Hearing Held to See If Retired Priest Can Stand Trial
Alleged Child Sexual Assaults Go Back 20 Years

By Gary V. Murray
Telegram & Gazette
February 29, 2008

WORCESTER— A psychiatrist testified yesterday that he found the Rev. John Szantyr mentally competent to stand trial on child sexual assault charges in an evaluation conducted last summer.

A hearing got under way yesterday in Central District Court to determine whether Rev. Szantyr, a 76-year-old retired priest now living in Waterbury, Conn., is competent to stand trial on charges of sexually assaulting two altar boys more than 20 years ago in Worcester. The assaults allegedly occurred in the 1980s, when Rev. Szantyr was assigned to Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish on Ward Street. The charges were lodged in 2003.

In September 2006, Judge Dennis J. Brennan, since retired, found Rev. Szantyr mentally incompetent to stand trial based on an evaluation done at that time by Dr. John Murphy, a neurologist.

Last August, Dr. Malcolm P. Rogers, a Chestnut Hill psychiatrist, conducted another evaluation of Rev. Szantyr at the request of Assistant District Attorney Joseph J. Reilly III.

Dr. Rogers testified at yesterday's hearing that he found Rev. Szantyr to be competent. Dr. Rogers acknowledged that Rev. Szantyr suffers from Parkinson's disease and said the retired priest has experienced some cognitive impairment as a result of the condition. He went on to say, however, that the impairment was "minor" and that Rev. Szantyr had both an understanding of the legal process and the capacity to assist his lawyer in his defense.

Dr. Rogers told Judge David Ricciardone that Rev. Szantyr provided him with detailed information about his family life, education and religious career during their two-hour interview on Aug. 7 and scored a "29" out of a possible high score of "30" on a "mini mental status exam."

"I did not think that he had a significant cognitive impairment as a result of my examination," Dr. Rogers testified.

Rev. Szantyr, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, appeared to be asleep during much of the psychiatrist's testimony.

Under cross-examination by Rev. Szantyr's lawyer, Edward P. Ryan Jr., Dr. Rogers conceded that other than reviewing medical records, he did nothing to try to verify the information given to him by Rev. Szantyr, information that the defense lawyer suggested was not totally accurate.

At the conclusion of Dr. Roger's testimony, Mr. Ryan asked the court to find that the prosecution had not met its burden of proving Rev. Szantyr competent and to deem the retired priest incompetent. Mr. Ryan said Dr. Rogers' evaluation was "dated" because it was several months old and his client suffers from a progressive disease.

"He's not going to get better. He's only going to get worse," Mr. Ryan told the court.

Mr. Reilly opposed the defense request, which was taken under advisement by Judge Ricciardone. The judge said he would issue a ruling Monday and, if necessary, schedule a date for the continuation of the competency hearing.



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