunteer work with First Baptist Church wasn’t listed on the Megan’s Law website Timchak responded, “I spoke with my probation officer Wayne Woznikaitis about this. I’m not trying to do anything duplicitous.”
Voice messages left for Woznikaitis were not returned by the time of this article’s posting.
The Gazette has also learned that on May 17, 2012, a Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) hearing was held for Timchak and that as of September 5, 2012, Timchak has been awaiting an appellate court decision. The PCRA permits a defendant to appeal his case when a direct appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has been denied. The PCRA must be filed within a year of the final disposition of the case that ended all of the defendant’s appellate rights.
Larissa Cleary of In The Gap also spoke with the Gazette, providing notice that she would be willing to move the block party to Kirby Park if it would help satisfy the neighbors in South Wilkes Barre. “The party was for them,” said Cleary. When asked if she would consider removing Timchak from the staff of In The Gap because of concerns raised by South Wilkes-Barre residents, Cleary responded, “He’s my secretary, he does good work, he shows up, he’s reliable, and he is a volunteer. Who else is going to do that?”
What’s next: In The Gap will be presenting its plan to Wilkes-Barre City Council on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, at 5:30 pm. Council will be considering the group’s request, but no vote will be taken concerning In The Gap at Tuesday’s meeting according to Councilman George Brown.