Ruling Delayed on Priest in Sex-Misconduct Case Involving Teens

By Dave Condren
Buffalo News (New York)
October 15, 1994

The fate of a Massachusetts priest in a sexual-misconduct case will be determined during a a future meeting of the top governing body of the Polish National Catholic Church, it was announced Friday.

Prime Bishop John F. Swantek, leader of the 250,000-member denomination, said that the status of the Rev. Julian S. Pagacz was discussed briefly during a meeting of the church's Supreme Council on Friday but that "there is no announcement today."

The meeting of the Supreme Council was in conjunction with the church's 19th General Synod at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo. About 365 delegates attended the gathering.

Instead of trying to arrive at a recommendation Friday on what to about Father Pagacz, the full Supreme Council will consider the problem during a regular meeting that he intends to call at a time yet to be determined, Prime Bishop Swantek said.

But he noted that the council can only make a recommendation to Eastern District Bishop Thomas J. Gnat of Manchester, N.H., on what to do about Father Pagacz.

The pastor of St. Valentine's Parish in Northampton, Mass., Father Pagacz was charged in February 1992 with raping two teen-age girls while he was drinking with them in his home.

Three months later, the 52-year-old priest accepted a plea arrangement, acknowledging in Northampton District Court that there were sufficient facts to warrant a guilty finding on a charge of indecent assault if the case went to trial. He was subsequently ordered to receive sex-offender counseling and pay a $ 300 fine for providing alcohol to minors.

After the criminal proceeding, members of St. Valentine's petitioned church officials to remove Father Pagacz as pastor. Both Prime Bishop Swantek and Bishop Gnat have declined to reassign Father Pagacz.

Church sources said Friday that authorities have been reluctant to take action against the pastor because the two alleged victims recanted their stories shortly after he was charged. One of them later changed her story a second time, accusing Father of Pagacz of "indecent touching."

Church members say that in the aftermath of the priest's troubles, the number of dues-paying members of St. Valentine's has dipped from 186 to 84.

Sympathizing with church members, the Northampton-Florence Clergy Association also questioned Father Pagacz's moral fitness to continue as a pastor, forcing his resignation earlier this year.

"I believe that Rev. Pagacz by his actions past and present has stained the office of pastor and teacher," wrote the Rev. Dewey Gierke of Florence Congregational Church in a letter to members of St. Valentine's in behalf of the clergy group.

During its business sessions this week, the Synod re-elected Prime Bishop Swantek to a second eight-year term and went to bat for the 100,000-member Polish Catholic Church of Poland, asking that country's government to give it official status.

The church in Poland was established as a mission of the Polish National Catholic Church in 1920, but many of its members and leaders were later killed during Nazi occupation and under Communism.

Today, the Polish church is independent of the American church but lacks the standing of the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations in the eyes of the government of Poland.

A copy of the resolution to be presented to Lech Walesa, president of Poland, when he visits Buffalo on Oct. 22.

Prime Bishop Swantek, formerly bishop of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese, defeated Bishop Joseph Tomczyk of the Canadian Diocese to win a new term as leader of the denomination


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