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  Bishop Suspends Priest Amid Accusation

By Jill Armentrout
Saginaw News (Michigan)
April 9, 2006

Parishioners left a Palm Sunday Mass in tears Saturday after learning Bishop Robert J. Carlson suspended their beloved priest after allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct reaching back three decades.

During Mass, parishioners at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Zilwaukee learned that the Rev. Richard Szafranski is on administrative leave over allegations that he had sex with a young woman while serving at another Saginaw County parish as a new priest.

Szafranski, 57, was ordained a priest in 1975 while a deacon at St. Josaphat Catholic Church in Carrollton Township. The bishop named the accused priest in a news release issued Saturday and confirmed it Saturday night.

Parishioner Catherine M. Stine, 44, of Zilwaukee left the church in tears Saturday with her 11-year-old daughter, Vickie Stine. Clutching a palm frond, Stine said she was in shock over the announcement.

"I never thought this could happen here," she said.

Carlson, head of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, said the allegations against Szafranski stem from incidents that occurred during the mid-1970s and involve a woman who was 16 or 17 at the time. He wouldn't release additional details.

There are no other allegations of misconduct in Szafranski's personnel file, he said.

The diocese also reported the allegations to the Saginaw County prosecutor, as spelled out in the U.S. Bishop's Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth. Carlson said the diocese will follow civil and church law in dealing with this case. He said he believes the woman also made a report to law enforcement officials.

Prosecutor Mike Thomas is out of town, and The Saginaw News could not reach him for comment.

The accuser's counselor called Sister Janet Fulgenzi, victim assistance coordinator for the diocese, a week ago and reported the "sexual misconduct," Carlson said. Fulgenzi has met with the counselor and the woman.

Szafranski has served at several churches in the diocese, including parishes in Mount Pleasant, Vassar, Saginaw and Bay City. He has served as pastor of St. Matthew since 1999.

Carlson said he met with Szafranski Thursday and placed him on leave at that time.

The diocese has had a policy dealing with sexual misconduct by priests in place since 1988, Carlson said. Diocese officials in 2004 said they received nine accusations of child sex abuse involving four priests and one deacon during a 52-year period that ended in 2002. The Saginaw diocese has paid no money to resolve the cases.

Diocese officials are working to assign an interim pastor to St. Matthew parish. Carlson spoke to about 200 parishioners in attendance Saturday and released a statement to the media shortly before leading the 5 p.m. Mass.

"There is great sadness," he said of the congregation's reaction to his announcement.

"It's devastating," parishioner Stine said. "My husband and our other daughter are coming tomorrow morning. We'll have to sit down and discuss this with them. ...

"I have so many mixed feelings. I can't imagine what the next couple of weeks will be like."

A senior pastor will lead today's Mass, and Fulgenzi was to make another statement to the parishioners this morning.

"We have a good policy, and we moved quickly and it works," Carlson said. "After the prosecutor has investigated, we will conduct our own investigation."

Carlson urged abuse victims to come forward and talk to Fulgenzi.

 
 

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