Polish Church Council Weighs Removal of Pastor Charged with Rape of 2 Teens

By Dave Condren
Buffalo News (New York)
October 14, 1994

For 21/2 years, members of a Massachusetts parish have been trying to have their pastor removed after he was charged with raping two teen-age girls while drinking with them in his home.

Today, their struggle could come to a head during a Buffalo meeting.

Prime Bishop John F. Swantek, leader of the Polish National Catholic Church, said Thursday that a letter on the status of the priest, the Rev. Julian S. Pagacz, is on the agenda for a meeting of the church's Supreme Council. The highest governing body of the denomination, the Council was to meet this afternoon in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

"They know what needs to be done. The priest should be removed," said Christine Newman, a lifelong member of St. Valentine's Parish in Northampton, Mass., where Father Pagacz has been pastor since 1973.

A former president of the Parish Committee, Mrs. Newman said the number of dues-paying members of St. Valentine's has dipped from 186 to 84 since Father Pagacz's continuing service at the parish has become an issue.

"For 21/2 years, we've been pushed around here," she said from her home in Hadley, Mass. "We want to know why an issue of morality has not been addressed for 21/2 years."

Father Pagacz was charged in February 1992. Three months later, he accepted a plea arrangement, acknowledging in Northampton District Court that there were sufficient facts to warrant a guilty finding on a charge of indecent assault if the case went to trial.

As a result of the admission, Father Pagacz, 52, was ordered to receive sex-offender counseling and pay a $ 300 fine for providing alcohol to minors.

In the wake of Father Pagacz's admission, members of St. Valentine's mounted efforts to have him removed or transferred.

However, three petition drives, a no-confidence vote and meetings with Eastern Diocese Bishop Thomas J. Gnat of Manchester, N.H., and Prime Bishop Swantek at the church's headquarters in Scranton, Pa., have failed to produce a change at St. Valentine's.

"Inaction by Prime Bishop Swantek and Bishop Gnat leads us to believe that they condone improper moral behavior for men of the cloth," said Mrs. Newman, who wrote the letter the Supreme Council was to consider today.

Prime Bishop Swantek said the Supreme Council has the authority to "advise Bishop Gnat on the actions he might take."

Father Pagacz, who is married and the father of two girls, has declined to discuss the case publicly, saying it is a "parish matter."

The Polish National Catholic Church, which has about 250,000 members worldwide, is a branch of Catholicism that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1896 in a dispute about control of parish finances and recognition of Polish culture.


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