Chicago priest returns to pulpit after investigation (IL)

A popular Northwest Side Catholic priest has returned to the pulpit after an 18-month criminal investigation into allegations that he exploited a 93-year-old parishioner by becoming trustee of her home.

The Chicago Archdiocese says it was advised Aug. 14 that the Cook County state’s attorney had determined that the office would not bring criminal charges against the Rev. Thaddeus Dzieszko. Four days later, Cardinal Francis George met with Dzieszko at the cardinal’s residence and approved Dzieszko’s return as pastor to St. Constance Roman Catholic Church.

George “said he admired my patience (and) gave me his blessings,” Dzieszko wrote in a letter to parishioners posted on the St. Constance Parish website.

Dzieszko’s letter said he prayed for “all those whom I have ever failed in my life, or whose faith may have wavered because of me.” And he added: “For those who have ordinary human jealousy, envy, vindictiveness, greed and anger, and who wanted to harm me, I say that I forgive you and I pray to God to forgive you.”

At St. Constance, where he conducted services last week, Dzieszko declined to comment on the case. But in previous Tribune interviews he has vigorously defended his actions, saying he assumed control of parishioner Waleria Krzemien’s home in 2010 in an innocent effort to ensure she could continue to live there.

The archdiocese told the Tribune that it “fully cooperated with the state’s attorney’s investigation in this matter” and “will continue its review of this situation to clarify what further action, if any, is appropriate.”

The state’s attorney’s office said no charges against Dszieko are imminent, but a representative would not say whether the investigation continues.

The allegations against Dzieszko were brought to the attention of authorities by Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris, whose attorneys uncovered several cases of alleged financial exploitation of the elderly that involved the law firm Dzieszko used in the Krzemien transaction.

Harris told the Tribune that as a practicing Roman Catholic he was disappointed by the archdiocese’s decision to reinstate Dzieszko, but glad that his attorneys could persuade Dzieszko to relinquish his role as trustee and deed Krzemien’s home back to her.

In one of the related cases, the state’s attorney in July filed felony charges of theft and exploitation of the elderly against Zophia Czarny, 52. Czarny has been accused of draining more than $100,000 from the accounts of her neighbor Sylvia Maciejewski, who was 91 at the time and beginning to suffer from dementia. Maciejewski later was moved to a nursing home and died Tuesday, according to the public guardian.

No court date has been scheduled for Czarny, and her attorney declined comment.

On a separate front, the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission is pursuing a fraud and misconduct complaint against the lawyer who worked with Dzieszko on the disputed Krzemien deed.

Attorney Stephen Kubiatowski, 77, retired from his law practice in June facing the pending commission complaint, which alleges that he misled Krzemien in the deal that made Dzieszko trustee of her home, as well as playing a role in the exploitation of two other elderly clients.

The Przybylo and Kubiatowski law firm has been dissolved, although former partner Chester Przybylo continues to practice and has not faced any misconduct charges.

Although he is no longer a practicing attorney, Kubiatowski still expects the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission to issue an order of discipline against him, according to his lawyer, George Collins. “He is not going to fight anymore to be allowed to practice law,” Collins told the Tribune.

The commission’s misconduct complaint against Kubiatowski offers the most detailed public account of the transaction through which Dzieszko assumed control of Krzemien’s home.

A Polish-born homemaker devoted to her church, Krzemien was suffering from dementia and “incapable of making personal and financial decisions” in April 2010, according to the commission’s complaint against Kubiatowski.

That month, Dzieszko contacted Kubiatowski and asked him to prepare a trust deed for her, the complaint says.

At Krzemien’s house, Kubiatowski met with Krzemien outside of Dzieszko’s presence, and Kubiatowski suggested to her that she name Dzieszko as the beneficiary of a new land trust that would take title to her home, the commission complaint says.

A few days later, Kubiatowski met with Krzemien and Dzieszko together, and Kubiatowski falsely told Krzemien that she would continue to have full control over her property until she died, at which time the home would go to Dzieszko, according to the complaint.

In fact, the trust deed gave Dzieszko the right to sell her property or borrow against it, according to the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission.

A few months later, at the urging of a relative, a judge appointed the public guardian to represent Krzemien and safeguard her assets.

An attorney for the public guardian’s office, Dawn Lawkowski-Keller, immediately asked Dzieszko to sign a deed giving the property back to Krzemien, and Dzieszko did so.

Dzieszko stepped aside from parish duties in February of last year after the Tribune questioned him about the property transaction. In an interview at the time, Dzieszko said he only wanted to make sure that Krzemien could continue to live in her bungalow. “I don’t think I did anything bad,” he said. “I feel myself like the victim of the whole situation.”

Dzieszko’s recent parish letter said he spent much of his 18-month hiatus visiting holy places around the world.

“I was convinced of my innocence, and I knew it would not be long before the state prosecutor also (came) to this conclusion,” Dzieszko’s letter said.

During a Mass last week, about three dozen parishioners spilled out of a chapel into the pews of the church’s main worship space while Dzieszko celebrated Mass in Polish. At the end of the Mass, he turned and recited prayers before an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa mounted on the wall behind the altar.

He said he has always revered the Virgin Mary and that the 18 months of pilgrimage only strengthened that devotion.

“It is the most beautiful, precious gift from God,” he said.

Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear contributed.

Attribution:

Chicago priest returns to pulpit after investigation
David Jackson
September 5,  2012
Chicago Tribune
http://touch.chicagotribune.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-72091792/

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