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Warrant Issued For Former South Florida Priest

Aug 28, 2002 | The Miami Herald

A longtime South Florida priest who resigned this spring was charged Tuesday with sexually abusing a boy at two parishes in the Detroit area, a prosecutor said.

A Michigan arrest warrant charges the Rev. Edward Olszewski, 69, former pastor at St. Justin the Martyr Catholic Church in Key Largo, with eight counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly abusing the boy from 1971 to 1973.

Olszewski has denied abusing the child, who says he was 11 years old when the sexual misconduct began at St. Cecilia parish in Detroit. He was in foster care at the time.

Michael Duggan, Wayne County prosecutor, issued the arrest warrants for Olszewski and three other Catholic priests accused in other cases. The priests can be charged because they left Michigan before the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct had run out.

''The magnitude of this is astonishing,'' Duggan said.

Olszewski, who left the Key Largo parish in April after acknowledging the three-decades-old sex-abuse allegation to parishioners, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Duggan's office was expected to send the arrest warrant to Olszewski's attorney, James Lupino of Key Largo, who also could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Olszewski's accuser plans to sue the priest and the dioceses that employed him since the early 1970s, including possibly the Archdiocese of Miami, one of his attorneys said. Fort Lauderdale lawyer Russell Adler said the alleged sex abuse of the boy happened over many years in various parts of the country.

''It comes as no surprise to us that he was charged, and we commend the authorities for all their work to hold him accountable and bring him to justice,'' Adler said. ``Priests are not above the law.''

NO MORE TO SAY

Adler, who is handling the planned civil suit with Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., declined further comment.

Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said she could not comment on whether Olszewski has been accused of molesting any children in the archdiocese.

''Our policy is not to talk about what's in his personnel file,'' Agosta said, adding that the criminal charges filed in Michigan came as news to her.

Olszewski is among 12 priests in the Archdiocese of Miami who have resigned or been placed on administrative leave since 1998 because of sexual-abuse allegations lodged against them. Miami-Dade and Broward County prosecutors are investigating some of these cases and other clergy sex-abuse allegations but have not filed charges.

At least 300 U.S. priests have been suspended or resigned since the abuse crisis erupted in January with the case of a former Boston priest who was shuffled between parishes despite evidence that he molested children.

JUNE AGREEMENT

American bishops agreed at a meeting in June to remove all errant priests from public ministry and to turn more information over to prosecutors.

Olszewski, ordained in Detroit in 1960, left Michigan in 1976. According to an official Catholic directory, Olszewski was assigned to St. Justin the Martyr in 1988. Before that, he had served from 1980 to 1987 at three churches: Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes, St. Joseph's in Miami Beach and St. Mary Magdalen in Sunny Isles.

In his farewell address to St. Justin the Martyr parishioners this spring, Olszewski told his congregation that recent operations had prevented him from participating in Holy Week and the Easter liturgies for the first time as a priest. But he stressed that he was resigning from the parish to fight the three-decades-old sexual-abuse complaint.

CLEARING HIS NAME

''This accusation is completely false,'' he told parishioners in a statement. ``But in the present atmosphere of media attention to clerical misconduct, it's necessary that I devote as much of my energy as possible to clearing my name, which I have no doubt about doing.''

The accusations against Olszewski surfaced in a letter sent to the archdiocese this spring. The letter, sent by the alleged victim's other attorney, Anderson, accused the priest of molesting a boy in Detroit more than 30 years ago when the child was under the priest's foster care.

Olszewski, in his farewell address, brought up the possibility of a lawsuit, saying he did not want to ``expose a flock that I love dearly and have served for 15 years to any of the unpleasantness that may arise if legal proceedings are instigated, no matter how unfounded and unfair they are.''

The other priests charged in Detroit are: Robert Burkholder, 82, who lives on the island of Oahu, Hawaii; Jason Sigler, 64, of New Mexico; and Harry Benjamin, 60, of Vienna, Va.

Like Olszewski, each is accused of criminal sexual conduct involving a boy 14 or younger.

This report was supplemented with Herald wire services.


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