Matt C. Abbott
February 2, 2012
Priests' tragic deaths need closure
By Matt C. Abbott

The mysterious and tragic deaths of two priests — Father Waclaw Jamroz of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Father Alfred Kunz of the Diocese of Madison — need closure.

Father Jamroz's bizarre death in 2009 was ruled a suicide by the Crook County — oops, I mean, Cook County — medical examiner, but, as a Feb. 1 local news segment points out, questions surrounding the case won't go away.

From ABC7 Chicago investigative reporter Chuck Goudie:
    'Questions don't die at the Cook County morgue in the case of a Chicago Catholic priest who was stabbed more than 20 times. His death was ruled a suicide.

    'With a popular inspirational show on Polish TV, Father Waclaw was widely known outside his Our Lady of the Snows parish near Midway Airport.

    'On Thursday October 8, 2009, [Father] Waclaw was planning a trip to Poland to see his family and he was scheduled to celebrate the morning Mass, then preside at a funeral.

    'When the usually on-time pastor didn't show up, police were called to the rectory across the street. He was found on the bathroom floor with more than 20 knife wounds in the stomach, cuts on his wrists and bruises on his body. It was described by sheriff's investigators as a 'slow, very violent death.'

    'Despite the numerous wounds and bruising, and even though there was no suicide note, the Cook County medical examiner quickly determined that Father Waclaw stabbed himself to death....

    '...Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones has refused to answer any of the I-Team's questions about the case or explain why there wasn't a complete autopsy on Father Waclaw's body. Similarly, Dr. Jones has refused I-Team questions about the latest crisis in her office: bodies haphazardly piled in an overcrowded morgue....'
Click here to read Goudie's report in its entirety.

In December 2011, Matt Geiger, editor and reporter at the Middleton Times-Tribune, published an article on the still-unsolved 1998 murder of Father Alfred Kunz. While the newspaper's articles are not available on its website, Mr. Geiger graciously granted me permission to reprint his article, a significant portion of which can be seen below.



Plenty of theories but no resolution in the case of a local priest's death

By Matt Geiger

It was early 1998 and Dane County Sheriff's Office (DCSO) detectives were busy investigating the suspicious death of a local crack dealer. On the morning of March 4, they received word of a very different murder.

This time the victim was a Roman Catholic priest, found with his throat slit in a little church in the rural Village of Dane.

If conspiracy theories solved cases, this one would have been wrapped up long ago. But more than a decade after Father Alfred Kunz's body was found on the floor of St. Michael's Parish, authorities are still working on the investigation.

The identity of the person or persons who killed the priest, who was celebrated for his Friday night fish fry dinners and was known as a skilled auto mechanic, remains a mystery to the general public. The motive too is obscure, opening the door for an array of theories.

Last year the county sent out a press release saying that despite the time elapsed, the case is not yet considered "cold."

"The Dane County Sheriff's Office continues to treat the homicide of Father Kunz as an active investigation," the press release stated. "Twelve years later, detectives continue to work on the case and respond to tips. The Dane County Sheriff's Office does not consider this a 'cold' case. Detectives believe they have viable suspects in the homicide and continue to look for that one piece of evidence and/or information that will bring Father Kunz's murderer to justice."

This autumn detectives were spotted revisiting the parish where Kunz's body was discovered, and they have followed up on leads ranging from a "common" motive to a "satanic" conspiracy by the Roman Catholic Church.

Investigators on multiple occasions have said they tend to believe the more "common" theories, but that hasn't stopped some figures from speculating openly about what happened.

According to his obituary in the Waunakee Tribune, Kunz was born on April 15, 1930 in Fennimore. His burial took place in St. Mary's Cemetery in his hometown. During his life, Kunz established a reputation as a man of strong theological convictions.

Peter Kelly is a Monroe-based attorney who believes the authorities have a good idea who killed Kunz but are unable to gather enough evidence to file charges that will stick.

The author of the conservative theological tome Cleansing Fire, Kelly is a life-long Catholic and a self-described "country lawyer" with a graduate degree in theology. He currently spends his days practicing law in his office, accompanied by the sounds of Rush Limbaugh's radio broadcast.

