Priest's Parish Reacts to Settlement
On the day set aside each year to honor Catholic saints, Katherine Carlman went to a noon Mass at SS. Cyril and Methodius Church in Hartford, hoping to hear one of the inspiring sermons she has come to enjoy from the Rev. William Przybylo.
But Przybylo didn't say any of the Masses on All Saints Day Tuesday, the day after he was one of 14 priests named in a $22 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Hartford and 43 people who alleged sexual misconduct. Przybylo is the only one of the 14 still active in the ministry.
In his place for the day was Monsignor Gerard G. Schmitz, a seminary classmate of Przybylo's and the archdiocese's vicar for priests. Schmitz spoke of a difficult and painful day -- for the parish, for the church, for Przybylo, for his alleged victims and for their families.
And for people like Katherine Carlman.
``He is a great priest, and I was looking forward to hearing one of his sermons today, because he speaks so well and he's so inspirational that, on this feast day, it would have been nice to hear him speak,'' Carlman said after a Mass that drew about 70 people. ``So we missed him in church today.''
Richard Barnas, another parishioner, spoke softly as he left.
``It's just a sad day for the church,'' he said, adding that it's hard to know if the allegations are true or not. ``It hurts everybody in the parish.''
The discussions that led to this week's settlement began two years ago between lawyers for alleged victims, representatives from the archdiocese, and U.S. Magistrate William I. Garfinkel, who mediated the eventual settlement.
Przybylo, in a statement released Monday, maintained his innocence, saying there was ``absolutely no truth to these allegations.'' He said he decided to settle the accusations against him in the best interests of the church, the parish and ``the claimants.''
The allegations against Przybylo, which were brought to the attention of the archdiocese in 2003, were never spelled out in a lawsuit. But, according to one of the lawyers involved in the settlement, two men alleged that Przybylo fondled them when he was principal at Holy Cross School in New Britain in the 1970s.
The attorney, Cindy Robinson of Tremont & Sheldon PC in Bridgeport, said both men, who were friends, claimed Przybylo fondled them during their service as altar boys. One of the two alleged victims also accused Przybylo of fondling him in the principal's office of the school when he was in third or fourth grade.
That victim, who spoke in a telephone interview Tuesday but asked that his name not be used because he does not want to upset his family, said he came forward after so many years following the birth of his first son.
``I really didn't want to see anything happen to him that happened to me,'' he said, noting that he would like his son to attend church even though he himself is estranged.
When he does go to church, which is rare, the man said, he breaks into a sweat. And, much to the dismay of his family, he said, he couldn't bring himself to get married in the church.
The man said he told his parents of the repeated incidents, but that his parents -- being faithful and active in their church -- decided against action.
``It just kind of all was swept under the rug, and I never brought it up again for fear that my father might do something,'' he said.
But for the reaction his parents might have today, the man said he would have come forward publicly. ``My parents are totally in the black and I want to keep it that way,'' he said. ``I could give a crap. I'm far away. I would go toe-to-toe with him in a court of law in a minute, if it weren't for my parents.''
The church tells a different story.
When the complaints against the priest surfaced in 2003, the church alerted the state Department of Children and Families. It also began an investigation of its own, led by its sexual misconduct review board -- made up largely of lay people who are not employed by the archdiocese, Schmitz said.
``We were unable to substantiate any independent corroboration of the claims,'' Schmitz told the parishioners on Tuesday.
In a statement issued Monday, the archdiocese also noted that the board, as part of its investigation, considered that Przybylo ``served for over 30 years in an exemplary manner mostly in schools or in parishes with schools, that there have been no other such claims against him and that the priest adamantly denies these allegations.''
Given that, and given information received ``from a variety of sources who were in contact, including teachers, students, parents of students and parishioners,'' the archdiocese decided to keep Przybylo in his parish, Schmitz said.
A church spokesman said that Przybylo was not available for further comment, and a message left with the priest Tuesday evening was not returned.
``We realize we cannot undo the past,'' Schmitz told the parish Tuesday. ``It is a sad chapter in our history. We continue to offer apologies to those who have been victimized, we pray for those victims and their families that healing will take place, and we hope that the settlement made yesterday was the beginning the healing process.''
Przybylo could return to Mass as soon as this weekend, the Rev. John P. Gatzak, a church spokesman, said.
``He is in pain by these allegations, as anyone would be who feels that
they are unjustly accused of doing something that he did not do,'' Gatzak
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