Documents: Police knew of allegation against Saginaw area priest a year before removal

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Fr. Dennis Kucharczyk

Law enforcement knew about an allegation of misconduct with a minor against a Diocese of Saginaw priest as early as March 2018 and the victim allegedly reported the incident to the diocese years earlier, but the priest wasn’t removed from his position until Sunday.

The Diocese of Saginaw announced Tuesday that the Rev. Dennis Kucharczyk had been placed on administrative leave after law enforcement informed diocesan officials of “an allegation of misconduct involving a minor that allegedly occurred many years ago.”

"Father Kucharczyk is to have no contact with individuals under 21, which prohibits him from going on school properties or participating in school and parish activities and functions," the diocese's statement said. "He also was informed that he must refrain from wearing clerical garb, refrain from the exercise of public ministry, and may not present himself publicly as a priest while the allegation is investigated by the Diocese."

A March 2018 search warrant indicates a Midland woman informed police last year of “inappropriate touching” by Kucharczyk, behavior that started in the late 1980s when she was in first or second grade until she “ended the relationship” more than 15 years later. The woman told police she alerted the coordinate for the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection about the incident “around 2010," according to the warrant.

The search warrant describing the complaint against Kucharczyk was unsealed on May 6 and obtained by The Detroit News.

The Diocese of Saginaw received the unsealed search warrant on Friday and asked the Attorney General's office for permission to remove Kucharczyk after reading the allegations contained within the warrant, said Erin Carlson, a spokeswoman for the diocese.

The diocese does not have its files on past allegations; however, "it is our recollection," Carlson said, that there was an allegation of inappropriate behavior against Kucharczyk in 2010 but it did not involve a minor.

The diocese said it continues to review the affidavit and the allegations contained within the document.

The Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office did not return a call seeking comment.

Kucharczyk could not be reached for comment.

Kucharczyk is not part of Attorney General Dana Nessel’s investigation into Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses, her spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said, but the situation may change.

“Any allegation that a priest has committed these kinds of criminal acts is within the scope of our investigation,” Rossman-McKinney said.

Kucharczyk is one of five priests named in the search warrant affidavit signed by Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner on March 22, 2018, the same day the prosecutor’s office raided diocesan offices, the cathedral and the home of former Bishop Joseph Cistone.

In addition to seeking entry to those locations, the warrant sought the personnel records for Kucharczyk and four other priests, including the Rev. Robert DeLand, who was sentenced in April to 2-15 years in prison for criminal sexual conduct.

The request for the other priests’ records stemmed from complaints police received after the allegations against DeLand were made public early last year, according to the search warrant.

The search warrant indicated that at least two additional priests from the diocese worked with investigators during the 2018 investigation, one of whom served as a confidential informant. One of the priests expressed concern to police about the diocese's review of complaint files in the "secured" second floor of the rectory during the prosecutor's ongoing investigation into the diocese. 

The priest's concern stemmed from Cistone's history in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where he was alleged to have watched the shredding of documents linked to clergy sexual abuse complaints, according to the warrant. 

Cistone was not criminally charged in the Philadelphia incident. He died last fall of cancer. 

A day prior to police seeking the search warrant, a Midland woman met with investigators and told them that Kucharczyk would hug her, kiss her on the cheek, hold her hand and give her small gifts when she was in the first or second grade at a parochial school connected to the parish where Kucharczyk served, according to the warrant.

On the last day of class that school year, Kucharczyk called the girl into an unoccupied classroom, sat her on his lap and placed his hands on her inner thighs under her uniform skirt, the warrant said.

In subsequent years, Kucharczyk wrote her letters, emails and text messages, invited her to his boat for dinner and said she could stay at the rectory if she were to run away from home, according to the affidavit. While presiding over the woman's wedding years later, Kucharczyk “kissed her on the lips for the first time” and continued to do so when they would meet after that, the warrant said.

The woman told police she eventually confronted Kucharczyk by email, then met with him at a trail in Midland to discuss the issue.

“Dennis Kucharczyk immediately put his arm around her and stated, ‘Boy, what did we get ourselves into?’” the affidavit said.

Sometime after 2004, the woman ended the relationship and returned Kucharczyk’s letters to him. At the urging of her husband, the woman reported the behavior “around 2010” to Sister Janet Fulgenzi, the diocese’s Child and Youth Protection program coordinator, according to the affidavit.

Fulgenzi, the woman told police, assured her the allegations would be forwarded to the review board, but the woman said she had not heard back as of her interview with police in March 2018.

Kucharczyk has served as a priest in the diocese since 1985 and took a leave of absence from 1991 to 1993, according to the diocese. His most recent assignment was as pastor of St. John XII Parish, a group of churches in Hemlock Merrill and Ryan.

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