Kelly was one of the last people to see Kunz alive. The priest appeared, as he regularly did, on Kelly's own radio show just hours before his death. The two men and Father Charles Fiore, who also spoke on the program and eventually died in 2003, sat in the Monroe studio that night, recording a show about the sacraments.

"Father Kunz was sitting in the studio with only hours to live," Kelly recalled. "I remember suggesting that we do a show about him sometime — I said we could do 'the Father Kunz story.' Fiore chuckled and said we could call it 'from rags to rags,' which he actually meant as a compliment. The last thing I ever heard out of Father Kunz's mouth was laughter at that joke just before they headed out the door."

Kelly said that while Kunz was still technically a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was "exiled" to the modest and remote Village of Dane because his views were more conservative than those in the mainstream church, which is why the "Rags to Rags" joke struck home.

The next morning, Kelly received a call informing him that Kunz's lifeless body had been found at the parish where he lived and taught young school children.

"It's just speculation for us to guess who did it," Kelly said. "My guess is it was probably the result of someone losing their temper. The bigger tragedy has to do with the fact that the church lost someone who recognized what a tragedy it had been when the modernists took over."

The conflict between traditionalism and modernism is at the heart of several theories about the case. Kunz was a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but many people, Kelly included, felt his tendency toward theological traditionalism prompted the more liberal diocese to "banish" Kunz to his rural parish. (According to his obituary, Kunz resigned from a chancery position after the death of Bishop Cletus O'Donnell.)

The split between those who believe the church should evolve and those who believe change will ultimately lead to relativism and moral decay is evident in the divergent reactions to the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965. "Vatican II," as it is frequently called, paved the way for some modernization of the church, including allowing a non-Latin Mass that was intended to make the faith more accessible to the general public.

Kunz was one of the priests who opposed an updated Mass, continuing to use the old Latin version at St. Michael's Parish.

But while Kunz's religious views harkened back to early Rome, he was also quintessentially Midwestern, according to those who knew him.

"He never missed deer hunting," Kelly said. "He was a Wisconsin farm boy through and through. He couldn't pay his teachers [at St. Michael's parish school] much, but he would fix their cars for them. I remember seeing him one time in these grease-covered overalls. When I got a little closer I saw his Roman priest's collar underneath it."

Kunz baptized people, helped them when they faced life's struggles, and was at their sides when they died, Kelly continued. "People would wait to die until he was at their bedside," Kelly said. "He was that kind of figure."

But Kunz's devotion to his flock didn't end there, according to Kelly. "I remember one time when we spoke his hay fever was acting up," Kelly recalled. "He told me he had been out mowing the grass around the graves. Even after death he was still caring for these people."

Following his own death, some speculated that Kunz's opposition to the modernization of the Roman Catholic Church had something to do with his murder. Kelly thinks that's unlikely.

"I don't think he was killed because of his traditionalist theology," said Kelly, who has been a vocal critic of modernism. "But the great tragedy remains: we lost him when we could have used him most."

One man who openly accused the church is Abbot Ryan St. Anne, who is the leader of a traditionalist Abbey that is somewhat transient in nature and is currently situated in Buchanan County, Iowa. The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize St. Anne as an Abbot. [Click here to read about recent developments, unrelated to the Father Kunz case, regarding the nomadic Ryan St. Anne Scott.]

He said Kunz helped establish the sect now known as Buchanan County Abbey.

"I had known [Kunz] since the early '70s and appreciated the faith and sincerity that radiated from his love of the Church, the Faith and our Most Holy and Blessed Mother," he said in an interview via email. (St. Anne said he no longer gives verbal interviews because the media has twisted prior statements of his.)

"When 'modernism' and 'liberalism' took over our once holy Church, [Kunz] was instrumental in helping many individuals and religious organizations in the fight against the 'dumbing down' of our Catholic Faith."

St. Anne has been accused of being a "fake" religious figure. But he said the real corruption is in the mainstream church.

"We subscribe to the teachings of the Church that were in place for 1,950-plus years: unabridged, unchanged, uncompromised," he said. "After Vatican II it was a 'new church' [with] new teachings, new sacraments, new everything. In their own words: [a] Novus Ordo [or] new order."

"My personal belief [is that] Father Kunz was assassinated by the corrupt Novus Ordo Institution," St. Anne said. "He knew too much — he had resourceful contacts — he was about to expose the multifaceted corruption that has invaded the Novus Ordo Church today! In my opinion, there would have been no other reason."

