Priest Faces Church Probe

By Denise Ford-Mitchell
Saginaw News (Michigan)
July 27, 2006

Civil law and church law are far from the same, says the head of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.

While Saginaw County's prosecutor isn't seeking charges against the Rev. Richard T. Szafranski - who admitted in April to having a sexual relationship with a teenager three decades ago - the priest still must clear a canonical investigation by church leaders, said Bishop Robert J. Carlson.

"We now must see if church law - which Father Szafranski also is bound to - was broken in any way," said the 62-year-old bishop.

"I can't give you a time frame because there is no time limit for the investigation. However, when it's complete, we will make an announcement letting parishioners know the outcome."

Prosecutor Michael D. Thomas announced Tuesday he wasn't pursuing the case because the unidentified victim, now in her 40s, indicated she was older than the age of consent - 16 in Michigan - at the time the relationship began in the mid-1970s.

Thomas said the statute of limitations expired three years after the woman turned 16. The priest was in his mid-20s.

Thomas said the victim told him she agrees with his decision.

The woman's private counselor called Sister Janet Fulgenzi, victim assistance coordinator for the diocese, and reported the relationship.

Carlson removed Szafranski from his pastoral posts at Zilwaukee Township's St. Matt hew Catholic Church, 511 W. Cornell, and as the sacramental priest at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 545 Mapleridge in Carrollton Township.

Szafranski remains at a "safe place."

Although Carlson wouldn't detail the specifics of church law, the Vatican approved a policy in 2002 requiring accused priests to go before a clerical tribunal to determine guilt or innocence.

In addition, bishops may ask the Vatican to waive the church's statute of limitations, which requires victims to come forward by age 28. Church officials could unfrock Szafranski.

Church officials ordained Szafranski in 1975 while he was a deacon at St. Josaphat Catholic Church in Carrollton Township. He also has served at St. Stephen and SS. Peter and Paul in Saginaw, St. Vincent de Paul in Bay City, St. Mary University in Mount Pleasant, St. Francis X. Cabrini in Vassar and St. Bernard in Millington. Szafranski has served as pastor of St. Matthew since 1999.

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

Several parishioners have spoken in the priest's defense.

"It's so unfair to hold someone accountable for something that happened 30 years ago, when both of the people were young," said Donna J. Liss, 62, of Carrollton Township. She is a member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

"(Father Szafranski) should be put back in office, but who knows what the diocese is going to do with him."


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