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Catholic Priest Waives Preliminary Hearing On Charge Of Fondling Boy

Jul 30, 2002 | The Kansas City Star A Roman Catholic priest accused of fondling a teen-age boy waived his preliminary hearing Monday in Nemaha County District Court because of concerns about the youth's privacy, the priest's attorney said.

The move means that the Rev. Dennis E. Schmitz, who once oversaw priest recruitment for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, will be arraigned on the charge and enter a formal plea unless his case is resolved before the arraignment.

Schmitz, 41, is charged with taking indecent liberties with a child. Court records allege that Schmitz engaged in lewd fondling of a 15-year-old boy sometime between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1, 1999.

The act allegedly occurred at S&S Ranch, in Nemaha County in northeast Kansas. Schmitz is a co-owner of the ranch.

Schmitz is charged in a similar case, with the same alleged victim, in Douglas County, Kan.

At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors typically set out the evidence they have against a defendant, and a judge then decides whether there is enough to proceed. In Schmitz's case, the accuser was expected to testify.

But Stephen Mirakian, Schmitz's attorney, said outside the courtroom Monday that would not have been in anybody's interests.

"We're sensitive to the privacy of the boy involved," Mirakian said. "A preliminary hearing wouldn't have told us anything we don't already know. We don't see how that's in (the boy's) best interests. Father Dennis is very concerned about this young man and his privacy rights."

Nemaha County Prosecutor Brad M. Lippert said that the move was no surprise and that he would not have any comment at this time.

Schmitz's arraignment was tentatively set for Aug. 29. His next court appearance in the Douglas County case is a preliminary hearing on Aug. 14.

Mirakian said he hoped to resolve both cases with "a minimum of courtroom involvement."

"We're discussing the best ways to resolve the cases, whether by trial or in some other way," he said.

Schmitz, surrounded by about a dozen well-wishers outside the courthouse, declined to comment. The priest was relieved of his duties at two area churches in May, when the accusations surfaced.

Schmitz, who also served several Johnson County parishes in his career, has long been a popular priest among young people and many have rallied to his defense.

Several said they had visited S&S Ranch, a 273-acre farm which Schmitz said he had hoped to turn into a youth camp. Schmitz and another man bought the land in 1999, according to county records.

The charges, however, have put that project on hold. County officials said there were no applications for improvement to the land or house on record.

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