Thursday, February 3, 2011

Parental pressure
St. Mel’s priest resigns after parental pressure
by Liz Rhoades, Managing Editor
After growing pressure from St. Mel’s parents to oust him, Father Christopher Turczany has resigned from the Flushing church.
Turczany, 58, made the announcement during Saturday Mass. He will stay on until the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn finds a replacement.

Parents interviewed, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was aloof and did not work for the best interest of the school. Two incidents in December were the final straw.
Parents were outraged when they learned that a registered sex offender was allowed to work at the school for several months as a volunteer religious instructor. Joseph Denice, 24, of Whitestone was discovered after he reached out to a boy on Facebook.
It was discovered shortly afterward that while at St. Mel’s, Denice allegedly stole a church checkbook and cashed checks totaling $7,707. He is now at Rikers Island for an alleged parole violation and for the grand larceny charges.
Officials from the diocese said that Denice went through a background check in 2005, but another had not been done since then. He was sentenced to six months last year as a Level 1 sex offender for abusing a boy he knew through IS 25 and St. Kevin’s Church, both in Flushing.
Dorian Mecir, a parent who has two children at St. Mel’s, said last week that parents had called for the priest’s removal with the diocese during meetings with the vicar following the sex offender disclosure.
Since then, other parents and parishioners have come forward saying they have been unhappy with Turczany for several years. They point to three incidents in 2006 under his jurisdiction.
In the spring of 2006, parents protested the erection of 21 cell phone antennas on the school, saying they were concerned about potential health risks. Many blamed Turczany for the towers.
The church makes money on such antennas, but parents said they weren’t informed about the plan. The towers were eventually removed in 2008.
Also in 2006, the church was rocked by two separate incidents. In October, the church’s custodian accidentally shot himself twice on church property while cleaning a gun. He was jailed for possessing a firearm near a school; the weapon was unlicensed, and the janitor had a criminal record.
On Christmas day, two robbers stole about $30,000 from a St. Mel’s safe that parishioners say was not well protected. Two Brooklyn men with connections to the church were quickly arrested for the heist. One was related to a former assistant caretaker.
Turczany, who has been at St. Mel’s since 2006, was the target of a recent petition drive to get rid of him, according to the parent of an eighth grader.
Another parent indicated that parishioners were furious when the priest sold the rectory and renovated the former convent at an alleged cost of $1 million. Turczany and two other priests, one retired, live there. Parents were particularly unhappy with the expense since they wanted a gym built for students.
“The joke is, the diocese named him pastor of the year last year,” the man said. “I guess it’s who you know.”
Monsignor Kieran Harrington, spokesman for the diocese, said Tuesday that Turczany made the decision to resign for his “health and spiritual life.” Harrington added that the priest believes “it will better for someone else to lead the parish in the future” and that his ability to head St. Mel’s has been diminished.
Turczany was out the office and could not be reached for comment. Harrington said he will be reassigned.

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