|Accused Priest Chided for Saying Mass
By Dave Wedge
September 27, 2007
An alleged pedophile priest whose molestation trial has been repeatedly delayed due to questions over his competency has overseen religious services in apparent violation of church orders and was warned by a Catholic bishop, the Herald has learned.
Church officials in Springfield were told in early September that John Szantyr has conducted Mass, despite being stripped of his authority to act as a priest in 1988. The apparent violation of church orders prompted Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell to fire off a stern warning to the embattled holy man, said Terence Hegarty, spokesman for the Springfield diocese.
"We did receive conclusive proof that contrary to the instructions from the Diocese of Worcester, he had celebrated Mass in a private home in Springfield," Hegarty said. "The bishop informed him that he remains absolutely forbidden to celebrate Mass anywhere, privately or publicly, or to administer any sacramental functions at all."
Szantyr, 76, is awaiting trial in Worcester on charges he molested a boy in the mid-1980s, but the trial has been repeatedly delayed due to a debate over his competency.
Asked about the Springfield diocese's actions, Szantyr's lawyer, Ed Ryan, said: "I certainly don't think he's been conducting any Masses in Massachusetts. I would be suspect of any 'conclusive proof.' "
A Worcester judge deemed Szantyr incompetent to stand trial based on evaluations done by two doctors hired by the Worcester District Attorney's Office. The DA's office is challenging the ruling and says a new evaluation has found Szantyr competent. A new competency hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19.
The victim and his supporters have questioned Szantyr's incompetency, claiming he has performed religious services, has a valid Connecticut driver's license and has been spotted walking normally after appearing in court in a wheelchair.
Ryan called the issues "irrelevant," saying, "In my judgment, he is incompetent to stand trial. He's not capable of assisting in his defense."
But Vic Valois, a congregant of Springfield's Seeds of Hope chapel, said he's known Szantyr since 1994 and has seen him dressed as a priest "hundreds of times."
"I always thought he was a priest in good standing," said Valois, who has complained about Szantyr to church authorities and state police. "I've seen him give Masses. I've been to confession with him. He blessed my home."
Seeds of Hope officials did not return calls.
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