|Local Priest Charged with Groping Teenager
By Eileen Oldfield
July 21, 2008
Christ the King Church Assistant Pastor Tomasz A. Zielinski, 31, a Polish citizen, has been removed from church duties after being charged with simple assault July 11 for allegedly groping a 16-year-old girl.
The incident allegedly occurred during a July 5 LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw, Poland, to Newark Liberty International Airport.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court on July 11 said the Rev. Zielinski admitted to the incident during a July 9 investigation that involved the FBI, the Manville Police Department, and the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.
A misdemeanor charge, the simple assault carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison, and up to a $5,000 fine. He was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond. Diocese of Metuchen officials did not specify his duties at the church, and did not know whether he was still living at the church."A final charges decision has not been made," said Michael Drewniak, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey. "The charge could be upgraded to a felony. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but it's possible."
According to a release from the FBI's Newark field office, the Rev. Zielinski was seated next to the girl during the trip. The July 11 criminal complaint said the Rev. Zielinski allegedly reached under a blanket that was covering the girl's lap and torso, and began touching her right thigh.
Allegedly, the Rev. Zielinski began moving his hand up the girl's stomach to her chest, the complaint read. After the girl blocked him with her arm, the Rev. Zielinski allegedly tried to unzip her pants.
The teenager asked flight attendants to change her seat, which the flight crew accommodated, the FBI releasesaid.
Later in the flight, the Rev. Zielinski allegedly approached the girl again, stating he was sorry and asking her forgiveness, the complaint said. Flight crewmembers asked him to return to his seat.
Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski revoked the Rev. Zielinski's duties at Christ the King Church and in the Diocese of Metuchen, diocese spokeswoman Joanne Ward said, and a letter addressing the incident was read at each of the church's weekend Masses.
"Consistent with our long-standing policy of addressing sexual abuse claims, I have revoked Father Zielinski's faculties as an extern priest in the Diocese of Metuchen," Bishop Bootkoski's letter read. "Since Father Zielinski is a member of the Warsaw Province of the Redemptorist order, any further discipline will be determined by his superior (in that order)."
The Rev. Zielinski was assigned to the Manville church in April for his first known assignment out of Poland.
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