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Struthers priest placed on leave, accused of 'inappropriate' contact with minor

"Let us continue to pray for all those who are hurt in any way by the church," Bishop David Bonnar is quoted in a Sunday news release.
Diocese of Youngstown 12172019
(Photo by William D. Lewis)

STRUTHERS — The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown on Wednesday placed a Struthers priest on administrative leave, after he was accused of having "inappropriate physical contact" with a minor.

The Rev. Marian Babjak, pastor of Christ Our Savior Parish in Struthers, will remain a diocesan priest, but will be prohibited from publicly celebrating sacraments, wearing clerical attire or "presenting himself as a priest in good standing," reads a Sunday news release from the diocese. The release does not provide details about the allegation, which has been forwarded to Mahoning County Children Services.

Babjak was listed in church bulletins as pastor of the Struthers parish as early as August 2020, according to the parish's website.

"The placement on administrative leave does not presume guilt as the purpose of this leave is to conduct a thorough and objective investigation," reads the release.

"The Diocese of Youngstown is following its safe environment policy and the policies developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Fr. Babjak's right to a good reputation will be maintained throughout this process, and care will be taken to protect the rights of all parties involved, particularly the person making the allegation and Fr. Babjak."

At least two former clergymen have filed defamation lawsuits against the diocese in the past two years for its handling and reporting of abuse allegations inside the diocese.

William Smaltz, who served St. Edward Parish decades ago, claims the diocese never interviewed him on the abuse allegations the diocese linked to him in 2018. The diocese removed his name from a list of credibly accused clergy more than a year later.

Denis G. Bouchard, who began serving at Vienna’s Holy Rosary Church in October 2008, refuted the allegations and filed a civil complaint against the diocese, his accuser and that man's mother and others.

Both cases are still pending in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

In Babjak's absence, Diocese Bishop David Bonnar appointed the parish's former pastor, the Very Rev. Martin Celuch, as administrator pro-tem of the Christ Our Savior Parish, effective immediately, according to the release.

The diocese encourages anyone who has been a victim of misconduct by a clergy member or church employee to contact the diocese's Victims Assistance Coordinator Dominic Colucy at 330-744-8451, ext. 293 or at dcolucy@youngstowndiocese.org. The diocese also maintains a diocesan response line at 330-718-1388.

"Let us continue to pray for all those who are hurt in any way by the church," Bishop Bonnar is quoted in the release. "Know also of my continued prayers and support for all parishioners. Together, let us pray that all may be one."

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