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Priest facing DWI case leaves U.S. for Poland

A Catholic priest accused of nearly striking two Buffalo police officers during a drunken-driving arrest left the country before he was to answer the charges at a felony hearing in Buffalo City Court.

The Rev. Matthew Wydmanski, pastor of Corpus Christi Church at 199 Clark St., has apparently returned to his native Poland, even though he is facing aggravated DWI and felony reckless endangerment charges as a result of his Aug. 6 arrest.

Wydmanski, 46, missed a court hearing last Friday and now has a bench warrant out for his arrest.

But parishioners of Corpus Christi were told by the Rev. Simon Shaner, associate pastor, that Wydmanski returned to Poland due to problems with his immigration status.

"The only thing I can tell you is he left for Poland," said Leonard Sikorski, a parish trustee.

Sikorski said he wasn't made aware of any charges against Wydmanski or whether the priest would be returning.

"I have no idea. Nothing has been said," he added.

Shaner declined to comment Thursday through a church secretary who returned a phone call from The Buffalo News.

Wydmanski, who is not a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, is part of the Pauline Fathers & Brothers, a Catholic order based in Poland that took over operation of Corpus Christi in 2004.

Diocesan spokesman Kevin A. Keenan declined to comment, referring questions to the Paulines.

Wydmanski has served at the traditionally Polish parish in the city's Broadway-Fillmore section since late 2008 and has been pastor since January 2010.

Police stopped near Hertel Avenue and East Street, in the city's Black Rock section, shortly after midnight because they noticed a 2011 Chevy Equinox with a flat tire on the front passenger side.

When Officer Sara Jo Keaton approached the vehicle, she saw Wydmanski passed out at the wheel, according to an arrest report.

Wydmanski woke up as Keaton tapped the window with a flashlight. While the two officers checked the doors of the vehicle, Wydmanski stepped on the gas pedal, almost striking both officers, according to the report.

He continued heading westbound, stopping at Niagara Street, then proceeding toward the foot of Hertel Avenue, where he attempted to drive up a curb near the Niagara River where a man was fishing.

Police took him into custody at that point, and Wydmanski failed several field sobriety tests. A test at police headquarters showed he had a 0.21 percent blood-alcohol content, almost three times the legal limit.

Wydmanski also was charged with reckless driving and fleeing an officer in a motor vehicle, both misdemeanors.

Officers identified Wydmanski as Bogdan Kazimierz Wydmanski, the name on his state driver's license. He is known to parishioners by his priestly name, Father Matthew Wydmanski.

The Rev. Joseph Olczak, head of the American province of the Pauline Fathers & Brothers, said Wydmanski called him on Aug. 11 to say he was leaving Buffalo to return to Poland.

Olczak said he was not aware that Wydmanski missed a court date for a felony charge and was wanted on a warrant.

"Obviously you know more than I do. He didn't tell me that," said Olczak, adding that he was shocked by the news.

When asked whether Wydmanski needed to ask his superiors for a leave of absence, Olczak responded: "Well, he's supposed to."

According to a short biography on Corpus Christi's Facebook page, Wydmanski grew up in Sosnowiec, a town in the southern part of Poland near Katowice, and attended high school in Oswiecim.

He later studied chemistry and entered the Pauline Monastery in Krakow, leading to his ordination in 1992.

Wydmanski spent 15 years in Germany before moving to the Pauline Monastery in Doylestown, Pa.; he was not a U.S. citizen and was serving here either on a special religious visa or on a visitor's visa, said Olczak.

The Pauline Fathers planned to assign a new priest to Corpus Christi as early as next week, Olczak said.

It will be up to the office of the Erie County District Attorney to determine whether Wydmanski will be extradited from Poland to answer the charges.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com