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  Priest Faces Child Porn Charges
Baltimore Archdiocese, Police Report No Abuse Allegations

By Maureen O'Hagan
Washington Post
June 8, 2002

A Baltimore priest was indicted in federal court yesterday on charges of using the Internet to receive images of child pornography, the fourth clergyman associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore to be publicly accused this year in child sex-related incidents.

Thomas A. Rydzewski, 35, who was assigned to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, was charged in a three-count indictment with receiving sexually explicit images of minors and with possession of such images.

According to Raymond I. Kempisty, archdiocese spokesman, Rydzewski has not worked at the cathedral since December, when a search warrant was served there and at his father's house. At that time, Rydzewski was removed from his post, put on administrative leave and barred from practicing as a priest. His duties at the cathedral — which also has a grade school — were varied but included ministering to youths, Kempisty said.

"We sent notifications home at places where he had served or spent significant time, and we received no reports of improper activity with" children, Kempisty said. Baltimore police and the state's attorney's office confirmed yesterday that no one had come forward with allegations.

Rydzewski was ordained in 1998 and served as associate pastor at St. Agnes, which also has a school, from 1998 to 2000. After that, he became one of two associate pastors at the cathedral. He also served as a chaplain at the Cardinal Gibbons School.

Rydzewski came to the attention of authorities after a tip from a woman who sold collectible dolls that look like real children on the Internet auction site eBay, Click for Enhanced Coverage Linking Searchesaccording to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case.

The woman told Baltimore police in December that she and several friends recently realized that they had all sold "My Twin Dolls" — which go for several hundred dollars each — to someone who used the screen name "skywalker_198."

The woman did some detective work and learned through the eBay site that skywalker_198 — who had told the woman his real name was Rydzewski — had recently bought numerous items that she found "very disturbing," the affidavit said. Authorities later learned that in a two-month period last year, skywalker_198 had purchased approximately 225 items at a total cost of nearly $ 6,000, the document states.

When the seller discovered that Rydzewski was a priest, she contacted the archdiocese and Baltimore police, who then forwarded the information to the FBI.

"She felt that the items Rydzewski was purchasing online were completely inappropriate for a priest," the affidavit said, and allegedly included boys' clothing, nude photographs of male children, vintage advertising depicting children, photographs of altar boys and other materials. Some of the items were allegedly delivered to the cathedral.

"The purchase of such items by a person employed in a position of trust and confidence involving day-to-day contact with children, such as Thomas Anthony Rydzewski causes serious concern in the interest of public safety," FBI agent Michael W. DuBois wrote.

But, authorities said, those items are not illegal. So the FBI went back to the Internet and determined that Rydzewski, using the screen name "sithlordtom," had frequented Yahoo Usenet groups that cater to people interested in child pornography, the affidavit said. Rydzewski allegedly used those sites to upload several pornographic pictures, according to the affidavit.

"Rydzewski admitted to [an FBI agent] that he has long had a curiosity . . . and that as a result of this curiosity he would infrequently connect to the Internet and access Usenet newsgroups" that the FBI said are "known to be used nearly exclusively for the dissemination and trade of child pornography."

Rydzewski was released on $ 100,000 bond and has been undergoing treatment at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring since shortly after the search warrant was served. He is to appear in court Tuesday.

Rydzewski is the fourth priest from the diocese accused of misconduct this year but only the second to be criminally charged. A fifth priest was asked to retire from his administrative post because of an allegation for which he had already been sanctioned and treated. A former Baltimore priest was accused of sexual misconduct involving an adult.

 
 

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