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  Diocese Sued by Former Worker
Sexual Harassment by a Catholic Priest Is Alleged in the Suit Filed by a 10-Year Employee

By Bill Zajac wzajac@repub.com
Springfield [MA] Republican
February 7, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - A priest who was photographed dressed as a woman was removed from Springfield parish because of allegations of sexual misconduct, and later assigned to the Easthampton parish where he currently serves, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

A statement issued by the diocese this week denies that the priest was moved because of such allegations.

Photographs of the Rev. James A. Sipitkowski dressed in women's clothing "in a compromising position with other scantily dressed men" were found at Holy Family Parish in Springfield after Sipitkowski departed the parish in the Old Hill neighborhood, according to the lawsuit filed by Angel Cintron of Springfield in Hampden Superior Court. He is being represented by Michael O. Shea.

Cintron accuses the diocese, Holy Family Parish and the Rev. Mr. Raphael Velazquez, a church deacon, with a variety of employment violations, including sexual harassment. Cintron worked as a groundskeeper and later in maintenance for the parish for about 10 years and was fired in 2001 by Velazquez.

Although Sipitkowski is not listed as a defendant, Cintron states his employment problems began at the parish when he rebuffed sexual advances by Sipitkowski. The statement from the diocese said Cintron lost his job because of financial reasons.

Sipitkowski, who is assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Easthampton, referred a phone call seeking comment to his lawyer, Benjamin A. Barnes, who had no comment.

The suit states the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the Springfield Diocese, and Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, the diocese's vicar general, knew of allegations of sexual abuse against Sipitkowski before he left Holy Family and later was transferred to Sacred Heart Parish in Easthampton in 1999 or 2000.

The suit cites testimony given by Catholic officials in response to a complaint Cintron filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. The complaint was later withdrawn.

Sniezyk testified that Holy Family parishioners had reported to him that young boys were going up to the rectory late at night while Sipitkowski lived there, according to the suit.

Sniezyk also testified that Sipitkowski left Holy Family Parish due to allegations of sexual abuse and financial mismanagement, according to the suit.

No formal investigation was conducted into the allegations because none of the accusers came forward, according to Sniezyk's testimony cited in the suit.

The diocese allowed Sipitkowski's therapist to handle his problems, according to Sniezyk's testimony.

No complaint was ever received by the diocesan Review Board (formerly the Misconduct Commission), according to a diocesan statement issued earlier this week.

"Msgr. Sniezyk did learn of some concerns and attempted to reach two individuals who had been identified as having spent time at the Holy Family rectory. One could not be located, the other denied any wrongdoing by Fr. Sipitkowski, as did Fr. Sipitkowski. His transfer from Holy Family was not related to these complaints. However, Bishop Dupre did inform Fr. Sipitkowski of them," the statement read.

Sipitkowski allegedly gave "significant amounts of church money" to a young man to whom Sipitkowski made advances, according to a sworn statement by the Rev. Paul E. Manship, a priest who has been involved with Holy Family Parish as the director of Latino Ministry for the diocese.

Sipitkowski drank heavily and was living a homosexual lifestyle, according to Manship's testimony cited in the suit.

Contacted this week for comment, Manship stood by his testimony.

Sipitkowski testified that Dupre was the first person to bring to his attention allegations of sexual misconduct, according to the suit.

"It was decided that it was probably best for the church if he (Sipitkowski) was no longer assigned to Holy Family," according to the suit.

The diocesan statement said Cintron was released from his maintenance position at Holy Family Parish, Springfield, for economic reasons in 2001 by Velazquez, the parish administrator.

"At the time of his termination, his salary exceeded more than half the Holy Family's total parish collections," the diocesan statement read.

 
 

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