Man accused of disturbing Masses across western Pennsylvania arrested

PITTSBURGH — The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said it was urgent for them to track down the man disturbing Masses across western Pennsylvania because he was a potential threat.

Ross Township Police say Joseph Gorencic was charged for disturbing a noon Mass last month at St. Sebastian by screaming at the priest during communion, saying he’s filled with demons and other troubling things. The priest and parishioners told police they were terrified and feared Gorencic was going to hurt them.

Police said Gorencic did the same thing at nine other churches in our area between February and April. The first incident was in New Kensington, Westmoreland County, then he hit seven churches in Allegheny County and a church in Freeport, Armstrong County.

“It was actually a parishioner who helped us to identify the individual by obtaining a license plate number and we were able to track him using technology with one of the municipalities to identify him,” said Wendell Hissrich, Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh director of safety and security.

According to the criminal complaint, one of Gorencic’s family members reached out to police concerned, saying he always carries a knife and has a mental health condition.

The safety and security director for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said they worked with the Diocese of Greensburg and several local police departments to arrest him.

“Towards the end, we were a little bit concerned because he was becoming a little bit more aggressive, so there was some urgency to identify him and find out what his intentions were,” Hissrich said.

Recently, there have been some alarming incidents at local churches, including in North Braddock where a man tried to shoot a pastor giving a sermon. Police say the gun jammed and arrested the gunman, Bernard Polite. Channel 11 also told you about the two teenagers police say vandalized a church in Irwin.

>>> Man arrested after trying to shoot pastor during sermon in North Braddock, state police say

Hissrich said there’s a heightened alert, but the chance of there being an act of violence in churches is still low.

“However, if you see something, report it to the usher, to the greeter, pastor or call 911 immediately if something seems strange,” Hissrich said.

He said they always try to stay one step ahead of a potential threat.

“We are always changing depending on the potential threat is and that’s both with personnel and infrastructure cameras within the churches,” said Hissrich. “We are doing training sessions with different parishes, too.”

Police said Gorencic was arrested in Chambersburg near Gettysburg where he remains in police custody. He has not yet been brought to Allegheny County to be arraigned for his criminal charges. New Kensington police said Gorencic is also accused of following a priest to services and they gave him a trespass notice.

The South Armstrong Regional Police Department said they also have pending charges against Gorencic.

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