Diocesan Priest Admits Relationship with Teen

By Denise Ford-Mitchell
The Bay City Times [Michigan]
April 11, 2006

A priest removed from his post in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw admits he was involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a teenager 30 years ago.

"It was wrong of me and painful to her," the Rev. Richard T. Szafranski wrote in a statement that Bishop Robert J. Carlson read at a press conference Monday.

Szafranski, 57, a Bay City native, is on administrative leave from Zilwaukee Township's St. Matthew Catholic Church while Saginaw County Prosecutor Michael D. Thomas investigates an allegation made by the unidentified woman.

The woman's private counselor on April 8 told church leaders that more than 30 years ago, in the mid-1970s when the victim was 16 or 17, she had a sexual relationship with the priest.

"I am sorry that my sins have affected (parishioners)," Szafranski wrote. "You have supported me through my health problems and in my ministry, and I thank you. I need your prayers now more than ever, and I will continue to pray for you."

Church officials ordained Szafranski a priest 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, St. Bernard in Millington and St. John the Baptist in Carrollton Township.

Meanwhile, Carlson said sexual abuse of children is not simply a "church" problem.

"Unfortunately, it's in every facet of society," he said, "and it's a rampant problem in society. Hopefully by taking quick action, it will give us hope to continue and the courage to heal."

Carlson said Szafranski will remain on leave pending the outcome of the prosecutor's investigation. Then church officials will decide whether Szafranski will resume his post. In the meantime, Szafranski is staying at an undisclosed "safe place" as the case moves forward.

"We're waiting for the prosecutor to wrap up his case before we get into those details," Carlson said.

Thomas said Monday he has not received a formal complaint from the victim or a report from the Saginaw Police Department.

"I haven't talked with the bishop yet," Thomas said. "But I am trying to get in contact with the victim. I don't know what the facts are at this point. Until we can talk to the person, it's not something we can discuss."

Thomas also refused to speculate on possible statute of limitation issues.

The woman's allegation is the first such accusation Carlson said he's received in his 14 months in office.

"My heart goes out to the victim, her family, (Father) Richard and the many people affected by this sad news," said Carlson, 61.

"I don't know why she waited or if there are more victims," he said. "I do, however, know that we have a very elaborate training program in the diocese that teaches children and adults how to recognize child lures and why sexual abuse is wrong."

The victim's delay is not unusual, said Ellen O. Hatcher, 45, an education training coordinator for the Child Abuse and Neglect Council, 1311 N. Michigan in Saginaw.

"If they tell at all, it is much later in life," Hatcher said. "The victims are groomed in such a way to make them feel as if it is their fault. And if the person was showing any sexual acting out, people assume she asked for it, which is not true."

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


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.