Father Gerald Ryfinski pleads guilty to sexual exploitation

GEORGETOWN — Father Gerald Ryfinski, former pastor of St Mary, Our Lady of Ransom in Georgetown and St. Leo the Great Mission in Andrews, pleaded guilty March 21 to one count of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. He was sentenced to three years’ probation for the possession of child pornography, which he had downloaded on his personal computer.

Father Ryfinski appeared before Circuit Judge Paula Thomas in the Georgetown County Courthouse. She said she took into account the steps he had made to deal with his problem when deciding on his sentence, which could have been up to five years. He will also have to sign the state’s sex offender registry.

The priest told the judge he regretted his actions.

“I cannot tell you how sorry I am for what brings me here today,” he said. “I never ever considered touching a child, but I do realize now that I victimized those boys in those pictures by looking at them.”

Charges were brought against the former administrator of St. Cyprian Church in June 2001 and, as part of the diocesan policy to safeguard children against sexual abuse or exploitation, he was immediately removed from active ministry and suspended from functioning publicly as a priest. That suspension remains in effect.

In a statement, Bishop Robert Baker said the Diocese of Charleston was deeply grieved by the situation.

“As we come to the end of this season of Lent and enter upon the most sacred part of the celebration of our redemption from sin, I invite all in our community to join us in prayer and common efforts to make our society a better and safer place for our families to rear their children,” the bishop stated. “We also join together in prayer for healing and rehabilitation for Father Ryfinski.”