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Paragons of Piety Can Also Be Naughty

Lest all this Merry Christmas spirit goes to you Christians’ heads and makes you think you are special, let’s remember that professed piety appears not to guarantee better moral outcomes. In Rapid City this year, we have two Catholic priests ending up on the wrong side of the law. First Father Marcin pilfered the collection plate

Marcin Garbacz was suspended from his ministry duties in May after church officials caught him stealing and sent to a six-month treatment program in St. Louis.

In July, he was charged with first-degree embezzlement of property received in trust and first-degree petty theft in the alternative, which means he could only be convicted on one of the counts. Garbacz pleaded guilty to the theft charge on Oct. 26.

He received a suspended imposition of sentence — which means his record will be sealed from the public, but not the courts or police — from Judge Bernard Schuchmann on Oct 31. Garbacz paid $334 in fines and costs, and $620 in restitution to the church, a clerk said [Arielle Zionts, “Against Orders, Priest Leaves Diocese, Treatment Program After Pleading Guilty to Theft,” Rapid City Journal, 2018.12.26].

—and Father John… well… ick:

Praveen was charged Oct. 2 and accused of sexually touching a 13-year-old girl above the clothes during two separate incidents. Before his duties were suspended, he had worked at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help cathedral in Rapid City since June. Before that, he served at churches in Eagle Butte [Arielle Zionts, “Priest Charged with Sex Crime Released from Jail After Anonymous Person Posts Bail,” Rapid City Journal, updated 2018.12.21].

Praveen is back in jail because the folks who took him in after the anonymously posted bond live out on Nemo Road and have crappy cell service, which meant the cops couldn’t get signal from his tracking device.

I work with a priest, and I’m married to a pastor, so I’ve got nothing against clergy. These two cases from Rapid City simply remind us that neither a collar nor a clutched Bible change our status as fallible beings, and the fact that you drop into church every now and then doesn’t prove you’re listening and living a more moral life than anyone else.

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  1. mike from iowa 2018-12-26 08:23

    Which board game has the “Opportunity Knocks” card? Sounds like an incentive to become a Priest. In the end this one will be remembered, for his years of devotion, as no more than a petty thief.

  2. Rorschach 2018-12-26 08:51

    An appropriate penance for Father Garbacz may be to deport him home to Hungary where he will be compelled to work overtime without being paid.

  3. El Rayo X 2018-12-26 11:53

    Cut the guy some slack, maybe he needed money to buy his wife a Lamborghini SUV.

  4. Porter Lansing 2018-12-26 12:42

    Why isn’t SD investigating sexual abuse by Priests? Is the “Catholic Caucus” in Pierre too busy denying women’s rights to help real children? Child abuse by Priests has been documented since Indian kids were taken from their homes and force to attend Catholic Indian Indoctrination Schools.
    “Priests would go, bishops would go and lie to parishioners, lie to law enforcement, lie to the public but then document all of the abuse in secret archives that they would share oftentimes with the Vatican,” – Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh
    Archbishop George Lucas said in a news release that he welcomes accountability and said, “The truth is good for everyone.”

  5. mike from iowa 2018-12-26 13:37

    Like Porter is hinting at, wingnuts in South Dakota are perfectly fine keeping their nose out of church criminal activities, just as they appear to turn a blind eye into religion creeping into the body politic.

  6. bearcreekbat 2018-12-26 14:37

    Many folks who steal have a reason or a need that they believe justifies their behavior. A financially hurting mom or dad might steal to buy food for his or her kids, get utilities turned on, pay for medical help or needed prescriptions, pay rent to avoid homelessness; a drug addict might steal to be able to buy a fix to stop the agony of withdrawal; a gambler might steal in the hope of winning enough to get back on his feet after a losing streak; and so on. Motivation for a committing a crime can be an important factor in determining the degree of culpability we assign.

    Have there been any news reports indicating this individual’s motivation to steal from the collection plate? It would be helpful to learn and understand what drove a man of the cloth so far afield from his obligations to God and his parishioners. It seems unlikely that he saw joining the church as the best opportunity for illicit financial gain. It seems much more likely that some unusual or unexpected event in his life motivated such uncharacteristic behavior for a priest.

