Priest charged with assault on teen

2011-08-11T00:00:00Z Priest charged with assault on teenBy ANNE JUNGEN | ajungen@lacrossetribune.com La Crosse Tribune
August 11, 2011 12:00 am  • 

A Wisconsin priest has been arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl earlier this week while he was in La Crosse for a conference.

The Rev. David Szatkowski, 37, of Franklin, Wis., grabbed the teen's breast outside the downtown Radisson late Monday or early Tuesday, according to the complaint filed Wednesday in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

She told police a drunken man approached her group of friends and put his arms around her shoulders before groping her. One of her friends snapped a picture of the man on a cellphone.

Police later identified him as Szatkowski.

Two witnesses said Szatkowski described himself as a lawyer and was "very touchy" before he grabbed the teen when she tried to give him a high five, the complaint states. He retreated to the hotel when the girls confronted him.

A staff member told police a group of people attending a canon law conference for canonists and civil attorneys at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe were staying in the hotel. The two-day conference is hosted by Cardinal Raymond Burke and is not associated with the Diocese of La Crosse.

Szatkowski identified himself in the cellphone picture after investigators found him at the conference, according to the complaint.

He told investigators he was staying at the Radisson and had several drinks during the evening. He remembered talking to a group of students for about an hour outside the hotel but denied assaulting the teen, according to the complaint. He refused more questions without an attorney.

Szatkowski appeared in court Wednesday, where prosecutors charged him with second-degree sexual assault of a child younger than 16.

He was released from the La Crosse County Jail on a signature bond and is due back in court Aug. 30 for a preliminary hearing.

Szatkowski has resigned from his position as an assistant professor of canon law and director of the English as a second language program at Franklin's Sacred Heart School of Theology, the country's largest Catholic seminary focused on preparing men older than 30 for priesthood.

The school is an apostolate of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, a religious community of brothers and priests.

His resignation is required by his religious order for anyone facing criminal charges, Sacred Heart spokeswoman Mary Gorski said.

She declined to comment on the case Wednesday pending an open investigation, saying only "this is out of the blue for us."

Szatkowski is not assigned to a parish. He spent five years in Rome earning his doctorate in canon law before returning to the U.S. in the fall.

He focused his doctoral thesis on the authority of leaders of religious orders to do justice in cases of child sex abuse, according to an interview posted on the Sacred Heart website.

"When I researched the story of abused children, I was angry," he said. "It is a crime against nature! And this, in my opinion, is part of why the justice of law cannot be an emotional action. When there is a violation against a child of God, the goal must not be to justify the violation but instead to find the balance between justice and God's mercy."

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