Catholic Priest Suspended by Saginaw Diocese Says He’s Innocent

By Cole Waterman
Saginaw News
July 30, 2019

Suspended from the ministry two months ago, a Catholic priest says his life has been ruined after a woman accused him of inappropriately touching her when she was a child and a student of his.

The Rev. Dennis H. Kucharczyk says he was made “to look like a pervert,” his reputation and credibility damaged, when the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw publicly announced his suspension from the ministry.

Professing his innocence, Kucharczyk said he’s stuck in limbo when it comes to his standing with the diocese, feeling jettisoned by an organization he’s devoted his life to after what he says is a baseless allegation.

“I have been called to serve the diocese,” said Kucharczyk, 61. “I want to continue to serve the diocese as a priest. That’s been my calling. I’m concerned about what the diocese is doing to me. What about me? What about what I have given to the diocese and the parishes? Doesn’t that matter? Doesn’t that mean anything? Don’t I matter?”

Erin Looby Carlson, the diocese’s director of communications, said the diocese and state law enforcement are, in fact, investigating Kucharczyk, so he’s still on suspension.

“Father Kucharczyk did not notify the diocese about his decision to participate in a media interview,” she said. “When the diocese learned of the interview, we expressed disappointment regarding his decision. The diocese does not make comments regarding ongoing investigations.”

Kucharczyk and attorney Matthew L. Reyes met with MLive-The Saginaw News at Reyes’ office in Bay City on Wednesday, July 24. Gathered on Washington Avenue in front of Reyes’ office were dozens of Kucharczyk’s supporters, holding candles and placards, chanting prayers such as the Hail Mary and the Our Father. Many wore buttons bearing “Let Fr. Dennis Shepherd his Flock” with a drawing of a sheep.

Kucharczyk was ordained in 1985 and for the past five years has served as the pastor of St. John XXIII Parish, which includes St. Mary Church in Hemlock, Sacred Heart Church in Merrill and St. Patrick Church in Ryan. On May 19, the diocese placed him on paid administrative leave from priestly ministry while it investigated “an allegation of misconduct involving a minor.”

The suspension remains in effect for the frustrated Kucharczyk, who said he’s received no update from the diocese. Neither has he been criminally charged with any offense.

When the diocese announced his suspension, Kucharczyk became the 22nd clergyman the diocese has named as “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct since the Feb. 25, 2018, arrest of the Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr. on sexual assault charges. Most of the clergy named are deceased.

The Allegations

MLive reached out to investigators in an attempt to connect with the woman who made the accusations against Kucharczyk. Attempts to contact her were unsuccessful.

A 19-page affidavit authored by Saginaw Township Police Detective Scott Jackson and dated March 22, 2018, states police sought personnel records of Kucharczyk and four other clergymen as part of their investigation into the diocese. Jackson wrote that on March 21, 2018, a fellow detective interviewed an adult woman who alleged Kucharczyk “would constantly hug her and kiss her on the cheek, hold her hand in the parking lot, and give her small gifts when he would return from trips” when she was a student in first or second grade at Blessed Sacrament in Midland. Kucharczyk was an associate pastor at that location in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The woman said on one occasion, Kucharczyk called her into an unoccupied classroom with the lights off and made her sit on his lap and then put his arms around her waist and put his hands on her inner thighs, the affidavit states.

The woman said that “as the years went on, Dennis Kucharczyk’s behavior continued, including writing letters to her which she described as ‘gushy and lovey’ type letters, as well as emails and text messages,” Jackson wrote.

Kucharczyk also repeatedly told her if she were to run away from home, she could stay with him at the rectory, the woman told police.

Kucharczyk later officiated the woman’s wedding and kissed her on the lips that day, the affidavit states. She later confronted him via email, prompting him to reply that he did nothing inappropriate. He also requested to meet with her in person, Jackson wrote.

According to the affidavit, the woman eventually met with Kucharczyk, at which point he “immediately put his arm around her and stated, ‘Boy, what did we get ourselves into?’”

The woman told police she ended her relationship with Kucharczyk and returned to him the letters he had written her over the years. At the urging of her husband, she reported the behavior to a nun in 2010 and the nun assured her she would forward the allegations to a review board, according to the affidavit. The woman never heard back from the church on the issue, she told police.

Kucharczyk’s account

Kucharczyk disputed the woman’s version of events, maintaining he at no time did anything inappropriate. Reyes also defended the priest.

“The allegation itself is so fraught with problems and errors,” Reyes said. “There’s absolutely nothing Dennis can do. At least when you are charged with crime, you get your day. In this situation, there’s not even a crime alleged. He’s never going to be in the position to say his side of the story.”