  7. Debbo 2018-12-26 15:55

    (I wrote this comment on the post about Pope Francis, but parts of it are applicable here too.)

    Cory’s link to the Guardian article about what’s going on with the Pope and Vatican Inc is first rate. The Roman Catholic Church is a mess and a disgrace to Christianity, though it has a ways to go to match some parts of US evangelicalism.

    Francis accurately names the biggest enemy of his efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church as it’s own clergy.

    While there are righteous and humble ordained members, there is also a huge faction focused on protecting their privilege, power, wealth and comfort.

    Every denomination has some clergy who act out and must be stripped of ordination or reported to law enforcement. The Roman Catholic Church is the worst because of its top down authoritarian structure. Denominations that operates in a similar way have more severe problems because that structure exacerbates characteristics inherent in human nature.

    Because I can and I can get away with it, becomes a motivator, coupled with plenty of examples of others who have already done so.

    In my experience as a pastor, I perceived myself as one of my congregation, but with more knowledge through my education and responsibility due to my position. That position was emphasized in my seminary experience. It was never about having power over.

    In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, students working toward ordination go through rigorous mental health examinations, plus faculty and intern supervisors reports are taken very seriously. They work very hard to address emotional/mental issues.

    Even so, I am aware that several years ago in the SD Synod, a pastor had to be removed for sexual abuse of a minor. The first act was reporting the crime to the police. The 2nd was the bishop talking to the congregation about it. No secrets, complete transparency and always respecting the victim’s identity and wishes.

    There is more I could say because I’ve paid a great deal of attention to this issue, but this comment is very long already.

  8. mike from iowa 2018-12-26 16:38

    bcb- couldn’t any perp find a reason to justify any criminal act? My initial reaction stems from the quaint notion clergy are supposed to represent the best of humanity and according to the Lord’s Prayer their every want/need is taken care of.

    I expect bad social behavior from politicians. Another bubble burst.

  9. grudgenutz 2018-12-26 16:54

    Priests spend every second of their working lives perpetrating a lie. Stealing from the collection plate seems minor compared to that.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-26 17:30

    Bearcreekbat, I appreciate your ongoing effort to encourage empathy for the least among us, even those whom it is easy to whack.

    I haven’t seen an account of a motivation yet. RCJ reported that the official complaint busted Garbacz for lifting about $600 in March and April of this year, but he’d been taking money from the collection bag “for several years.” So it appears we’re not talking about one isolated instance created by a single extraordinary circumstance. This was ongoing theft.

  11. bearcreekbat 2018-12-26 18:14

    mfi, you suggest, “couldn’t any perp find a reason to justify any criminal act?” That was kind of my point. People commit crimes for some personally significant reason. I don’t mean some made up, artificial excuse. Rather, I wonder about the geniune motivation beneath the thought that “I can get away with it.” And this seems significant because motivations are morally different.

    Aa an example, compare two very different motivations for commiting two different crimes, one a misdemeanor and the other a felony.

    First, consider the motive of a migrant who commits the misdemeanor of crossing the border without papers. His motivation may be to seek a better life, to avoid violence, to protect his children, etc.

    Then compare that to a rich person running for political office who commits felonies by violating campaign finance disclosure laws to hide past misconduct and deceive voters, to gain power, to further enrich himself and his family, etc.

    Two crimes, two very different motives. And more to the point here, consider the possible motivations for the crime of theft:

    -Robin Hood thieves who steal from the rich to benefit the poor.


    -Rich thieves who steal from the poor to make themselves richer.

    This is why it seems important to understand what motivated this particular priest to act as he did before one can reasonably decide the level of condemnation he might deserve.

  12. Kurt Evans 2018-12-26 18:20

    Cory writes:

    These two cases from Rapid City simply remind us that neither a collar nor a clutched Bible change our status as fallible beings …

    Last year I’d posted several comments here about Christopher Comtois, who used to perform concert duets with Christian musician Rebecca St. James, play keyboards in her band, and prey on young girls after their shows.


    When Comtois was subsequently convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior against a middle-school cheerleader, he was literally clutching a Bible in the courtroom. What a tool.


  13. bearcreekbat 2018-12-26 18:20

    Cory, thanks for the update. This makes me wonder what he used the proceeds of his theft for over the years. After all, aren’t pretty much all of a priest’s material needs covered by the church, including shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and whatever?

