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  Priest Is Offered Plea Deal to Settle Sex-Assault Case

By Joann Klimkiewicz
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
September 30, 2004

New Britain — A visiting priest from Poland charged with molesting a teenage girl who sought his counseling after an alleged rape was offered a plea agreement Wednesday.

Details of the offer made in Superior Court for the Rev. Roman Kramek, 42, were not disclosed. Kramek's attorney, William Dow, would not discuss the offer, which would close the case before trial. Nor would New Britain State's Attorney Scott J. Murphy.

Six of Kramek's supporters were in court. Judge Susan B. Handy explained to Kramek that the state had offered him a plea agreement, but did not disclose its details in court.

Kramek will be back in court on Nov. 3 to accept or reject the offer. Rejection means the case goes to trial.

"And trust me sir, it does not get better," Handy said.

"I understand," Kramek said through an interpreter. Kramek declined to talk afterward about the case, as he has since his arrest in a New Britain church parking lot on Christmas Eve 2002.

But one of a group of Polish Americans supporting Kramek since his arrest said the visiting priest is aching to return to his country and his family.

"He is waiting for this to end, one way or the other. He wants to go back to Poland as soon as possible and go back to his ailing mother and serve the people he was serving," said Lucyna Kolakowska, a Farmington woman who befriended Kramek after the arrest that split the city's Polish American community. She is among the supporters who escorted Kramek to court Wednesday.

"It's very difficult to defend yourself if you cannot talk," said Kolakowska after Kramek's court appearance.

She agreed to talk about Kramek's plight here, not about the legal troubles facing the priest.

"He has a feeling of hopelessness that he cannot defend himself, because, he says, who will believe him?"

Kramek came to New Britain two years ago from Szyleny in northern Poland to serve temporarily at Sacred Heart Church during the busy Christmas season. During that time, police say, he agreed to offer spiritual counseling to a New Britain teen troubled by a recent sexual assault.

Police say he had sex with the 17-year-old girl in her grandmother's apartment, later explaining to a Polish-speaking officer that he did so to show her sex could be a positive experience. He surrendered to police quietly on Christmas Eve in the church's parking lot.

Under state law, it is illegal for psychotherapists or clergy members to have sex with anyone they are counseling. Kramek is charged with second-degree sexual assault, a crime that carries up to a 10-year prison sentence.

Kramek has pleaded not guilty.

The priest quickly found a group of supporters in the local Polish American community. Some offered their help, saying they felt bad for a fellow Pole who has no family or friends in this country and who is unfamiliar with the legal system. Others doubted the girl's story and questioned whether the priest understood the damaging statement he signed for police.

Supporters began a grass-roots effort to raise money for Kramek's legal defense via dinners and collection tins in local shops. That movement has since subsided amid media attention.

The case, still in the pretrial stages, has moved through the court at a pace that has seemed painfully slow to Kramek and to the girl, who is now 19.

Kramek has been staying at the New Britain home of a Polish American family, one of about five that have supported him privately since the public fund-raisers ceased.

"The response of the Polish people was great, but the amount of money wasn't even enough for the initial legal fees," Kolakowska said Wednesday. "I didn't want his suffering to be public. So now, just a few of us are responsible for his well-being."

Pleas to Polish priests across the country, and even to those in Kramek's home diocese, went unanswered, Kolakowska said. Locally, the Hartford Archdiocese declined to help a priest "that is not their own," she said.

"For me, as a Polish American in the Roman Catholic church, it is difficult to understand that he was left alone by his own colleagues. I thought that Roman Catholics are supposed to help each other," Kolakowska said. She said she was initially heartened by the Polish community's response, but quickly saw many were more interested in spreading gossip than offering help. She is grateful to those who aided Kramek.

And she explained why she and others can support a man they met only weeks before, and in some cases, weeks after, his arrest.

For her part, Kolakowska, a parishioner at Holy Cross Church, another Polish parish in the city, was intrigued by the story, determined to learn the truth of the "he-said, she-said" scenario and help where she could.

"I knew I was taking a risk being involved because I am well-known in the Polish community," said Kolakowska, herself a private person who repeatedly declined to be interviewed until Wednesday. She said she became certain after talking in detail with Kramek about what happened that day, and speaking to priests and parishioners who knew Kramek back in Poland - all of whom said he had no criminal record and had always been well-liked.

"I wanted to know I was not helping someone I should not help. If I knew in my heart that he was a criminal or a pedophile, I would not help anyone like that," she said. "I'm sure, and I know deep in my heart that he is innocent."

She said Kramek was "easy prey" during a time when allegations of sexual abuse by priests were constantly in national headlines.

"It's easy to kick someone if he's already fallen," she said. "I've learned you can be glorified in 24 hours, but you can also be damaged even faster than that."

She declined to let Kramek speak for this story, but she said he is in fair health and trying to keep his spirits up. He is wary of being recognized and whispered about in public, and so spends much of his time inside praying and making daily calls to his family in Poland.

He no longer celebrates Mass — one of the most difficult things for him. "I think he's already been punished, staying here and away from his family for two years," she said.

Kramek is not the only one feeling trapped in limbo. His accuser said Wednesday she is eager for the case to be resolved.

"I don't have time to worry about it. I'm totally busy with things," said the girl. She is now a community college freshman studying criminal justice, and she has enrolled in the National Guard.

The stares and whispers so commonplace after the arrest have subsided, though every once in a while she'll catch someone pointing her way.

"This is a sad story. It's been a difficult time for all of us," Kolakowska said. "But we will wait for the verdict of the court, which we will honor — whatever the outcome."

 
 

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