The Rev. Andrzej J. Urbaniak was downloading and sending sexual images of children when Boston police detectives entered the South Boston rectory where he lives to arrest him on pornography charges, a prosecutor said at the priest’s arraignment Wednesday.
Authorities said Urbaniak, who was arrested Tuesday, confessed to downloading and sharing pornographic pictures of children, most of whom appeared to be between the ages of 8 and 10. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.
Urbaniak, who emigrated from Poland 14 years ago, has been the priest at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church in South Boston for four years. Urbaniak, who is also known as Andrew, was charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, after an almost two-month investigation by authorities.
“This is a very decent man charged with indecent activities,” said Jeffrey Denner, the attorney who represented Urbaniak at his arraignment in South Boston District Court, where he was ordered held on $10,000 cash bail.
Our Lady of Czestochowa is a parish in the Archdiocese of Boston that ministers to the city’s Polish community. Urbaniak belongs to an order of Franciscan priests with headquarters in Poland. He has been placed on administrative leave by the Archdiocese, but it was unknown Wednesday if his order in Poland has made any moves to expel him.
“Urbaniak’s faculties have been suspended and he is not allowed to function as a priest in the Archdiocese,’’ a statement from the Archdiocese said.
Urbaniak’s arrest stems from an investigation that began June 13. A Massachusetts state trooper working undercover on the Internet, as part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, traced a pornographic image of a girl about 10 years old to an Internet protocol address allegedly belonging to Urbaniak. The trooper alerted Boston police.
Police arrived at the church rectory Tuesday afternoon with a search warrant and found Urbaniak there. While seizing the computer he used, authorities said, they discovered that he was downloading child pornography from a file-sharing website.
In a statement, police said that no one has contacted them to report being personally victimized by Urbaniak. The investigation is ongoing.
“I do think it’s a difficult time for particular Catholic clergy to be involved with charges that on any level relate to children,” Denner said moments after the arraignment. “So, certainly, if you had to choose an environment within which to defend this kind of case, this wouldn’t be the choice.”
As news of Urbaniak’s arrest spread across the city’s Polish Triangle, parishioners said they were surprised to hear such accusations aimed at the priest beloved by many.
Urbaniak is tall and thin with a youthful face; parishioners at Our Lady of Czestochowa often joked that he looked like a student. Urbaniak became popular because of his plainspoken sermons and warm, casual manner with those who sought his counsel.
“Some priests, they say whatever they have to say, and then they’re done,” said Agnieszka, 30, who attends the church and declined to give her last name. “But when [Father Urbaniak] speaks, you really want to listen to him, and not fall asleep.”
Zdzislaw Marecki, president of the Polish American Citizen Club, said Urbaniak impressed church members by heading up fund-raisers and volunteer projects to beautify the church and make much-needed repairs. After arriving at Our Lady of Czestochowa, Urbaniak converted a little-used room into a bright space for concerts, meetings, and dinners.
Agnieszka said she was not aware of any events where Urbaniak spent significant amounts of time alone with children.
“I wish it wasn’t true,” Agnieszka said of the accusations. “We all trusted him so much.”
But with so many high-profile cases of abusive Catholic priests, Marecki said, it is difficult not to become cynical about even the most popular church leaders.
“He tried to tell people how to live – what’s right and what’s wrong,” Marecki said. “Well, it looked like he didn’t do it himself.”
Urbaniak was ordained by the Order of Friars Minor Conventual in Lodz, Poland, in 1998. He served as a parochial vicar in St. John Kanty Parish in Clifton, N.J., from 2002 to 2008, when Urbaniak’s order assigned him to help with outreach in Boston’s Polish-American community, said Kellyanne Dignan, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Boston. Attempts to reach the order in Poland were unsuccessful.
While Urbaniak was not a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, the archdiocese granted him faculties, or license to practice as a priest in the city, in September 2008, Dignan said.
Urbaniak, who became a naturalized US citizen two years ago, faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. He is scheduled for a probable cause hearing on Aug. 31.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office prosecutes as many as 20 child pornography cases a year, said spokesman Jake Wark.
“It’s been much more visible this year because of some of the more egregious cases,’’ Wark said.
One of those cases occurred last November, when Grant D. Smith, 47, a University of Utah professor, was arrested and subsequently charged with possession of child pornography after a passenger allegedly noticed him looking at some images on his laptop during a flight to Logan Airport from Salt Lake City.
In January, David Ettlinger, a 34-year-old elementary school teacher in Newton, was arrested on child pornography charges after authorities said they found hundreds of illegal images on his computer. Police began tracking him after he allegedly made numerous visits to a reputed online forum for child pornography.
On Sunday, a story in The Boston Globe detailed a vast international child pornography network that federal authorities uncovered after receiving a picture from a Milford man who thought he was sharing it with fellow child-pornography voyeurs. The man’s miscalculation led to 42 arrests and the discovery of 140 children who had been violated.
Brian Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.