|Former St. Lawrence Priest at Center of Lawsuit
By Chris Williams
April 18, 2008
A former Utica priest who was discharged from his position for possession of child pornography is now at the center of a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Shelby Township resident Vincent Venturini, 18, filed a $25,000 lawsuit against the archdiocese on April 10 in Wayne County Circuit Court, alleging that Timothy Szott, a former pastor at Utica's St. Lawrence parish, molested him in 1999. Venturini's lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese covered up the allegations; the lawsuit also alleges that the archdiocese covered up other sexual crimes Szott is alleged to have committed between 1976 and 2003.
Venturini was 9 years old when the alleged crimes took place; Michigan law allows minors to file lawsuits in sexual abuse cases up to one year after they turn 18. This lawsuit is the first civil lawsuit against the archdiocese with the potential to go to trial.
Ned McGrath, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit commented on the lawsuit through a written statement.
"At this writing, the Detroit archdiocese has not seen the court filing and even when we do, because the matter is in litigation, we're limited as to what we can say," McGrath wrote. "Obviously, this is a very serious matter ... and we are saddened when claims of this nature come forward."
Szott was pastor at St. Lawrence from 1995 until 2003, when he was removed from his position amidst allegations that he possessed child pornography. Szott pleaded no contest to the charges in September of that year and was removed from the priesthood in 2005.
Szott currently serves as the faith and community relations director for Habitat for Humanity in Tucson, Ariz. He is currently on a health-related personal leave, said Executive Director Michael McDonald, but is still considered an employee in good standing with the organization.
"He's still an employee here, although he is on personal leave at the time due to illness," McDonald said. "We have found him to be a very generous and credible person, and he's very pleasant to work with."
McDonald said management at Habitat for Humanity was aware of Szott's prior employment and the circumstances surrounding his dismissal from the priesthood.
"He did discuss it when he started and informed us as to what had transpired in his previous position," McDonald said. "We're very shocked and dismayed at these current allegations."
The allegations come just as Pope Benedict XVI makes his first visit to the United States last week, during which he is expected to address the need for healing among the Catholic Church in the fallout of the clergy sex abuse scandal that came to a head in 2002.
McGrath said the Archdiocese of Detroit offers assistance to those alleging to have been victims of sexual abuse as part of its mission to heal. Venturini, McGrath said, did not contact assistance counselors that were available to him.
"Using media reports as our source, it does not appear this individual contacted the Victim Assistance coordinator for the archdiocese," McGrath said. "As it relates to that reporting mechanism, there is absolutely no statute of limitation' or time limit for a person to bring his/her complaint or concern forward."
Utica Police Chief Michael Reaves, who handled the investigation involving Szott in 2003, said that while they did receive indications regarding possible abuse during the investigation, those incidents did not occur in the Utica Police Department's jurisdiction. Reaves said the allegations were handed over to prosecutors in the proper jurisdictions.
Venturini was unable to be reached for this story and his parents declined to comment at this time. His attorney, Craig Tank, was also unable to be reached for comment.
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