Parish Loses Top Priest in Porn Case

By David Crumm, Jim Schaefer and Alexa Capeloto
Detroit Free Press
February 14, 2003

The discovery of child pornography on a Catholic church's computer system in Utica led to four months of delays in removing the pastor as police and church officials wrestled with how to handle the case.

On Thursday, the Rev. Timothy Szott, 55, of St. Lawrence Church became the 17th priest disciplined for sexual misconduct involving minors in metro Detroit since March. But he is the first of the 17 men linked to misconduct that occurred since the Catholic crisis erupted last spring.

Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga said he will decide soon whether to charge the priest.

Marlinga said he does not believe the investigation's slow pace put children in harm's way at the parish or at its K-8 school, because there are no claims that Szott had physical contact with children.

Marlinga said he saw some of the pictures found on the computer and that nude boys were depicted in sexual situations.

Szott could not be reached for comment.

He has been one of the most widely respected priests in southeast Michigan. In 1989, Szott was tapped to save Oakland Catholic High School in Pontiac, when it was in danger of closing. Two years later, he was named director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Delays in the police investigation were caused mainly because a parishioner who spotted the pornography on the parish computer system did not fully cooperate with police after making an initial, sketchy report in October.

"We didn't have any evidence," Utica Police Detective Lt. Michael Reaves said. "We were waiting for this person to turn this evidence over to us."

As a result, police said, they did not contact the archdiocese.

In mid-January, when the parishioner finally reported the pornography directly to Msgr. Walter Hurley, Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida's point man in the abuse crisis, church officials delayed taking action for several weeks. That's because "this was so new to us to have an ongoing criminal investigation of a priest," Hurley said.

The church has a strict policy of taking immediate action to remove priests in such cases. But, when Hurley called Macomb County law enforcement officials, Hurley said, they asked him to do nothing that would compromise their investigation.

Hurley waited until last Friday before telling the archdiocesan review board, which Maida appointed as a watchdog on abuse. Board members then told Hurley that the priest had to be removed without delay.

"The prosecutor had asked that we forbear until they were prepared to act," said Judge Michael Talbot, the Michigan Court of Appeals judge who chairs the Catholic review board. "But, last week we said, 'Whatever it is you think you should do, please do it.' " On Tuesday, Utica police raided the parish, school and rectory and removed computer equipment. During the next 48 hours, Szott was placed on administrative leave, and a letter explaining the situation was mailed to the 3,500 families in the parish.

On Thursday, Hurley publicly announced Szott's removal.

Parishioners were stunned.

"It's hard to believe something like that," said Norbert Sackey of Sterling Heights, a parish member since 1960. "But I was surprised by Father Nawrocki, too."

In 1989, parishioners were shocked that a priest who had served as an assistant at St. Lawrence in the 1970s, the Rev. Lawrence Nawrocki, was convicted of molesting three boys in Macomb Township. Nawrocki left prison in 1994.

After the second case connected with the parish came to light on Thursday, Sackey said, "I'd believe anything now."

Sackey and other parishioners praised Szott for leading the parish through a recent multimillion-dollar expansion and for his engaging homilies.

The Rev. John Hall will serve as temporary administrator in Szott's place.


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