Polish National Priest Faces Charges of Rape, Sex Assault 2 More Allegations under Probe

By Richard Bourie
The Union-News
February 14, 1992

A day before he was to celebrate 18 years of service to St. Valentine's Polish National Catholic Church here, the pastor of the church was charged yesterday with raping a girl from Poland and with indecently assaulting a Hampshire County girl. The Rev. Julian Pagacz, pastor of St. Valentine's Church on King Street, was released on his own recognizance after being arraigned in Northampton District Court.

Pagacz is also a part-time priest at Holy Mother of the Rosary parish, another Polish National Catholic church on Bell Street in Chicopee. An investigation is continuing into allegations of other sexual crimes by Pagacz, including two in Hampden County, authorities said.

Pagacz becomes the second area priest to be charged in recent months with sexual abuse. Charges against the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, a Roman Catholic priest in Shelburne Falls, of molesting three boys are pending in Greenfield District Court.

Judge Robert Kumor entered pleas of innocent for Pagacz on one count of rape of a child, the 16-year-old girl from Poland, and two counts of indecent assault and battery, one involving the Polish girl and the other involving the Hampshire County girl, who is 17.

Pagacz is alleged to have raped the Polish girl sometime between the summer of 1989 and last May in Northampton, according to police and court documents. She has been living in this country for about two years, according to police.

During Pagacz's arraignment, a prosecutor said Pagacz had the Polish girl's passport and threatened to have the 16-year-old deported if she reported the alleged incidents.

As a condition of Pagacz's release, Kumor ordered police to accompany Pagacz back to the rectory where he turned over the girl's passport, as well as travel documents that allow Pagacz to leave this country. He has dual citizenship in the United States and Poland, according to police.

"He's been known to take frequent trips to Poland," said Jeanne Thompson, assistant Northwestern district attorney, "and we don't want him leaving the commonwealth."

Kumor ordered that the documents be handed over to the clerk magistrate of the court.

Pagacz was also ordered to stay away from both victims.

Kumor continued the case to Feb. 26 for pretrial conference.

'Further charges'

"We anticipate further charges against him," said Police Detective Lt. Russell Sienkiewicz. In addition to further charges in Northampton, Sienkiewicz said his department and the Northwestern District Attorney's office have notified the Hampden County District Attorney's office about two alleged sexual offenses in Hampden County.

"We'll be working with them on allegations of offenses occurring in their jurisdiction," Sienkiewicz said.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said one of the alleged incidents in Hampden County occurred in Holyoke, but would not say when.

Sienkiewicz said Northampton detectives have been investigating Pagacz for about a week, since the allegations of rape and indecent assault came to their attention.

Pagacz lives at the church rectory, 127 King St., with his wife, according to church officials and members, who expressed shock at the charges.

Parish reaction

"He's still our priest," said Florence resident Walter S. Dragon, chairman of the church's Parish Committee. "We'll have to assume he's innocent until he's been proven guilty."

Dragon said Pagacz was selected as pastor on Valentine's Day, 1974. "There were never any problems or complaints" about Pagacz, Dragon said.

"He was so busy," said Bishop Thomas Gnat, the head of a diocese that includes all New England parishes in the Polish National Catholic Church. Gnat, Pagacz's immediate supervisor, has his headquarters in a cathedral in Manchester, N.H. He said he "entrusted" Pagacz with the additional duties of the Chicopee parish.

"When you want somebody to do something, you ask a busy man," Bishop Gnat said.

"My God," said Carl Gutowski when he was told of the charges against Pagacz. "I don't know what to say."

Gutowski has been the organist at St. Valentine's for 47 years. Asked if he knew Pagacz well, Gutowski replied, "I thought I did . . . everybody liked him."

Church membership

St. Valentine's parish has 350 members, according to Dragon. A member of the parish council of the Chicopee church estimated the membership there at 100 families.

The Polish National Church has 162 parishes in the United States, Canada and Poland with more than 250,000 members.

It was founded in Scranton, Pa., in 1897 by Polish-Americans who felt the Roman Catholic church failed to recognize Polish traditions and culture.

Since 1921, bishops and priests in the Polish National Catholic Church have been permitted to marry.

Dragon, who first learned of the charges against Pagacz when called by reporters, said he would have to call a special meeting of the Parish Committee, which hired Pagacz and oversees secular activities, to determine what steps to take, if any, concerning Pagacz.

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.