Ex-priest gets prison time for assaults

Former Episcopal priest Ralph Johnson, 84, is led out of the Susquehanna County Courthouse in handcuffs on Thursday. Johnson was sentenced to serve four and one-half years in prison for sexually assaulting two teenage boys more than a decade ago. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

An 84-year-old, deposed Episcopal priest will spend four and one-half years behind bars for sexually assaulting two teenage boys more than a decade ago in his Susquehanna County home.

The ruling delivered Thursday to Ralph Johnson, of Gibson Twp., is likely a “death sentence,” said his attorney John Petorak after the hearing.

In November 2010, Johnson pleaded guilty in Susquehanna County Court to two felony counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor.

Johnson will serve two, concurrent, four and one-half to 18 year sentences on the guilty counts in a state prison.

District Attorney Jason Legg agreed to waive the 5 year, mandatory minimum sentences in each case but asked the court to fashion a jail term in the aggravated range.

Legg said that given the fact that there were multiple victims an aggravated sentence would “still be lenient.”

One victim provided testimony that Legg read during the proceeding.

In the statement the victim called Johnson a “despicable man.”

He also stated: “His use of religion as a means to harvest young men is more blasphemous than those who are not true believers. His judgment will be decided and to my childhood he stole from me, may he understand the pain confusion and abandonment that I felt.”

In the statement, the victim, who is now about 30 years old, requested no leniency for the aged man, “as he gave his victims no leniency.”

The Times-Tribune does not identify the victims of sexual assault.

The counts against Johnson stem from separate incidents that occurred more than decade ago in the former priest’s Gibson Twp. home.

The victim who provided the written testimony was between the ages of 11 and 15 at the time of the abuse.

The other boy – now in his twenties – was 14 at the time of the assault and has a mental disability.

Johnson’s attorney Petorak told the court that the acts committed by his client in the past were “heinous” but said the man was now in “the waning years of life. “

He asked the court to deliver a sentence with his age in mind and give “Mr. Johnson some hope of coming out while he’s still alive.”

Petorak said Johnson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009.

“He is probably going to serve out the remainder of his life in prison,” said the defense attorney.

After the sentence was delivered, Petorak spoke with reporters outside the Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose.

The defense attorney said Johnson is regretful for the acts he committed but was not regretting having to go to prison.

“He may be thinking about having to answer to a higher power,” Petorak said.

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.

Adams said in March 2010 that 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 Township.