Pastor Leaves Church Suddenly

By William Sweet
The Union-News
March 13, 1997

The sudden departure of the Rev. Julian S. Pagacz, who had remained pastor of St. Valentine's Church for five years after he was charged with sexually assaulting a teen-age girl, has left some parishioners surprised and some thankful. "It's a long time coming," said Christine Newman of Hadley, a one-time parishioner of St. Valentine's Polish National Catholic Church on King Street. Newman is among a group of parishioners who had been petitioning church leaders to remove Pagacz.

The question remains whether the parish that had been divided over Pagacz's trouble with the law will now experience healing in his absence.

"I certainly hope they go back," Newman said.

Stanley Orzel, chairman of the parish committee, said yesterday Pagacz informed the council Sunday that the New England diocese in Manchester, N.H., has granted him a temporary leave of absence, and that he would resign as of last Monday.

The pastor cited personal reasons for his departure, he said.

"He wasn't coerced into this," said Orzel. "He made up his mind and he asked."

Orzel said that Pagacz is not leaving the priesthood, and he will still be available for service to the diocese.

The Polish National Catholic Church of America was founded in 1897. It allows clergy to marry and does not recognize the Roman Catholic pope.

Neither Pagacz nor church officials were available for comment. Orzel said Pagacz was leaving the rectory Tuesday and is moving into an apartment.

The diocese has lined up a temporary replacement for Pagacz, to conduct Sunday services.

In May 1992, Pagacz submitted to facts sufficient to warrant a finding of guilty on a charge of indecent assault and battery on a 17-year-old girl. The priest was fined and ordered to receive counseling.

At the time, Pagacz was dismissed as part-time pastor of Holy Mother of the Rosary Church in Chicopee.

Pagacz's continued presence became a point of contention in the parish and between some parishioners and the diocese.

Carl Gutowski, one-time organist and long-time member of the parish, said that a group of about 50 former parishioners still keep in touch.

According to diocese reports, paid membership at the church dropped from 186 in 1992 to 84 in 1994.

Gutowski said he would return to the church now that Pagacz is gone.

As for the church's hierarchy, he said he's lost his faith in them. "They made us feel like we were the ones who did something wrong," he said.

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