Prelate Supports Priest Charged in Rape

By Richard Bourie and Fred Contrada
The Union-News
February 15, 1992

The New England bishop for the Polish National Church declared "wholehearted support" yesterday for the pastor of a King Street parish charged Thursday with rape and indecent assault. The Rev. Julian Pagacz, who is also a part-time priest at Holy Mother of the Rosary parish in Chicopee, is scheduled to celebrate Mass Sunday at Holy Mother of the Rosary, according to the head of the church's New England diocese.

Pagacz, 50, the priest at St. Valentine's Polish National Catholic Church on King Street here since 1974, was appointed last year to head the Chicopee parish as well, according to the head of the church's New England diocese. No changes are anticipated for the parishes or Pagacz, according to Bishop Thomas Gnat.

"Father Pagacz is the pastor there. I've assured him, his wife, and their two daughters that they have my wholehearted support, period," said Gnat, who heads the diocese from a cathedral in Manchester, N.H.

The chairman of the parish committee at Holy Mother of the Rosary Church on Bell Street in Chicopee refused to say what action, if any, the committee has discussed.

"It's nobody's business," said David Curylo of South Hadley.

But church members here said the diocese has launched an internal investigation. They declined further comment on the matter yesterday.

Pagacz is charged in Northampton District Court with rape of a child. The case involves a 16-year-old girl from Poland who has been in this country two years. The charge is based on a series of rapes that took place between December 1989 and Jan. 3 of this year in Northampton, according to Jeanne Thompson, assistant Northwestern District Attorney.

Pagacz is also charged with indecent assault and battery on the same girl during the same period. The charge is also based on a series of incidents, Thompson said.

A second charge of indecent assault and battery against Pagacz involves a 17-year-old girl, Thompson said, and is alleged to have occurred last September.

Pagacz' attorney, Charles Maguire, declined to comment on the case yesterday.

2nd priest charged Pagacz is one of two priests in Western Massachusetts currently facing charges of sexual crimes. The other is a Roman Catholic priest in Shelburne Falls, Father Richard Lavigne, charged in Greenfield District Court with one count of rape and two counts of indecent assault and battery involving three boys.

Pagacz was released Thursday on his own recognizance, ordered to stay away from the two girls, and his case was continued to Feb. 26 for a pre-trial conference.

When she learned of the charges against Pagacz Thursday, North Hatfield resident Alice Baye said: "This one I can't get over." Baye, who is not a parish member, said she attended many church dinners and got to know Pagacz well. "He seemed so congenial."

Baye said that during the sit-down dinners, Pagacz would go from person to person introducing himself and making friends.

Rooted in culture

Born in America and rooted in Polish pride and culture, the Polish National Catholic Church is a thriving concern with 250,000 members and 162 parishes in America, 29 in Western Massachusetts alone.

According to its own literature, the church was founded in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1897, after parishioners in an overwhelmingly Polish-American Roman Catholic parish there rebelled against their Irish Catholic bishop, claiming that he refused to recognize their culture and traditions.

The congregation organized its own parish and chose a native of Poland as their pastor. The pope refused to recognize their grievances, however, and in 1898, the new church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1900, priests of the Polish National Catholic Church began celebrating Mass in Polish instead of the Latin then used in the Roman Catholic ceremony.

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