MERRILLVILLE — The Byzantine Catholic Church now is denying the Rev. Basil Hutsko was attacked Aug. 20 over allegations of child sex abuse while praying at the altar at St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church.
Church authorities also have placed Hutsko on administrative leave over allegations he molested a young girl between 1979 and 1983.
The Rev. Thomas Loya, of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois, first publicly reported that a white male driving a dark-colored vehicle assaulted Hutsko, who was praying on the altar at St. Michael, 557 W. 57th Ave. in Merrillville. The priest was reportedly taken to Methodist Hospitals Southlake campus in Merrillville.
Loya said the attack was unprovoked, random and Hutkso didn't deserve it because he was a hardworking priest and completely innocent.
Bishop Milan Lach, of the Byzantine Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma, a Midwestern diocese of the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church headquartered in Ohio, said in a statement, "The Eparchy of Parma has recently verified with a member of Father Basil Hutsko’s immediate family that the incident Father Basil Hutsko reported on Aug. 20, 2018, did not occur."
Loya couldn't be reached Wednesday afternoon for comment. No one could be reached for comment at St. Michael Church.
Merrillville Detective Cmdr. Jeff Rice said Wednesday the department referred the investigation to the FBI.
Chris Bavender, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Indianapolis office, declined Wednesday to comment directly on the church's denial of the attack, saying the matter is still under investigation.
"After the FBI received information in August regarding Rev. Hutsko's alleged attack, an assessment was started to determine if a hate crime occurred. As part of that process, we have received information from a variety of sources and this is information we would also use in our assessment," Bavender said.
The allegations of child abuse by Hutsko first surfaced in 2004, but Horizons, a Catholic news service publication for the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, stated the allegations couldn't be substantiated at the time.
James Niehaus, an attorney representing the diocese, said Wednesday new evidence about the abuse recently arose, prompting a new review of Hutsko's file "and the allegation was found to be credible."
The bishop said Hutsko denies the accusation and states that a finding that the accusation is credible is not a finding of guilt. He said that while on administrative leave, Hutsko is unable to function in any capacity as a priest anywhere.
The church stated Hutsko previously served at St. Mary, Cleveland, Ohio; St. Barbara, Dayton, Ohio; St. Basil, Sterling Heights, Michigan; and St. Mary, Marblehead, Ohio.
"The Eparchy of Parma is committed to protecting children and helping to heal victims of abuse. We are deeply sorry for the pain suffered by survivors of abuse due to actions of some members of the clergy," Lach's statement included. "Any person with information or those just seeking help can reach our Victim Assistance Coordinator, Sharon Petrus, at (330) 958-9630."
Niehaus said church policy offers a cleric the opportunity to withdraw from its ministry. If necessary, the bishop will initiate a church hearing. When an act of sexual abuse by a priest is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry.