Ex-priest pleads guilty on sex charges

Deposed Episcopal priest Ralph Johnson pleaded guilty Friday to the sexual assault of two teenage boys. Johnson, 83, will be sentenced in March 2011.

BY STACI WILSON

A former Episcopal priest pleaded guilty in Susquehanna County Court Friday to sexually assaulting two teenage boys.

Ralph Johnson, 83, of Gibson Twp., entered guilty pleas to two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse lodged against him in two separate cases. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

One of the boys – now in his twenties – was 14 at the time of the alleged abuse and has a mental disability.

The other victim, now 29, was between the ages of 11 and 15 during the time of the alleged abuse, according to police.

The Susquehanna County Independent does not identify the victims of sexual assault.

District Attorney Jason Legg said the cases brought against Johnson underscore the fallacy of people who question victims who do not report these types of crimes sooner.

Legg said, “Most people cannot begin to understand how difficult it is for a victim to report sexual abuse – and defense attorneys like to make that argument to jurors by asking them: if this were true, don’t you think it would have been reported sooner?

“The simple truth is that victims rarely report sexual abuse when it occurs – it usually takes a long time. In this case, we know that one of the victims was abused in the early 1990s and we know that the victim was telling the truth.”

One of the components of this case, explained the district attorney, involved the applicable statute of limitations – and the various extensions by the state legislature.

Legg said, “If the Legislature had not repeatedly extended the statute of limitations, Mr. Johnson would have avoided legal responsibility for this horrific conduct.  I am thankful that the Legislature understands just how hard these crimes are for victims to report, and has extended the statute of limitations in recognition of those difficulties.”

President Judge Kenneth Seamans ordered Johnson to undergo an evaluation by the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board prior to his scheduled March 24, 2011, sentencing.

Johnson was deposed in 2006 by Bishop Gladstone “Skip” Adams of the Central New York Episcopal Diocese after similar allegations of inappropriate conduct surfaced while Johnson was serving at a parish in Owego, N.Y.

In an interview in March, Adams said no victim ever came forward at that time to verify the allegations but he felt the information was credible enough to merit Johnson’s discipline.

While ordained, Johnson served in parishes in Buckingham, part of a Philadelphia area diocese; as well as at the New York churches of St. Paul’s, Owego; Zion Church, Windsor; and St. Ann’s, Afton., N.Y.

He never served a parish in Susquehanna County or the larger Diocese of Bethlehem.

He has lived in the Gibson area since 1987. Prior to that, he owned property on Stanton Road in Thompson Twp.

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