Archive for Friday, September 6, 2002

Cleric faces Oct. 18 sentencing on charge

September 6, 2002

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Wanting to "clear a tortured conscience" and spare his victim the ordeal of a courtroom trial, a former Lawrence priest on Thursday pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child.

The Rev. Dennis Schmitz admitted in Douglas County District Court that on a fall night in 1998 he "inappropriately touched" a 15-year-old boy while sleeping with him.

Schmitz said the boy was spending the night with him at his Lawrence residence.

"At some point during the night, we were sleeping in the same bed," Schmitz told Judge Michael Malone. "I rolled over and my hand inappropriately touched him."

Schmitz went on to admit that he touched the boy in an effort to sexually arouse both himself and the boy.

Malone accepted Schmitz's plea and set sentencing for 9 a.m. Oct. 18.

Schmitz could be sentenced to 34 months in prison and be ordered to pay a fine. His attorney said his client didn't have a criminal history and would ask for probation.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Ruth Ritthaler said she would not argue against probation.

After the hearing, Schmitz's attorney Steve Mirakian said Schmitz reported the incident to Catholic Church officials several months ago. The information then was forwarded to law enforcement authorities.

"It was apparent by what was said in court that he knew that he did something very wrong," Mirakian said. "There was nothing hidden. There was nothing concealed."

Schmitz wanted to plead guilty to clear his conscience and spare the victim more pain, Mirakian said.

"This is a case where a very good person, a good man and very good priest did a very bad thing," he said.

The attorney said he did not believe Schmitz fit the psychological definition of a pedophile, though he didn't want to try to say what the definition is. Mirakian said he knew of no other victims.

Church officials earlier said Schmitz would not be allowed to return to active ministry. He will not be allowed to celebrate Mass, wear priestly garb or present himself as a priest. The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas also is taking steps to have him removed from the priesthood.

Schmitz, 41, now living in Marysville, still faces an indecent liberties charge in Nemaha County involving the same victim, who is now 18. Plea negotiations are continuing there and no new court date has been set, Mirakian said.

The victim, a Johnson County resident, also filed a civil lawsuit in Douglas County against Schmitz and the archdiocese, seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages. The lawsuit, which is pending, claims the sexual abuse occurred in both Douglas and Nemaha counties on multiple occasions between Jan. 1, 1999, and Aug. 31, 1999.

The criminal charges were filed in June in Douglas and Nemaha counties after an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Schmitz lived and worked in Lawrence from the mid-1990s until July 2001, identifying and recruiting candidates for the Catholic seminary. Until June, he was pastor of St. Gregory parish in Marysville and St. Malachy parish in Beattie.

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