Judge to Rule on Ex-Priest's Competency
Brother Says John Szantyr Is 'In a Fog'

By Gary V. Murray
Telegram & Gazette
April 12, 2008

WORCESTER— A retired priest accused of sexually assaulting two altar boys more than 20 years ago is no longer able to carry on an intelligent conversation, handle his financial affairs, drive a car or take care of his personal needs, his brother told a judge yesterday.

Paul T. Szantyr, one of two witnesses to testify at a competency hearing yesterday in Central District Court, said his 76-year-old brother, the Rev. John Szantyr, relies on aides, friends and family members to dress, feed and bathe him, give him medications, pay his bills and change his diapers.

Mr. Szantyr told Judge David Ricciardone that Rev. Szantyr, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and was brought to court yesterday in a wheelchair, responds with a nod or one-word answers when efforts are made to engage him in conversation.

"He doesn't talk. He listens. His eyes are somewhat focused, but he's distant," Mr. Szantyr told the court.

The hearing, which began Feb. 28 and concluded yesterday, was held to determine whether Rev. Szantyr is mentally competent to stand trial on charges of indecently assaulting two altar boys during the 1980s when he was assigned to Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish on Ward Street. The charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty, were lodged in 2003.

Judge Ricciardone took the matter under advisement at the close of testimony and said he hoped to have a ruling within two weeks.

In September 2006, Judge Dennis J. Brennan, since retired, found Rev. Szantyr mentally incompetent to stand trial, based on an evaluation done by Dr. John Murphy, a neurologist. Last August, another competency evaluation was done by psychiatrist Malcolm P. Rogers, at the request of Assistant District Attorney Joseph J. Reilly III.

The prosecutor said he asked for the second evaluation because of information brought to his attention since Judge Brennan's finding of incompetency, including reports by people who said they had dealings with Rev. Szantyr as recently as 2006 as part of a prayer group called Seeds of Hope.

Dr. Rogers testified on Feb. 28 that he found Rev. Szantyr competent to stand trial. While acknowledging that the retired priest had suffered some cognitive impairment as a result of his condition, he said Rev. Szantyr had both an understanding of the legal process and the ability to assist his lawyer, Edward P. Ryan Jr., in his defense.

Mr. Szantyr, a 72-year-old teacher, said his brother and another sibling live together in a duplex in Waterbury, Conn. He said he visits Rev. Szantyr every morning and massages his head, neck and shoulders to "help him become more aware of his presence."

Under cross-examination by Mr. Reilly, Mr. Szantyr said he first noticed that his brother was having difficulty conversing about two years ago. Mr. Szantyr testified that Rev. Szantyr began generally responding to questions with one-word answers about a year ago.

Mr. Reilly then asked Mr. Szantyr about the accuracy of a detailed social history the prosecutor said Rev. Szantyr gave to Dr. Rogers when the psychiatrist interviewed him last summer. Although unsure of specific dates, Mr. Szantyr verified most of the information, including the name of the grammar school the retired priest attended as a child growing up in Waterbury.

Constance Plank, a certified nurses' aide who cared for Rev. Szantyr until late January or early February of this year, was asked by Mr. Ryan about his client's mental state at that time.

"He's like in a fog. He's at a distance," Ms. Plank testified.

"Your honor, this man does not have the capability to assist me in the defense of this case. He doesn't have that, and he hasn't had that for a long time," Mr. Ryan said in his closing argument.

Mr. Reilly suggested that the evidence before the court showed Rev. Szantyr has a "rational understanding" of the court process and the ability to assist his lawyer. He urged the judge to find Rev. Szantyr competent to stand trial.

Judge Ricciardone continued to the case to May 9, but said he expects to have a ruling before then.



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