LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) – A Wisconsin priest who earned his doctorate by researching cases of children abused by religious leaders has been accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl while he was in La Crosse for a canon law conference.
According to a criminal complaint filed in La Crosse County Circuit Court, the Rev. David Szatkowski, of Franklin, groped the 15-year-old girl outside a downtown La Crosse hotel late Monday or early Tuesday. The girl told police a drunken man approached her and her friends, put his arms around her and grabbed her breasts.
One of her friends took a photo of the man using a cellphone. Police later identified the man as Szatkowski. The complaint said Szatkowski also identified himself in the cellphone picture after investigators found him at the conference.
Investigators said Szatkowski told them he was staying at the Radisson and had several drinks during the evening. He said he remembered talking to a group of students outside the hotel, but denied assaulting the teen.
Szatkowski’s attorney, Keith Belzer, said Thursday he needed more time to review the case before commenting.
Szatkowski, 37, appeared in La Crosse County Circuit Court Wednesday on a charge of second-degree sexual assault of a child younger than 16. He was released from the La Crosse County Jail on a signature bond.
Szatkowski has resigned from his position as an assistant professor at the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Franklin, according to spokeswoman Mary Gorski. She said Szatkowski was not assigned to a parish.
Sacred Heart’s website says Szatkowski spent five years in Rome earning his doctorate in canon law and returned to the U.S. last fall. He focused his doctoral thesis on the authority of leaders of religious orders to do justice in cases of child sexual abuse, according to an interview posted on the website.
The Sacred Heart School of Theology is said to be the country’s largest Catholic seminary focused on preparing men older than 30 for priesthood.
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