Venice diocese removes once-popular priest in Bonita Springs from priesthood

Hundreds of parishioners wait to greet Rev. Stan Strycharz after a prayer gathering and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ordination of Strycharz in March 2011 at Quail West Country Club in Bonita Springs. Strycharz, the priest of St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs, was suspended in 2010, pending investigations into allegations that he fathered a child and mishandled financial and personnel issues. He submitted his resignation in mid-April and is now working as a psychologist. Lexey Swall/Staff

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Hundreds of parishioners wait to greet Rev. Stan Strycharz after a prayer gathering and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ordination of Strycharz in March 2011 at Quail West Country Club in Bonita Springs. Strycharz, the priest of St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs, was suspended in 2010, pending investigations into allegations that he fathered a child and mishandled financial and personnel issues. He submitted his resignation in mid-April and is now working as a psychologist. Lexey Swall/Staff

Father Stan Strycharz

Photo by JASON EASTERLY // Buy this photo

Father Stan Strycharz

— A once-popular priest at St. Leo's Catholic Church in Bonita Springs has been removed from the priesthood.

Bishop Frank Dewane, of the Catholic Diocese of Venice Florida, told parishioners the news in a letter inserted in the Saturday evening and Sunday bulletins.

The statement announced that the canonical trial for 47-year-old former Bonita Springs priest Stan Strycharz concluded that he had "violated his fiduciary responsibilities to the Parish, his priestly promise to celibacy, and his promise of obedience to his Ordinary."

"Having considered both mitigating and aggravating circumstances, we hereby declare that the accused is herewith dismissed from clerical state," the judges stated about their decision in a letter issued by Dewane. The nonpublic, canonical trial consisted of a three-judge panel of priests who were all experienced canonical experts from outside the Diocese of Venice.

"He will no longer be able to function anywhere as a priest," said the statement issued by Diocesan spokesman Billy Atwell.

Strycharz didn't offer an appeal, the letter stated. Strycharz, who now works as a psychologist in Bonita Springs, couldn't be reached for comment.

Atwell said Tuesday the Diocese hasn't received any negative correspondence regarding the letter.

"My actions at St. Leo Parish were taken out of concern for the good of the Church, as well as for the spiritual well-being of the priest, the faithful of the Parish, and the Diocese," Dewane said in a letter issued in the weekend bulletin. "Please know that I initiated this process with prayerful consideration."

Strycharz had submitted his resignation to the Diocese in April. However, the Diocese of Venice had said Strycharz can't "resign from active ministry of the priesthood" because he was on administrative leave and faced a canonical trial on formal charges that could result in dismissal, the Diocese has said.

"Removal from the clerical state requires a canonical process," the Diocese said.

In July 2010, Dewane placed Strycharz on administrative leave from the Bonita Springs church after the diocese said he'd admitted he'd fathered a child, couldn't account for $1 million in church funds and refused Dewane's orders to fire two employees, including a music director in 2008.

It's against the Roman Catholic Church to father a child because priests take a vow of celibacy.

In November 2011, a forensic accounting firm hired by Save the Southwest Florida Diocese, a group of more than 1,000 supporters, announced it had reviewed church finances and found no financial improprieties. It was the same conclusion reached by a certified accounting firm the Diocese hired.

Both firms found record-keeping was lacking in some areas, but that was the finding in a 2003 financial review of St. Leo's two years before Strycharz arrived. In its later audit, the Diocese's firm cited a lack of financial documents, concluding Strycharz breached his legal duty to act in the church's best interests.

Strycharz, a priest for two decades, came to the parish in 2005. Many called him the best priest they'd ever had.

Save the Southwest Florida Diocese issued a statement Tuesday:

"A Catholic Church Tribunal has punished a former St. Leo the Great Catholic Church priest despite the fact that he did not participate in the proceedings. Stanislaw Strycharz was banned from being a priest, but he had already resigned," the statement said.

"The truth is that he chose not to participate in the trial on the belief that he wouldn't receive a fair hearing. Instead, the bishop selected a St. Leo priest to represent Stan, who left the Catholic Church in April. Stan did not have his own representation at the Church Trial held in July."

Tom MacGeorge, a Bonita Springs resident, said he disagreed with the way Dewane handled the issue, but maybe he could understand it because Dewane himself has no experience as a parish pastor.

"I find that difficult to accept, because I know him personally and all the good that he has done for the people of St. Leo the great parish," MacGeorge, a former St. Leo parishioner for 20 years who left St. Leo shortly after Strycharz was placed on leave, said about Strycharz's dismissal from the priesthood.

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