TAMPA — Last week’s suicide of Rev. Vladimir Dziadek, the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in West Tampa, left many people struggling with painful, unanswered questions.
One of those struggling is Diocese of St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch.
“This has been the hardest, most challenging and emotionally draining moment of my time here as bishop,” he wrote in a blog posting Wednesday, the first public comments from the bishop since Dziadek took his own life on May 12.
It was Lynch who met with Dziadek and removed the popular priest from administrative duties at the church after the disclosure Dziadek had withdrawn nearly $200,000 from the church coffers over the past 15 months. The money fueled a gambling addiction that Dziadek brought with him to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Dziadek’s body was found in the rectory near the 118-year-old church. He had hanged himself.
“No amount of money is worth the taking of a human life,” the bishop wrote, “no amount of shame can ever completely erase the good a person has done, no sin is truly unpardonable, no potential embarrassment even approaches the shame, anger, guilt which befalls those left behind to deal with the unforeseen reality occasioned by suicide.”
Dziadek took over the church in 2011 and oversaw a major renovation and became a popular figure among parishioners.
Born in Poland, he became fluent in Spanish while doing mission work in Venezuala; in Tampa, he offered masses in English and Spanish.
But he was troubled. He had bouts with depression, which required hospitalization a few years ago. His gambling addiction was well hidden, church officials said, until a few weeks ago when church auditors found financial discrepancies at the church and confronted Dziadek.
The priest had returned $35,500 to the church, but the rest remained missing. Bishop said in his blog that the church carries insurance for cash losses, but something like this would required law enforcement involvement and possible criminal charges.
“In cases such as this,” Lynch wrote, “priests are not treated differently from lay employees ... I assured Father Vladimir that I was ready to help him in any way I or the diocese possibly could. Father Vladimir left my office ashamed of what he had done, sorry for what he had done, but in denial in some ways of the true nature of his actions.”
Lynch wrote: “The past week has seen my emotions run the gamut from anger to guilt, from disbelief to compassionate concern for Father’s family in Poland and in West Tampa, from shame to sorrow, and usually back to guilt. On Saturday morning I rejoiced at the ordination of our three new priests, but I could not rid myself of the image of ‘the one who got away and how I wished I could have taken him back.’ ”
Lynch met with St. Joseph parish leaders this week and told them all the money would be reimbursed, though he didn’t say how.
“Sadly,” Lynch wrote, “the parish did not have an active, fully functioning, fully accountable Finance Council; it met seldom and usually were just used to sign reports required of the diocese. That changed at St. Joseph as of Monday night.”
He said that over his long career as a priest, he has officiated over three funerals for suicide victims, all teenagers.
“I then had no real sense of the deep feelings of guilt and anger and questioning which those three families experienced,” he wrote, “until now.”