Priest Removed from Ministry
1971 Abuse Allegation Surfaces
By Chris Garifo
Watertown Daily Times
July 2, 2003
OGDENSBURG — A north country Catholic priest accused recently of sexually abusing a boy more than 30 years ago in Watertown has been removed from his ministry.
The Rev. Paul F. Worczak had been pastor of St. Andrew's Church, Norwood, until his removal in March.
"Father Worczak is on administrative leave and is not functioning as a priest for personal reasons," said the Rev. Terry R. LaValley, episcopal vicar for diocesan services for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg.
Father LaValley would not say why Father Worczak was placed on administrative leave.
"Any time that we have an individual going on administrative leave, that's a personnel issue and we don't discuss personnel issues," he said. "All I can offer is that the allegations that have come forward, we have addressed."
In a written statement provided on March 15 to the diocese, an Alexandria Bay man now in his 40s alleged that in 1971 Father Worczak kissed and touched him sexually on more than one occasion. The statement was prepared under oath and witnessed by the Rev. Joseph A. Morgan, episcopal vicar for clergy.
Father Morgan refused to comment about the allegations. Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito, leader of the Ogdensburg diocese before the announcement Monday of his transfer to Palm Beach, Fla., was unavailable for comment when called several times during the past two weeks.
The alleged incidents took place when Father Worczak was a priest at Holy Family Church, Watertown. The victim, who asked to remain anonymous but provided the Times with copies of his complaint and diocese responses to it, was 11 years old at the time of the alleged incidents. The man says he knows of other allegations made to the diocese about the priest, but refused to name the purported victims.
The man has not asked for or received financial compensation from the diocese for what happened to him. However, in a June 9 letter from an attorney representing the diocese, the man was offered care because of the incidents.
"In keeping with Diocesan policy and the Charter developed by the Conference of Bishops, pastoral assistance has been offered to you," wrote Paul M. Hanrahan of the Hancock & Estabrook law firm, Syracuse.
The lawyer also said the diocese would pay the victim for any money spent on psychiatric or psychological care. The diocese, through the attorney, however, told him they would not recognize the claim beyond that because the alleged incidents, even if proved true, happened too long ago.
"I realize the statute of limitations seems harsh to you and others with aged claims," Mr. Hanrahan wrote.
Mr. Hanrahan did not return phone calls seeking comment about the letter.
The man said he has not decided whether to bring a lawsuit against the diocese or Father Worczak.
The man first informed the diocese of what happened to him in April 2002, about two months before the nation's bishops, meeting in Dallas, approved the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."
After his return from Dallas, Bishop Barbarito, who supported the charter, said the diocese would be honest about what actions will be taken against any priests who have committed sexual abuse, but not in a "sensationalistic" manner.
"Because that's not going to help anybody," he said at the time. "We have a responsibility to be careful."
However, calls to a few St. Andrew's parishioners suggested that not everyone in the congregation has been told why Father Worczak was removed from his ministry.
"I heard that he retired," said Geraldine Mitchell, Norwood.
Monsignor Harry K. Snow took over as St. Andrew's pastor on June 25. He had been rector of St. Mary's Cathedral, Ogdensburg.
Monsignor Snow refused to comment on why he was transferred to St. Andrew's.
"Father Paul was there Easter Sunday and then he was gone. They have not told us anything," said parishioner Elaine G. LaLone, Potsdam. "I don't like not knowing what happened. I don't have to know all the details, I just want to know something."
Attempts to contact Father Worczak have been unsuccessful. He reportedly has moved to the Massena area but the diocese would not provide his address or phone number.
Four north country priests were removed from their ministries in June 2002 as a result of the charter. However, Father Worczak was not among those.
In September, Bishop Barbarito instituted a policy that a cleric is to be removed immediately from his ministry if a review board determines enough evidence exists to suggest that sex abuse allegations against him are true. The review board is 10 people, the majority of whom must be lay people not employed by the diocese.
Father LaValley, calling it a personnel issue, refused to say whether a review board considered the allegations against Father Worczak.
The policy also requires the diocese to inform the district attorney having local jurisdiction of the allegations.
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Jerome J. Richards said Tuesday that the diocese has not informed him of sexual abuse allegations against any of its priests.
The Ogdensburg diocese's veil of secrecy surrounding the allegations against Father Worczak is not unusual, said abuse victim Joyce M. Nebush, regional coordinator for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
"The dioceses have not been helpful," said Mrs. Nebush, Utica.
Father Worczak became St. Andrew's pastor in June 1990. Before that, he was pastor of St. Joseph's Church, Massena.
Originally from Buffalo, Father Worczak was ordained in May 1968.
After serving at St. Mary's Church, Potsdam, he was appointed assistant pastor at Holy Family in February 1970. While at Holy Family, he was an instructor in religious education under the student release program.
In 1973, Father Worczak was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Chateaugay. The next year, he was given additional duties as administrator of St. Jude's, Brainardsville.
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