Polish priest seeks release in Brazil abuse case

Associated Press/May 25, 2010

Rio De Janeiro - Lawyers for a Polish priest accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in Brazil and maintaining an "erotic dungeon" in a parish house requested Tuesday that he be freed pending trial.

Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors accused Marcin Michal Strachanowski of handcuffing a 16-year-old former altar boy to a bed three years ago in the house where the priest lived and threatening to kill the youth if he spoke of the abuse.

The lurid allegations are the latest of several priest sex abuse cases to shake Brazil, which is home to more Roman Catholics than any other nation, and come as the church grapples with scandals around the world.

Hugo Sarubbe, one of Strachanowski's lawyers, said his legal team filed a written challenge to a judge's order for the priest's arrest. Strachanowski has been jailed since turning himself over to police last week. There was no word on when a judge would rule on the request.

Last week Judge Alexandre Abrahao Dias ordered Strachanowski's arrest, in part because the judge said he posed a threat of fleeing Brazil.

But Sarubbe said a prosecutor's request for the preventive arrest of the 44-year-old Strachanowski had been issued more than two years ago, when an investigation into the alleged abuses began.

"His passport was taken away from him in 2008. Absolutely nothing has changed - he has continued to live at the same address and he poses no threat of fleeing Brazil," Sarubbe said.

Strachanowski was suspended from duties last week after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro learned of the order for his arrest.

Church officials could not be reached Tuesday to comment on whether they had been informed that his arrest was requested in 2008 on the same allegations.

Strachanowski was among more than 8,800 clergy who signed a letter sent to Pope Benedict XVI last month that stated "Poland's Catholics express their solidarity" with the pope in the face of "unprecedented media attacks" and allegations that the pope was involved in trying to cover up "painful cases of abuse by the clergy."

The letter was posted on the website of the Catholic News Agency, KAI, and also stated that "the revealed sins of the priests will not shake our confidence in the Church."

The judge who ordered Strachanowki arrested said that investigators found "erotic material sent to the victim via the Internet to seduce him" and that the priest also took other youths to the parish house, "which he converted into a kind of erotic dungeon where he submitted them, often with the use of handcuffs, to orgies."

The mother of the 16-year-old boy allegedly abused told the newspaper O Dia in an article published Tuesday that Strachanowski was "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

"It was a huge disappointment - a church leader, spiritual mentor, doing something so disgusting," said the woman, who spoke anonymously so that her son would not be identified. "He has disgraced my family."

The woman told the newspaper she discovered the explicit e-mails that the judge said Strachanowski sent to her son.

"It was a shock to find the e-mails from the priest, with pornographic photos, erotic texts and the threats," she said. "There were even photos of Marcin bathing nude."

In the early 1990s, Strachanowski worked as a priest in Poland and Ukraine before arriving in Brazil around 1997, according to church officials in Europe.

The Rev. Marian Buczek, bishop of the diocese of Kharkiv and Zaporizzhya in Ukraine, said that to his knowledge, Strachanowski had no accusations of abuse leveled against him in that country. He did not know why Strachanowski left Ukraine.

The Rev. Robert Necek, a spokesman for the Krakow Archdiocese in Poland, said that Strachanowski was ordained in that city in 1991 and that to his knowledge there were no accusations made against him in Poland.

The sex abuse case is one of several facing Brazil's church recently.

Prosecutors charged the Rev. Jose Afonso last month with abusing altar boys ranging in age from 12 to 16. Prosecutors said the alleged abuses took place in the city of Franca, in southeastern Sao Paulo state.

Also last month, 83-year-old Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa was detained in northeastern Brazil for alleged abuse of at least three boys after being caught on videotape having sex with a former altar boy who was an adult when the video was made. Barbosa is under house arrest while authorities investigate.

Two other priests in the same archdiocese are also accused of abuses.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops announced this month that it plans to craft a manual with guidelines to help bishops prevent child-abuse cases.

Associated Press writers Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Anna Melnichuk in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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