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  Area Priest Is Charged in Sexual Abuse of Boy
Case Dating from 1995 Involved Parishioner, 14

By Heather Ratcliffe, Bill Smith And Patricia Rice
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
April 12, 2002

A priest who recruits young men to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of St. Louis was charged Thursday with sexually abusing a 14-year-old parishioner seven years ago.

Prosecutors said the Rev. Bryan Kuchar, 36, admitted to police that he sexually abused the boy in 1995 when he was associate pastor at Assumption Church in Mattese in south St. Louis County. It happened at the Roman Catholic church's rectory on several occasions over a six-month period from January to July of that year, authorities said.

The charges, the first sexual abuse charges against an active St. Louis archdiocesan priest since the issue came to the forefront here about six weeks ago, stunned local Catholic officials and parishioners near Assumption Church and elementary school.

"This came as a devastating shock," Archbishop Justin F. Rigali said in a prepared statement. He assigned Kuchar to the vocations office last year.

Theresa Winkler, a parishioner who teaches night religion classes at Assumption to public school students, said of Kuchar, "I have never heard a bad thing about him." She said Kuchar officiated at her father's funeral in January 1995.

The youth reported the alleged abuse to his family and a personal counselor in 1997, but the allegations were not brought to the police until two weeks ago, said St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

He said police had no evidence that church officials knew about the abuse allegations until now.

Kuchar is charged with six counts of second-degree statutory sodomy, a felony. He was arrested Wednesday evening near his office in Shrewsbury and released Thursday on a $15,000 bond.

"Frankly, he's been very cooperative with officers and this investigation," McCulloch said.

Kuchar is the associate director of the archdiocese's Vocations Office, with offices at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. He resides at St. John the Baptist High School in the city's Bevo neighborhood.

Police said recent publicity about sexual abuse in the Catholic church may have prompted the accuser, who still lives in the St. Louis area, to come forward.

"We have absolutely no indication that this involves any other children," McCulloch said. "If there are any other victims anywhere ... we certainly would be interested in talking to them."

The archdiocese gave letters describing the allegations against Kuchar to parents at St. John the Baptist High School on Thursday evening, during parent-teacher conferences. Kuchar has been living at the school since last summer.

Officials at Assumption, at 4725 Mattis Road, were expected to send letters home with students, but Principal Cyndi Hasten said Thursday afternoon that parents and children had yet to be notified.

Rigali said: "I again reiterate that the safety and protection of our children is our highest priority. I repeat my abhorrence of the reprehensible evil of sexual abuse and my determination to

do everything possible to put an end to it."

"Charming, wonderful"Kuchar, a graduate of Kenrick Seminary, was ordained a priest in 1993. While at Assumption, he occasionally taught grade school classes in religion. Until last year, he served as the chaplain at Rosati-Kain High School and was a priest in residence at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, both in the Central West End.

He often helped out with archdiocesan youth events. His popularity with teens and children was one of the reasons Rigali chose him to help recruit young men to the priesthood, an archdiocesan administrator said.

Called "Father Bryan" by the parishioners of Assumption, he is best remembered there for his powerful homilies, his love of art and his passion for gardening.

"He is a charming, wonderful, delightful young man," said Virginia Bollwerk, a longtime Assumption parishioner and a docent at the Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard.

"It is just so startling," she said. "It's hard. We haven't had time to absorb all this."

She urged the church to "find out why" the alleged abuse took place.

She said she is worried that the news is "going to pull this parish into pieces."

 
 

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