  14. mike from iowa 2018-12-26 19:04

    and the church doesn’t have to provide them birth control because filling out a single government waiver was too much of a burden for the church to handle, so sayeth the activist right wing SPOTUS.

  15. Rorschach 2018-12-26 19:23

    How are we to trust this priest to speak honestly about the reason for his dishonest behavior? The courtroom is full of people telling self-serving lies, and this priest has shown that he is untrustworthy.

    The explanations of people for why they committed their crimes are admittedly interesting. Sometimes the convicted blame others for their problems. Sometimes the explanations are completely implausible, internally inconsistent, or demonstrably false. But other times the convicted are truthful. Often it’s difficult to discern whether or not the person is being entirely truthful. Garbacz will be given the opportunity to explain his actions. We will hear what he has to say, if anything.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-26 20:44

    On compensation: a 2017 Georgetown survey found starting salary is in the mid-$20K range. National median taxable income (which includes some of the benefits) for priests is $45,593, less than half what men with comparable education get in other fields, says the America Magazine article summarizing the Georgetown survey.

    I don’t know how consistent dioceses are with benefits, but Google likes the compensation and benefits guidelines posted by the Los Angeles archdiocese. Priests in La-La-Land get housing and meals, a car and gasoline, health insurance (w. parish covering deductible), and a month’s vacation plus five days after Christmas and five days after Easter.

    One factor making it hard to keep priests is the retirement package: priests may not get one, since priests have a tough time retiring.

  17. Debbo 2018-12-26 20:57

    Then they get paid more and more benefits than the average rev in SD. I recognize the big difference between SD and LA.

    I’m telling you gentlemen, it’s the structure above all, that leads them astray. Power corrupts. Absolute power . . .

    I had an inmate on my caseload explain his reason for committing the crime of burglary:

    He had a girlfriend and she liked presents so he had to keep buying them. When he ran out of $ he had only one choice. He had to steal it so he could keep buying her things so she’d stay with him.

    He told me that with all sincerity. He didn’t question the virtue of a girlfriend who remained so pending a steady flow of gifts. Nor did he see any other options to resolving his shortage of cash. Therefore, in his mind, it was manifestly unfair that he was ever imprisoned for his necessary act.

    With only rare exceptions, most of them don’t think like us. Really. BCB, you have probably seen the same thing.

  18. bearcreekbat 2018-12-27 02:15

    Debbo, I suspect most people in SD don’t think like me and vice versa! And I have seen a lot of things over the years. My greatest disappointment in myself comes from reflecting on hasty negative judgments I have made about people with too little empathy and consideration of their motives. Maybe that is why I have raised the question here.

    Meanwhile, your girlfriend pleasing inmate was motivated by trying to keep another person happy, since if she was happy she would stay with him and he would feel better about himself. Granted his implementation of this benevolent thought process was flawed, yet his motive was not purely evil or malicious.

    Indeed, I suspect he was not all that different from many other law abiding people. Many of us try to do things for other people that will improve their lives (i.e. make them happy) because by doing so we feel we are doing the right thing, which in turn helps us feel better about ourselves.

    And with the criticism I hear about how the Catholic Church spends it income, supporting massive and expensive buildings and shrines, covering up the crimes of pedophile priests, etc., perhaps it is not all that odd for someone close to the church to feel they are not hurting the church by taking relatively small sums from it for reasons they feel justify the taking.

    Which again raises the question – for what purpose did he use the proceeds from his dirty deed? To buy some useless trinket for himself? Or perhaps to buy clothes or gifts for needy kids or homeless people? The law really doesn’t care, but our moral judgments are outside the legal realm and worthy of some introspection prior to formation.

  19. Debbo 2018-12-27 14:12

    You’re correct BCB, his motives weren’t cruel. The difference in thinking is that the majority of us would not use his method to solve his problem, nor sincerely believe it was justified if we did.

    Among all the inmates who cycled through my caseload, a few hundred, only ONE said, “What I did was my fault. It was stupid and I deserve to be here. I’ll never do it again.” He’s a successful and respected citizen of the Black Hills area and has done well since he was released on probation in 1991.

    Successful rehabilitation, in my experience, depends on accepting responsibility for one’s actions.

