Priest Quits after Arrest

By Johanna D. Wilson
Myrtle Beach Sun-News
June 20, 2001

GEORGETOWN: The Rev. Gerald J. Ryfinski has stepped down as pastor at St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church as investigators examine items seized from his home and filed on his computer.

Ryfinski, 46, has been pastor of St. Mary since January 2000, a spokesman for the Diocese of Charleston said Tuesday.

On Saturday, Ryfinski asked Bishop Robert J. Baker to relieve him of his pastoral responsibilities while the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office and Georgetown City Police Department conduct a joint investigation.

Police seized Ryfinski's personal computer June 13 after a computer repairman notified police he had found pictures on the machine of minors engaged in sex acts, police said.

Ryfinski was arrested Friday and charged with third degree sexual exploitation of a minor - a felony - police said. Ryfinski was released on a $5,000 cash bond Saturday.

Ryfinski was in charge of all the day-to-day operations of the parish, John Carroll, diocese spokesman, said Tuesday. He is now inactive as a pastor and living outside of Georgetown. No action will be taken regarding Ryfinski's future with the diocese until the investigation is complete, Carroll said.

"The diocese won't tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind," Carroll said Tuesday.

Monsignor James Carter, vicar general for the diocese, and Monsignor Thomas Duffy, pastor of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Garden City Beach, presided over weekend Masses.

Carroll said the church leaders came to Georgetown "to counsel [parishioners] and begin the healing in the faith community."

Sister Kathleen Driscoll will be available to church members, according to a statement from the diocese. Duffy will coordinate Mass for the church, Carroll said.

"The faith community itself is saddened and shocked," Carroll said.

A Milwaukee native who was a piano sales representative, Ryfinski had been an organist at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Chapin before being ordained as a priest in 1990.

Before coming to St. Mary, Ryfinski served at St. Ann Catholic Church in Holly Hill and St. Mary Catholic Church in Summerton beginning in February 1998.

Idell Joyner, 87 and a member of St. Ann, said she remembers that Ryfinski "would always smile, smile, smile."

Joyner, who lives in Holly Hill, said she called Ryfinski during the Fourth of July last year when she visited a niece who lives in Georgetown.

"He blessed her house and blessed the food," said Joyner, who added that Ryfinski also attended her sister's funeral. "He was so nice when I got to Georgetown."


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