Originally created 02/26/03

Nude Internet photo gets pastor removed



ORMOND BEACH, Fla. - The pastor of a central Florida church has been removed after a watchdog group said it found his nude photo accessible on an Internet personals site.

A male parishioner at Holy Dormition Byzantine Catholic Church in Ormond Beach alerted the nonprofit organization Roman Catholic Faithful Inc. last week that he suspected that the Rev. Francis T. Gera, the church pastor, had solicited men online.

The Rev. Gera, 64, had been pastor of the church since 1997. The parishioner told officials he contacted the Rev. Gera's superior, Bishop Andrew Pata-ki, about the situation but received no response.

Roman Catholic Faithful sent a letter to Bishop Pataki dated Feb. 19. When the organization received no response, President Stephen Brady said members went public and displayed the information on its own Web site.

Repeated phone calls to Bishop Pataki and his attorney, Thomas Devita of Clifton, N.J., were not returned Monday.

The Rev. Gera did not return a phone message left at a number provided by directory assistance.

Roman Catholic Faithful eventually contacted several churches to confirm the e-mail address cited on the personal ads belonged to the Rev. Gera. Then, an e-mail message was sent to the Rev. Gera addressed to "Poppa Bear," the contact listed on a gay personals Web site, Mr. Brady said. The Rev. Gera responded and confirmed that the picture of an unclothed man reclining was him, Mr. Brady said.

The personals archives list the statement, "poppa bear likes younger ... slim-muscular men, 18-40."

"We felt he was a danger to the faithful," said Mr. Brady, whose worldwide organization formed in 1996 to expose and help correct abuses of authority in the Catholic hierarchy.

"It's not like Father (Gera) made some simple mistake," he said.

Mr. Brady said his group has exposed nude photographs of priests before. One photo was found in a nudist colony magazine. The other was stumbled on in a private online chat room of priests.

"But to find a priest that was so bold and brazen ... we have several questions," he said. "Who took his photo? How long has he been doing this? I think people have a right to know that this man is not what he represents himself to be. He basically lied to the public."