|Manville Priest Charged with Groping Girl on Plane Indicted
By Pamela Sroka—holzmann
Home News Tribune
July 17, 2008
MANVILLE —A federal grand jury has indicted a priest from a borough Catholic church on charges he groped a 16-year-old girl sitting next to him on an airplane flight.
The Rev. Tomasz Adam Zielinski, 31, a Polish citizen staying in the United States on a religious visa, surrendered to special agents of the FBI on July 11 following an investigation of events on a Polish Airlines aircraft that arrived July 5 in Newark. Zielinski was charged with one count of abusive sexual contact aboard an aircraft, which departed from Warsaw, Poland and was bound for the United States.
Zielinski appeared in federal court on July 11 and was released by a federal magistrate judge on a $10,000 bond and ordered to have no contact with minors.
Joanne Ward, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen, said Zielinski has since been removed from his position at Christ the King Church, 211 Louis St. Zielinski had served since April as a parochial vicar in assisting the Rev. Boguslaw Augustyn - the pastor at both the Christ the King and Sacred Heart churches - however, Zielinski's duties were solely at Christ the King, Ward said.
According to the indictment handed up Thursday from federal court, Zielinski was seated next to the girl when he reached under a blanket covering her lap and began touching her inappropriately. The girl responded by blocking his hand and pushing the blanket downward. Zielinski then moved his hand down to the girl's thigh and attempted to unzip her pants. The girl then asked the flight crew to change her seat and was accommodated, the indictment states.
Later in the flight, Zielinski allegedly approached her again, apologized and asked for forgiveness, the indictment states. The flight crew directed Zielinski back to his seat. The plane landed at approximately 9 p.m. July 5 at Newark Liberty International Airport. FBI agents interviewed the priest July 9 and he confessed, according to court documents.
During Masses last weekend at both Christ the King and Sacred Heart churches, a letter was read from Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski alerting the parishes of the incident. The letter stated, "I pray that your esteem for the church and the sacred priesthood will not be shaken by this occurrence, and I ask you to join me in praying for the Lord's healing for all affected by this incident."
"The Bishop wanted to be transparent and let them (parishioners) know," Ward said. "His (bishop) long-standing policy is to address any allegations of sexual abuse immediately and appropriately."
Ward added the letter also was meant in general, to encourage victims of sexual abuse to come forward and report incidents to authorities. She said, "It (letter) also was to show, in a sense to others out there, they can come forward to and should come forward."
The next step in the case is for Zielinski to appear for an arraignment on the indictment. The case must be assigned to a U.S. District judge who will set a date for that arraignment.
Special agents of the FBI in Newark, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Weysan Dun, are being credited with the investigation of Zielinski. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Judson Welle in Newark.
If convicted, the priest faces a maximum statutory penalty of two years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the outcome of the case could determine if Zielinski will face deportation back to Poland.
"We're not talking deportation at this time," he said.
Pamela Sroka-Holzmann can be reached at 908-707-3155 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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