Bay City Times [Bay City MI]
March 27, 2021
By Cole Waterman
The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw is no longer featuring the name of a local priest on its website’s list of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor.
Bishop Robert D. Gruss on Friday, March 26, announced he had removed the Rev. Dennis H. Kucharczyk’s name from subsection of the diocesan website titled “Names of Clergy Accused of Sexual Abuse of a Minor.” The page lists 26 other names.
The Saginaw Diocese placed Kucharczyk on administrative leave from priestly duties on May 21, 2019, after it had received information from law enforcement regarding an allegation of misconduct involving a minor that occurred “many years ago.” The church prohibited Kucharczyk from having contact with anyone younger than 21. As such, he was banned from visiting school properties or participate in school and parish activities and functions, wearing clerical garb, the exercise of public ministry, and from presenting himself publicly as a priest.
The diocese conducted an internal investigation, hiring a former police detective as a private investigator. This investigator subsequently presented a report to Gruss and the Independent Diocesan Review Board.
“That report included evidence of boundary violations involving Father Kucharczyk,” the diocese stated in a press release. “Subsequently, Bishop Gruss consulted with the Holy See, according to proper canonical process. Their report indicated that there was insufficient evidence to proceed further regarding the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. Under both canon and civil law, Father retains the presumption of innocence in regard to this allegation.”
Kucharczyk has maintained his innocence of any sexual misconduct.
“He will now take time to determine his next steps and expresses his gratitude to those who have prayed and supported him throughout this difficult time,” the diocese stated.
Kucharczyk was ordained in 1985 and most recently served as the pastor of St. John XXIII Parish, which includes St. Mary Church in Hemlock, Sacred Heart Church in Merrill and St. Patrick Church in Ryan.
The misconduct allegations
A 19-page affidavit authored by a Saginaw Township Police Departemtn detective dated March 22, 2018, states police sought personnel records of Kucharczyk, three other priests, and one deacon as part of an investigation. The detective wrote that a fellow detective had interviewed an adult woman who alleged Kucharczyk “would constantly hug her and kiss her on the cheek, hold her hand in the parking lot, and give her small gifts when he would return from trips” when she was a student in first or second grade at Blessed Sacrament in Midland.
The diocese previously said Kucharczyk was an associate pastor at that location from July 1988 to June 1991.
The woman said on one occasion, Kucharczyk called her into an unoccupied classroom with the lights off and made her sit on his lap and then put his arms around her waist and put his hands on her inner thighs, the affidavit states.
The woman said that “as the years went on Dennis Kucharczyk’s behavior continued, including writing letters to her which she described as ‘gushy and lovey’ type letters, as well as emails and text messages,” the detective wrote.
Kucharczyk also repeatedly told her if she were to run away from home, she could stay with him at the rectory, the woman told police.
Kucharczyk later officiated the woman’s wedding and kissed her on the lips that day, the affidavit states. She later confronted him via email, prompting him to reply that he did nothing inappropriate. He also requested to meet with her in person, the detective wrote.
According to the affidavit, the woman eventually met with Kucharczyk, only for him to “immediately put his arm around her and stated, ‘Boy, what did we get ourselves into?’”
The woman told police she reported the behavior to a nun in 2010 and the nun assured her she would forward the allegations to a review board. The woman never heard back from the church on the issue, she said.
Kucharczyk did not face any criminal charges, either from the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office or the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.
In an interview with MLive in July 2019, Kucharczyk lamented being made “to look like a pervert,” saying his reputation and credibility had been damaged by the diocese’s suspension of him.
“I have been called to serve the diocese,” Kucharczyk said at the time. “I want to continue to serve the diocese as a priest. That’s been my calling. I’m concerned about what the diocese is doing to me. What about me? What about what I have given to the diocese and the parishes? Doesn’t that matter? Doesn’t that mean anything? Don’t I matter?”
MLive’s interview with Kucharczyk was conducted at the law office of the priest’s attorney, Matthew L. Reyes, in downtown Bay City. In front of Reyes’ office were dozens of Kucharczyk’s supporters, holding candles and placards, chanting prayers such as the Hail Mary and the Our Father. Many wore buttons bearing “Let Fr. Dennis Shepherd his Flock” with a drawing of a sheep.
The allegation itself is so fraught with problems and errors,” Reyes said. “There’s absolutely nothing Dennis can do. At least when you are charged with crime, you get your day. In this situation, there’s not even a crime alleged. He’s never going to be in the position to say his side of the story.”
Reyes added the woman who made the allegations against Kucharczyk was upset with him for other reasons and that they had known each other for decades. The priest speculated she made the accusations to be vindictive.
Throughout the years, the woman would lean on Kucharczyk when things were bad, Reyes said, adding she’d been through various “issues” in her life. Kucharczyk acted as her counselor and confidant.
“It was a friendship,” Kucharczyk said. “It was professional.”
But one day the friendship ended, he and Reyes said.
“The friendship and relationship gets to the point where it’s beyond something that Father Dennis wants to continue to try to help her with and encourages her to seek professional help, and she does,” Reyes said. “At one point, during these tumultuous times as things get worse, she breaches the confidence of the professional and personal relationship and Father Dennis ends it, cuts off any additional communication with her.”
“She violated the trust between us,” Kucharczyk said, declining to specify how she did so. “Because of that, the friendship I saw was coming to an end.”
Kucharczyk ended his association with the woman around 2003. About 2009 or 2010, the woman made her first complaint about Kucharczyk to a nun within the diocese. This complaint didn’t assert any sexual misconduct, but alleged Kucharczyk had treated her unprofessionally or meanwhile she was an adult.
After news of the Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand sexual assault cases broke in early 2018, the woman made a complaint to police regarding Kucharczyk’s alleged conduct with her as a child, Reyes said.
As his profession and reputation languished, Kucharczyk remained dismayed.
“Who cares about me?” Kucharczyk said. “What about the diocese I made my promises to and committed my life to? Does it give a damn? Do I just get hung out to dry, get the book thrown out me, and get ostracized?”