Priest Charged with Sex Attack on Young Woman on Airplane

By Jeff Whelan
July 12, 2008

A local priest was charged with assault yesterday after he allegedly fondled a 16-year-old girl on an airplane.

The Rev. Tomasz Adam Zielinski, 31, was removed from his position at Christ the King Church in Manville as a result of the federal charges, according to church officials. Zielinski, a Polish citizen, served as an associate pastor at the Somerset County parish since April and is staying in the United States on a religious visa.

The incident occurred aboard a July 5 flight from Poland on which Zielinski was returning from a vacation. He allegedly groped the girl and attempted to unzip her pants, according to a criminal complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Newark.

The girl left her seat and asked for assistance from the flight crew, who moved her to a different seat for the remainder of the flight, authorities said.

Zielinski approached the girl in her new seat, apologized and asked for her forgiveness, the complaint said. The flight crew ordered him back to his own seat. FBI agents interviewed him four days later and he confessed, according to the complaint.

Zielinski's priest's collar offered a jarring juxtaposition with the shackles at his wrists and ankles as he shuffled into court yesterday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Claire Cecchi released him on a $10,000 bond and ordered him to surrender his passport, attend mental health counseling and avoid contact with minors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Judson Welle said the priest could face up to six months in prison, a $5,000 fine and deportation to Poland.

Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen removed Zielinski from his position upon learning of the charges, according to a diocesan spokeswoman. Church officials will now review whether he will face other sanctions.

"It is unfortunate," the Rev. Bogulslaw Augustyn, pastor of Christ King Church, said of Zielinski's arrest. "He was very much liked by everybody."


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