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  Priest to Plead Guilty to Sex Abuse

By Matt Stearns
Kansas City Star
August 15, 2002

The Rev. Dennis E. Schmitz will plead guilty next month to a sexual abuse charge involving a teen-age boy, the priest's attorney said Wednesday.

As a result, Schmitz and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas will begin procedures to permanently remove him from the priesthood, an archdiocesan spokesman said.

Schmitz, who will formally enter his plea Sept. 5, is the only priest in the Kansas City area to face criminal charges in the sexual abuse scandal that has swept through the Roman Catholic Church in recent months.

Schmitz was ordained in 1989 and served many Johnson County parishes during his career. At one time he led priest recruitment for the archdiocese. He was charged in Douglas County in June with lewd fondling of a child under the age of 16. The alleged abuse occurred between June 1998 and May 1999, when the boy was 15.

"He is extremely remorseful," said Stephen Mirakian, Schmitz's attorney, after a court hearing in Douglas County.

"He feels horrible about what's happened. He's done enormous good during his years as a priest. But he understands he violated a trust. He harmed a young man who should not have been harmed, and he'll have to live with that for the rest of his life."

Schmitz, 41, could face up to 136 months in prison, said Ruth Ritthaler, an assistant district attorney in Douglas County. If he has no criminal record, the sentencing range on the charge is between 31 and 34 months, Ritthaler said. It is also possible that Schmitz might not serve time at all, Ritthaler said.

Ritthaler would not say whether she would recommend a sentence to the judge.

Mirakian said, "We hope he won't be incarcerated, but that will be up to the judge."

Schmitz decided to plead guilty "largely because ... we did not want this young man to relive any of this and go through the legal process of trying to prove this," Mirakian said.

In a statement issued by the archdiocese, Archbishop James Keleher "expressed his great sorrow that a young person has been hurt and especially by one of the priests of the archdiocese."

The archdiocese indicated that in dealing with Schmitz it would follow the charter on sexual abuse of children adopted by U.S. bishops at their June meeting in Dallas. The charter is under review by the Vatican, but even if Rome rejects the charter, Keleher has said he will stand by it.

"According to the norms of the charter, Father Schmitz will never be allowed to return to active ministry in the church," according to the statement. "He will not be allowed to celebrate Mass. He will not be allowed to wear priestly garb or present himself as a priest."

Furthermore, Schmitz "has agreed to begin the process of voluntary laicization ... removing Father Schmitz permanently from the ranks of the priesthood."

Schmitz faces a similar charge in Nemaha County involving the same young man. Mirakian said he still was negotiating with the Nemaha County district attorney to resolve that case.

The alleged victim also has filed a civil lawsuit in Douglas County against Schmitz and the archdiocese.

 
 

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