Supporters of Priest Speak out Parishioners Angered by Rape Allegation

By Lisa Freiman
The Union-News
February 17, 1992

Angry parishioners leaving St. Valentine's Polish National Catholic Church yesterday defended their pastor against a rape charge and described the media's coverage of the story as "a witch hunt." Meanwhile, the Rev. Julian Pagacz, who pleaded innocent last week in Northampton District Court to one charge of rape of a child without force and two charges of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, began the 9 a.m. Mass by assuring his congregation of his innocence.

"My conscience is clear and I believe the truth will prevail," he said. "I ask that you think of me and my family in these hard times."

Parishioners who were willing to speak to a reporter said they believed those words. Most people, however, declined to be interviewed.

One woman, who would not give her name, called press coverage of the charges "a witch hunt" and described one of the two alleged victims as "a Communist who thought she'd get money out of it."

Pagacz is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl from Poland and indecently assaulting a 17-year-old Hampshire County girl.

Several parishioners expressed outrage at the presence of a reporter and photographer outside the King Street church and one urged another to "knock them down."

Others said they supported Pagacz.

"He said his conscience is clear and I believe him," said Ellen Mierzewski of Holyoke.

"I believe the truth will prevail," said Malcolm Modrzakowski of Leverett.

The Union-News also reported yesterday that a city woman filed a trespass notice against Pagacz in 1988 after saying she caught him peering into her window late at night. Cindy Childs said Pagacz used to stare at her from the property he owns next to her parents' house at 188 Rocky Hill Road, and that she went to police after she caught him looking into her window late one night.

A trespass notice is an unofficial written document which anyone can write. If the person goes on the property described in the order, he can be arrested for trespassing, police said.

Pagacz declined to comment without consulting his attorney, Charles M. Maguire. Reached yesterday, Maguire also likened newspaper coverage to "the Salem witch hunts."

"At what point does this stop?" he said. "(You) write these things that destroy a person's reputation."

Pagacz, who was released on his own recognizance, will remain at his post at St. Valentine's and at the Holy Mother of the Rosary in Chicopee, where he is filling in while the priest there is on extended leave, according to Bishop Thomas Gnat of Manchester, N.H., Pagacz's immediate supervisor. Church committee members said the diocese is conducting its own investigation, however.

The Polish National Catholic Church was founded in 1897 after breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Polish church does not recognize the pope and allows clergy to marry. There are 29 parishes in Western Massachusetts.

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