He did not offer any proof to back up his theory, but St. Anne went on to describe the murder as "satanic — purely satanic."

Another theory revolves around Kunz's involvement with Stephen Brady, an Illinois-based [businessman] who has spent decades working to expose pedophilia and homosexuality, which he believes are linked and are both immoral, in the church.

Brady has been interviewed by the Dane County Sheriff's Office on multiple occasions and said he was first put in contact with Kunz by another priest — a priest who was helping The Roman Catholic Faithful, a group run by Brady, expose members of the clergy that were suspected of perceived transgressions.

"I was told that if you needed anything you could contact him," Brady said. "Father Kunz was very secretive. In other words, he never betrayed a trust."

Brady said he is unsure why Kunz died, but he added that some people have indicated it was connected to the priest's association with Brady.

But some people believe theories about various conspiracies may have actually hindered the investigation, eating up the resources of investigators who are required to look at every possibility.

Matt Abbott is a Catholic journalist and columnist with strong conservative views of his own, but he said his theology falls primarily within the mainstream Catholic Church. Abbott has written several articles about the murder....

"I initially thought there was some sort of connection to the corrupt clergy, a kind of culmination of Kunz's role in the investigation into sexual corruption," Abbott said. "This is certainly among the more conspiratorial theories. These days, as time goes by, I'm starting to think it could have been a more common motive. It's hard to say for sure."

One man who knew Kunz well agreed. Rev. Msgr. Delbert Schmelzer is a retired Director of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith in the Madison Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. He was ordained in 1956, the same year as Kunz.

It was Schmelzer who took over St. Michael's Parish for the nine weeks immediately following the death of Father Kunz. He said the strong-willed priest could accurately be described as a "Holy Man."

"He was a very pious and devout fellow," Schmelzer said. "Some considered him ultra conservative and he could be very strict with some things. He was confident and he knew his theology and canon law very well."

"[He was] not a breakaway in any way, but he was by the book and very strict," he continued. "He stuck to the old ways."

Schmelzer went on to point out that Kunz's followers in Dane were devoted to the priest and his teachings.

Several people who knew Kunz agree that he was ardent and unabashed in his religious views. But even his friends said he was "all business."

"I think most didn't know him that well," said Schmelzer. "I don't think many people were palsy-walsy with him, and I think today most people don't remember him."

Schmelzer speculated that Kunz's "strict" nature might have caused someone to kill him in a crime of passion. He also said there is a good chance the authorities know who did it.

"Anything is possible. The rumor is that they have some good ideas and now they're just waiting for the criminal to slip up," he said.

Some of the residents of Dane, where the small community was the center of unwanted media attentions for years following the murder, said they hope that day comes. Roger Smith served as a supervisor on the Village of Dane Board for 18 years, including in 1998 when Kunz was murdered.

"At that time we probably had right around 700 people living here. It's basically a farming community," he said. "We don't have much for business in town; three taverns, a post office, a gas station."

"It was a shock for people," Smith continued. "Being in a small community people didn't ever expect something like that to happen here. And him being a priest on top of it?"

"It sure would be nice if they could solve it," Smith concluded. "Sometimes I think they must know who it was, but they just don't have the evidence to do something about it."

Six years before his death, Kunz appeared in a home video recorded at a spring play at St. Michael's school. After the performance, Kunz makes an appearance to introduce a series of awards.

"At this time the Knights of Columbus would like to award the, ah, trophies for the knowledge contest," he said. "There is so much emphasis placed on sports contests and we would like to also impress that the more noble part of life is the use of the mind."

Standing before a backdrop of white cloth adorned with oversized musical notes and red, white and blue stars, Kunz is in a state of perpetual motion; fidgeting with a rolled up program in his hands and rocking from heel to toe on his feet. His hair is a mix of black and gray, and Kunz smiles throughout the entire clip, his grin expanding as he says "the use of the mind." His forehead is ample, and his eyelids droop slightly — one more than the other — giving his eyes a noticeable slant. He has an almost impish quality that belies his reputation as a somewhat harsh religious figure.

On the verge of the 20th anniversary of that night's performance, the children in the video long since grown up, the mystery of Father Kunz's death persists and many people's minds continue to grope in the darkness for answers.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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