Archive for Thursday, August 15, 2002

Priest plans to plead guilty

Attorney for onetime Lawrence clergyman says suspect is ‘remorseful’

August 15, 2002

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A Catholic priest who once worked in Lawrence intends to plead guilty to charges of taking indecent liberties with a child, his attorney said after a hearing Wednesday in Douglas County District Court.

The Rev. Dennis Schmitz, 41, formerly of Lawrence, on Wednesday waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the matter. He will enter a formal plea during an arraignment set for 3 p.m. Sept. 5 before Judge Michael Malone.














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"He's extremely remorseful," said Steve Mirakian, Schmitz's attorney. "He feels horrible about what has happened."

Schmitz will plead guilty because he doesn't want to force the victim who was 15 at the time the incident allegedly occurred in 1999 to go through a trial, Mirakian said.

In a statement Wednesday, Archbishop James Keleher of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, expressed "great sorrow that a young person has been hurt" by one of the archdiocese's priests.

Keleher said Schmitz would not be allowed to return to active ministry in the Catholic Church under a charter established by U.S. bishops earlier this year in Dallas. Schmitz will not be allowed to celebrate Mass, wear priestly garb or present himself as a priest.

Moreover, Schmitz has agreed to begin voluntary laicization, which is the process of being removed permanently from the priesthood, Keleher said.

Schmitz has not talked with reporters on the advice of Mirakian.

Schmitz also faces an indecent liberties charge in Nemaha County involving the same victim. An Aug. 29 hearing is scheduled in Seneca, where Schmitz also is expected to enter a plea. Mirakian said he was continuing to negotiate a plea agreement with Nemaha County prosecutors.

There was no change to the Douglas County charge. Mirakian would not discuss whether he tried to get the charge reduced.

The victim, now 18 and living in Johnson County, recently filed a civil lawsuit against Schmitz in Douglas County, seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages. The lawsuit alleges negligent, reckless and intentional sexual abuse.

The lawsuit claims the sexual abuse occurred in both Douglas and Nemaha counties on multiple occasions between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 1999.

The lawsuit was not unexpected, Mirakian said. Although Schmitz wanted to speak to the victim and the family when criminal charges were filed, Mirakian said he would not let him. The appropriate time to say Schmitz is "sorry beyond words" would come later, Mirakian said.

Schmitz had known the boy and his family for years, Mirakian said.

A conviction on an indecent liberties charge carries a prison sentence of up to 34 months. Mirakian noted Schmitz would be eligible for probation. A conviction would mean Schmitz would be required to register as a sex offender in Kansas.

"We hope he will not be incarcerated, but that will be up to the judge," Mirakian said.

Schmitz lived in Lawrence in the mid-1990s and recruited college-age men for the priesthood. He started a group of basketball-playing priests who called themselves the Runnin' Revs. They played against youth teams in schools in the archdiocese.

In June after an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Schmitz, now living in Marysville, was charged in both counties. Mirakian said that prior to the investigation Schmitz had "reported himself," but not to the authorities.

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