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Flushing pastor to resign post

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The pastor of a Flushing church at the center of a scandal involving a registered sex offender who was found volunteering at the parish’s school is resigning.

The Rev. Christopher Turczany announced Saturday that he will be stepping down from St. Mel’s Church just weeks after it was roiled by the news that Joseph Denice, a 24-year-old Whitestone man, was working with children at St. Mel’s Catholic School despite having been convicted of and jailed for sexual abuse in June 2010.

“We were notified on Saturday night that Father Christopher Turczany resigned,” said Rebecca Sheehan, a legislative assistant for state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). “He announced his resignation in front of the parishioners attending the 5 [o’clock] mass on Saturday evening.”

Monsignor Kieran Harrington, a spokesman for the Brooklyn Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, which includes Queens congregations, said the diocese is currently searching for a replacement pastor for Turczany, who has been at the church’s helm for more than a decade.

“He told the congregation that it’s his intention to step down as pastor,” Harrington said Tuesday.

A source who spoke with parishioners about the resignation said Turczany said he was driven to relinquish his post because the parish had gone into crisis twice while he was at its helm.

The first crisis developed over the church’s signing of a contract with Sprint-Nextel and T-Mobile in 2000, allowing the companies to place 23 cell phone towers on the church’s roof. Turczany told TimesLedger Newspapers in 2006 that the school made about $5,600 per year from the stations as a result of the contract.

But after nearly two years of protests from parents and elected officials, both companies agreed to terminate their agreement with the school and removed the towers in 2008.

The second crisis centered around Denice, who was arrested Jan. 13 and arraigned Jan. 14 on one charge of grand larceny, one charge of petit larceny and one charge of criminal possession of a forged document, for allegedly bilking St. Mel’s Church out of thousands of dollars through a check fraud scheme, according to the Queens district attorney. He was being held at Rikers Island Tuesday afternoon after being remanded in lieu of $15,000 bail, according to the city Department of Correction. He is due back in court March 1.

Denice passed a background check requested by the diocese before beginning his volunteer work at schools, including St. Mel’s School in Flushing, St. Kevin’s Church in Bayside, St. Kevin’s School in Flushing and St. Luke’s in Whitestone, in about 2007, according to the diocese.

After serving six months in jail for fondling and sexually assaulting a child in 2009, he volunteered but the schools never found out about his sex offense because he accepted a plea deal that allowed him to be registered as a Level 1 sex offender rather than the Level 2 designation the crimes usually carry, according to Avella.

Level 1 sex offenders are not listed on the sex offender registry and the schools were never contacted about his conviction. The diocese barred him from volunteering at its schools when parents raised concerns about his allegedly contacting a minor through Facebook.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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