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Stan Strycharz
Stan Strycharz

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The former head priest at St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs has been removed from the priesthood in the wake of two-year-old charges he mismanaged his duties at the parish, fathered a child and disobeyed the bishop.

Stan Strycharz did not appeal the decision made by a three-judge panel of priests not connected with the Diocese of Venice. Bishop Frank Dewane issued a letter to St. Leo parishioners last weekend explaining the outcome of the canonical trial.

“They declared that Mr. Strycharz no longer has the ‘power, office, function, right, privilege, faculty, favor, title or insignia’ of the ministerial priesthood. This means that he is unable to function anywhere as a priest,” Dewane wrote.

Strycharz had the representation of a lawyer chosen by him, according to Dewane's letter.

Strycharz, 49, resigned from priesthood in April. “Such an act is impossible under Church Law since removal from the clerical state requires a canonical process,” Dewane wrote.

“He chose not to participate in the trial on the belief that he wouldn’t receive a fair hearing,” according to a statement from Save the Southwest Florida Diocese, a group of more than 1,000 individuals who are concerned about disturbing events occurring under Dewane’s leadership. “Stan did not have his own representation at the Church Trial held in July.”

Strycharz is working as a psychologist in Bonita Springs. On Wednesday, he did not return calls and was unavailable when a reporter stopped at his office at The Promenade.

The bishop placed him on leave in July 2010 because Strycharz had broken his vow of celibacy and was allegedly responsible for $1 million missing from church coffers.

The Financial Valuation Group of Fort Lauderdale, a nationally known forensic auditing firm hired by Save the Southwest Florida Diocese, found no misappropriation of funds. The diocese’s accounting firm, Larson Allen, said there were problems based on the opinion there was poor record keeping. The diocese maintained Strycharz had personal credit cards that accounted for nearly $665,000 in undocumented expenses.

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Strycharz has said he was removed from St. Leo after defying the bishop’s orders to fire the church’s music and religious education directors without a reason.

Strycharz has also said he acknowledged to the bishop in 2008 that he had fathered a child before he arrived at St. Leo and that Dewane had agreed to keep it confidential.

“And then the bishop violated the seal of confession by blurting it out to the parishioners at St. Leo,” said Bernard Long, who stopped going to St. Leo after Strycharz was placed on leave. “It’s unfortunate that the bishop would pursue this against a real decent person and harm so many people here.”

Strycharz, who was at St. Leo for five years, played a key role in increasing St. Leo's parishioners to 2,200 families and oversaw a $21 million church expansion.

“I’ve got nothing against Father Stan because I really liked him, but if he has done the wrong then that’s the way it should be,” said Marc Boocher, a St. Leo parishioner.

A native of Poland, Strycharz had been a priest since 1991. He attended Orchard Lake Seminary in Detroit and was ordained in the Diocese of Venice. Strycharz had previously served at the Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and San Marco Church on Marco Island.

“I think that it doesn’t change who he is,” said Maria Perretti, a former St. Leo parishioner and one of hundreds who signed letters asking for Strycharz’s reinstatement. “He has served so many people. ... I think that’s what we’re judged on — our good works.”

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