|Manville Priest Admits Fondling Teen on Plane
By Jeff Whelan
October 1, 2008
A Somerset County priest faces up to two years in jail after admitting today that he fondled a 16-year-old girl on an airplane in July.
The Rev. Tomasz Adam Zielinski, 32, pleaded guilty to abusive sexual contact aboard an aircraft and said he touched the girl on her thigh and groin without her permission as they sat next to each other on a flight from Poland to Newark.
"Did you do this with the intent to arouse or gratify your sexual desire?" U.S. District Judge Jose Linares asked during a hearing in Newark.
"Yes," replied Zielinski, who wore his priest's collar to the hearing.
Zielinski was removed from his position at Christ the King Church in Manville after being charged in July by federal authorities, who have jurisdiction aboard airplanes. He had served as an associate pastor at the Somerset County parish since April and is staying in the United States on a religious visa.
David Kwon, Zielinski's attorney, said his client will meet with immigration officials and volunteer to be deported from the United States after his sentencing.
The incident occurred aboard a flight from Poland on which Zielinski was returning from vacation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Judson Welle said while the maximum penalty the priest faces is two years in prison, federal sentencing guidelines recommend a term of between six months and a year.
Rev. Jan Kwiecien, one of Zielinski's superiors who attended the hearing, said Zielinski, who is out on bail and prohibited from coming into contact with minors, is temporarily living at the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, a convent in Woodbridge.
Joanne Ward, a spokeswoman for Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, said Zielinski was a member of the Warsaw Province of the Redemptorist order and not a priest in the diocese. She said the bishop revoked Zielinski's faculties as a priest in the diocese in accordance with a policy regarding sexual abuse claims. Ward said Zielinski's superiors in the Redemptorist order will decide whether or not to attempt to remove him from the priesthood.
Kwiecien said Zielinski would not be removed from the clergy. He said Zielinski drank wine and beer on the plane and that his intoxication may have contributed to the incident. He said he still had trouble believing Zielinski was guilty, but that the circumstances were "very bad for him."
"He is a good man, a good priest. But I don't know what happened at this moment," Kwiecien said.
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