    The burglar? His sheet will get longer and longer till he changes his thinking and recognizes that it was his choice, his decision to commit a crime.

    I don’t disagree with you about sentencing being affected by motive. I guess I’m thinking about rehab.

  20. jerry 2019-02-11 14:50

    Baptists by the hundreds embroiled in sexual abuse scandal. At least the Pope is trying to do something about the abuse, these jokers stood by and did nothing.

    “She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

    In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.”

    No religion can declare themselves pure in the regard of the evil of sexual abuse.

  21. Debbo 2019-02-11 16:28

    “At least the Pope is trying to do something about the abuse.”
    Kinda, sorta, vaguely, a little bit.

    The more authoritarian, “traditional”/conservative and patriarchal a church is, the worse their clergy sexual abuse scandals are.

    Yes, they happen in every denomination. The main liners– ELCA, Methodists, United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, etc– don’t have nearly the same level of problem. Why? Because those churches are not governed by an unquestionable patriarchy. Women serve in all roles. Clergy are answerable to congregations. If a clergy is accused of a crime, whatever it may be, he’s reported to the police. It’s a world of difference and safety.

    Remember, the scandal is in the coverup. When there is no coverup and the crime is in the police report, it makes the news, but it doesn’t remain newsworthy for long.

  22. jerry 2019-02-11 16:53

    Of course the Pope doesn’t get a free pass on this, but as the young abused lady states “Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.” From that article linked, so we agree with you. Kind of weird to speak of any of this and then to consider that “he’s” reported to the police, like that’s an absolution of the crime and now they can wash their hands.

  23. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-11 17:45

    Debbo and jerry,
    Tomorrow night (Feb. 12) on PBS there will be a WSJ/PBS documentary on convicted pedophile Dr. Weber. Weber served on the Blackfeet and Pine Ridge Indian Health Service hospitals. He was recently convicted of two counts of sexual abuse of two boys on the Blackfeet Reservation and is facing multiple counts on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
    PBS and the Wall Street Journal have worked on this documentary for over two years ands it should be interesting. You may want to check your local listing for the correct time.
    Weber followed the pattern of many priests by transferring from one hospital (diocese) to another.

  24. Porter Lansing 2019-02-11 18:12

    Roger … A high school classmate of mine , Dr. Mark Butterbrodt was documenting this story on his Facebook page for a long time before … “I was chased off by a pedophile and the people who chose him over me,” said Dr. Butterbrodt, who retired soon after.

  25. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-11 18:23

    Thanks Porter, Indeed Dr. Butterbrodt, originally from Watertown, SD was a prominent part of this story as reported by the Rapid City Journal.
    Dr. Weber was my nephew and niece’s pediatrician, after this story broke a few years ago we checked to see if they were ever molested by Dr. Weber, until we remembered that they were never left alone with him, that was a relief.
    It will be interesting to see how Dr. Butterbrodt discovered this pedophile doctor.

  26. grudznick 2019-02-11 18:24

    Do you pronounce that fellow’s name “Docktor Butter-brat?”

  27. Porter Lansing 2019-02-11 18:29

    Roger, He told me that Weber was selectively choosing 13 year old boys to treat from the clinic’s patient appointments. Mark’s a pretty sharp cookie. Went to Harvard and Dartmouth before he chose IHS for his career. We’ve drifted apart because he’s a staunch Republican and a follower of another classmate, John Hinderaker who started and publishes Powerline Blog. I’m still close friends with Mark’s sister, who’s a nurse in Brookings.

  28. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-11 18:29

    Leave it to Jeremiah Murphy to attempt a joke about a vey serious matter.

  29. Porter Lansing 2019-02-11 18:32

    Brodt means bread in German, Jeremiah. His name means bread and butter. His Dad had a pharmacy in Watertown and he installed a rifle range in the basement for Boy Scouts and the NRA shooting clubs.

  30. grudznick 2019-02-11 18:36

    A double goat-getting comment by grudznick. Huzzah.

  31. Certain Inflatable Rubber Devices 2019-02-11 18:36

    Grudznick becomes more detestable by the post.

  32. Porter Lansing 2019-02-11 18:53

    Irish Cursed … not enough discipline to grasp his potential

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