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City priest pleads guilty to Net child porn charge
Rydzewski's purchases online led seller to call police; sentencing Sept. 12
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By Gail Gibson
Sun Staff
Originally published July 17, 2002

A suspended Baltimore priest who served as youth minister at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen pleaded guilty to a Internet pornography charge yesterday, admitting that he received graphic images of children on his computer in the church rectory.

Court records released yesterday also showed that authorities moved to arrest the Rev. Thomas A. Rydzewski last year after an eBay seller grew suspicious of Rydzewski's online purchases, which included anatomically correct dolls, photos of altar boys and adult "baby briefs" - men's underwear decorated with dinosaurs, trucks and tractors.

Rydzewski, 35, is not accused of any sexual contact with children. He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to one count of receiving child pornography and could face more than two years in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 12.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese Of Baltimore said Rydzewski, who was placed on administrative leave after his arrest late last year, would be removed from the ministry and barred from returning to any church residences.

"We are deeply sorry for the role Father Thomas Rydzewski played in perpetuating child sexual abuse through his involvement with child pornography," said archdiocese spokesman Stephen J. Kearney. "There is no place in the church for those who harm children. Rydzewski will never function again as a priest."

Rydzewski was ordained at the cathedral in 1998 and, according to court records, served as youth minister for middle school and high school students. After his arrest, church officials notified parishioners and solicited complaints about inappropriate conduct involving Rydzewski. The FBI also interviewed several young people in connection with the investigation.

Church and FBI officials, as well as Rydzewski's attorney, said yesterday there were no complaints.

"No one came forth at all," attorney Max H. Lauten said in court. "There is no report from any quarter that Father Rydzewski had any inappropriate contact with any children. All of his actions were strictly on the Internet."

Lauten and Rydzewski declined to comment outside of court. Rydzewski is living at his parents' Arnold home and has undergone counseling at the Saint Luke Institute, a psychiatric treatment facility in Silver Spring.

Rydzewski's case grew out of a nationwide FBI investigation of a child pornography ring that operated through an e-mail message group known as "Candyman." FBI officials have said that three others charged in the investigation were members of the clergy, including a Roman Catholic priest from St. Louis.

An FBI affidavit made public yesterday showed that while Rydzewski first came to the attention of authorities in that broad investigation, they moved in to arrest him late last year after a woman who sells dolls on the online auction site eBay contacted Baltimore police after doing her own online detective work.

The seller, Marla Willette, became suspicious after talking to other doll sellers who said they also had sold lifelike, high-priced "My Twin" dolls to Rydzewski, who traded on eBay as "skywalker-198," according to the affidavit.

When Willette checked Rydzewski's seller profile, she later told police she found a "very disturbing" list of items - more than $6,000 in purchases that included boys' clothing, vintage advertising depicting children and videotapes about homosexual encounters involving young boys, police reported.

Using an Internet search engine, Willette also discovered that Rydzewski was a Catholic priest and that his eBay shipping address of 5300 N. Charles St. in Baltimore was the address of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

"Willette said that she felt the items Rydzewski was purchasing online were completely inappropriate for a priest, thus resulting in her telephone call to the Baltimore City police and U.S. Postal Inspection Service," FBI Special Agent Michael W. DuBois said in the affidavit.

After Willette's report, FBI agents went to the church rectory and Rydzewski's parents' home, posting agents at both locations to prevent any evidence from being destroyed while authorities sought a search warrant. During the search at his parents' home, Rydzewski told FBI Special Agent Christopher Braga that he had an attraction to young boys but had never engaged in inappropriate contact with a child, court records show.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew G.W. Norman said in court yesterday that prosecutors would ask U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Motz to order Rydzewski to undergo sexual offender counseling during his prison term and to register as a sex offender after his release.

Copyright 2002, The Baltimore Sun

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Photos

The Rev. Thomas A. Rydzewski (Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)
Jul 16, 2002

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