Deal on Ebay Ends in Arrest of Priest
Man Held on Child Porn Charge

By Paul Rioux
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
December 15, 2001

Chris Reams was pleasantly surprised last month when he sold an 1860s photograph of a young boy wearing a Civil War uniform for $15 on the Internet auction site eBay.

"I was pretty happy because I only paid a dollar for it," said Reams, 27, of Mandeville. "But I wanted to find out if the buyer was a Civil War buff who knew something about the picture that I didn't."

So he entered the buyer's ID, "skywalker_198," into an eBay database of transactions.

Instead of getting a list of Civil War memorabilia, Reams was surprised to learn the person recently had bought numerous vintage photographs of naked boys, a few anatomically correct dolls and several sexually suggestive novelty items depicting children, including a naked boy corkscrew that the seller billed as "very unique and naughty."

"He bought more than 100 things in the previous month, and all of it had to do with children," Reams said. "I thought, 'This guy's got a problem.' "

A little more research on the Web produced an even bigger shock when Reams discovered that "skywalker_198" is the Rev. Thomas A. Rydzewski, a priest in Baltimore, Md.

"It was very disturbing, especially when I found out from his church's Web site that he's involved in youth programs," said Reams, a graduate student at Southeastern Louisiana University.

After several calls to the FBI and Baltimore police, Reams reached a detective who said he would check out his tip about Rydzewski, 35, an associate pastor at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Baltimore's largest Catholic church parish.

Two weeks later, on Wednesday, the detective called back to tell Reams that Rydzewski had been arrested and booked with possessing child pornography.

Authorities seized computer printouts, a compact disc and photos of underage boys and girls engaged in sexual activity during searches at Rydzewski's quarters at the church rectory and his parents' house in Arnold, Md., according to an arrest affidavit.

"I was extremely happy," said Reams, who is studying to become a high school mental health counselor. "I don't know if this guy ever hurt any children, but, hopefully, he won't be able to now."

Rydzewski told FBI agents that he has been curious about child pornography for a long time and sometimes connected to Web sites featuring sexually explicit images of children, according to the arrest affidavit.

Even before Reams called authorities, Rydzewski's online habits had caught the attention of the FBI's Innocent Images task force, which surfs the Web for sexually explicit images of children and pedophiles. But a detective involved in the investigation said Reams' tip gave authorities the evidence they needed to obtain search warrants, in part because it confirmed Rydzewski's address.

"It really jump-started the investigation," said the detective, who asked not to be identified. "If everyday citizens were seeing this stuff, we knew the undercover investigation wasn't going to stay undercover much longer."

Baltimore police referred questions to an FBI spokesman, who could not be reached for comment.

Rydzewski, who was ordained at the cathedral in 1998, was placed on administrative leave and offered counseling by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said its spokesman, Ray Kempisty.

"At this time, we have no knowledge of harm to any child," Kempisty said.

Rydzewski was released on bond after he promised to remain at his parents' home and stay away from unsupervised children.

The eBay database indicates Rydzewski recently went on a cyber shopping spree, spending more than $4,000 on 170 items since Oct. 31.

Most of the items were old photographs of children: boys skinny-dipping or taking baths, choir boys, boys in uniform and young boys and girls kissing. But perhaps one of Rydzewski's most telling eBay purchases was a book he bought for $1 titled, "Unlocking the Secrets of Your Childhood Memory."

"Remember, you're still the little boy or girl you once were," the seller wrote. "So unlock that memory bank and discover what makes you tick."

None of the items Rydzewski purchased on eBay were deemed pornographic, investigators said.

Detectives don't know where Rydzewski got the money to pay for his purchases, but he received glowing recommendations from sellers for prompt payment.

"Wow! Fastest buyer on eBay," one seller wrote. "Received payment in record time!"

Rydzewski's arrest grabbed headlines in Baltimore, where the landmark Cathedral of Mary Our Queen has a parish of more than 2,000 families and received a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1995.

"When I started checking this guy out, I had no idea what I was getting into," Reams said. "It was like a spider web that just kept spreading out. Who knew where it would lead?"


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