Reyes added the woman who made the allegations against Kucharczyk was upset with him for other reasons and that they had known each other for decades. The priest speculated she made the accusations to be vindictive.

Throughout the years, the woman would lean on Kucharczyk when things were bad, Reyes said, adding she’d been through various “issues” in her life. Kucharczyk acted as her counselor and confidant.

“It was a friendship,” Kucharczyk said. “It was professional.”

But one day the friendship ended, he and Reyes said.

“The friendship and relationship gets to the point where it’s beyond something that Father Dennis wants to continue to try to help her with and encourages her to seek professional help, and she does,” Reyes said. “At one point, during these tumultuous times as things get worse, she breeches the confidence of the professional and personal relationship and Father Dennis ends it, cuts off any additional communication with her.”

“She violated the trust between us,” Kucharczyk said, declining to specify how she did so. “Because of that, the friendship I saw was coming to an end.”

Kucharczyk ended his association with the woman around 2003.

About 2009 or 2010, the woman made her first complaint about Kucharczyk to a nun within the diocese. This complaint didn’t assert any sexual misconduct, but alleged Kucharczyk had treated her unprofessionally or mean while she was an adult.

Kucharczyk said he explained his version to diocesan officials and nothing further came of the complaint.

After news of the DeLand sexual assault cases broke in early 2018, the woman made a complaint to police regarding Kucharczyk’s alleged conduct with her as a child, Reyes said. Those allegations are what are contained in Detective Jackson’s affidavit.

Kucharczyk met with the diocese’s investigator and cooperated fully, Reyes said. Even so, and with no criminal charges filed by civil authorities, Kucharczyk remains on suspension.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office announced in August 2018 that it had launched an investigation into the state’s seven Catholic dioceses. The Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office turned over all the files they had acquired during the local investigation into Saginaw clergy to the AG’s Office.

Saginaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark J. Gaertner said that any information police had gathered regarding Kucharczyk would have been among the files provided to the AG’s Office.

Reyes said despite the affidavit, police have not investigated Kucharczyk. The AG’s office has not communicated anything to Reyes that they’re investigating Kucharczyk or plan to file charges against him.

“We’ve tried to get any info from the AG’s Office — nothing,” Reyes said. “We know they have all the files. So there is, somewhere, a file at the AG’s Office with Dennis’ name on it, but we’ve never been (contacted)."

In the immediate wake of Kucharzyk’s suspension, Kelly Rossman-McKinney, communications director for the AG’s Office, said any criminal allegation involving a priest is within the scope of the office’s ongoing investigation. Contacted by MLive again on July 24, Rossman-Kelly said she could not discuss whether Kucharczyk specifically was being investigated.

Reyes is confident no criminal charges will ever be filed against Kucharczyk regarding the woman’s complaint.

“There’s nothing to investigate,” he said. “They investigate allegations of criminal conduct. There is no allegation of criminal conduct.”

Reyes added no civil lawsuit has been filed against Kucharczyk. He said he and Kucharczyk have discussed suing the complainant but no decision has been made.

Suspension and parishioners’ support

Since then-interim Bishop Walter A. Hurley suspended him on May 19, Kucharczyk has had no contact with the diocese. The priest retained Reyes shortly after the suspension took effect.

“One of the ways the diocese deals with these situations is the minute there’s even some suggestion or allegation, regardless of credibility, they put the person on the sideline,” Reyes said. “It’s just easier to deal with it that way than to actually do an honest, fact-based investigation.”

Kucharczyk said he was blindsided by the suspension.

“For my 34 years as a priest and eight years as a seminarian, I made the commitment to the Saginaw Diocese and to the people of the Saginaw Diocese,” he said. “I have done a very good job of service.”

In June, Reyes accepted an invitation to meet with parishioners in Richland Township Park to answer questions about the investigation and discuss raising funds for Kucharczyk’s legal fees.

“There had to be 300, 400 people,” Reyes said. “The parishioners have been extremely supportive of him.”

One fundraising event saw parishioners raise more than $11,000, with attendees stuffing cash, checks, and cards in a big jug, Reyes said.

“I haven’t been part of any of the planning,” Kucharzyk said about his supporters’ efforts.

Still, he said he is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support.

Reyes said he advised against the demonstration outside his office during the interview.

In the meantime, Kucharczyk is dismayed to be left in a holding pattern.

“Who cares about me?” Kucharczyk said. “What about the diocese I made my promises to and committed my life to? Does it give a damn? Do I just get hung out to dry, get the book thrown out me, and get ostracized?”








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