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Connellsville man held for trial in assault of priest

| Friday, March 26, 2010

A church business manager was held for trial Thursday on charges that he repeatedly beat a Connellsville priest in the head with an ax handle because he feared he would lose his job.

Kevin Michael Labuda, 46, of Connellsville, faces aggravated assault and other charges in Fayette County Common Pleas Court in the March 3 attack on the Rev. Joseph Bonafed, an administrator for three parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg.

Connellsville District Judge Ronald Haggerty Jr. also bound over charges of burglary, criminal trespass, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

Bonafed, 48, testified yesterday that he was returning to the rectory of Immaculate Conception Church, on East Crawford Avenue, around 9:15 p.m. that day, when a masked assailant hiding behind a locked rectory door clubbed him on the top of the head.

The priest estimated he was struck eight to 10 times during an attack that caused a concussion and required eight staples to close a laceration on his head.

"The first blow pretty much knocked me down," said Bonafed, who has worked in Connellsville since late August. "Then, there was pretty much continuous blows to the head."

"It was coming in rapid succession," he added. "They were coming really hard."

Bonafed was unable to celebrate Mass for a couple of weeks afterward and said he still suffers from occasional dizziness and nausea because of the beating.

Labuda, who is being held in Fayette County Prison in lieu of $500,000 bond, confessed to the assault when police interviewed him March 12, testified Detective Lt. Steven Shaffer.

The defendant, who had worked since 2008 as business manager for Immaculate Conception and partner parishes St. Rita and St. John the Evangelist, told police he was worried that Bonafed was trying to eliminate his position.

Among the changes Bonafed implemented was a requirement that he sign off on any checks that Labuda wrote. Labuda considered that a "hassle," Shaffer said.

The officer also testified that Labuda admitted that he was able to enter the rectory after he took a key ring with church-related and personal keys from the coat pocket of Sister Mary Agnes Kirsch, a pastoral minister.

Kirsch became emotional in testifying that she was "afraid somebody would do something bad" after discovering her keys were missing when she tried to lock St. Rita's on the afternoon of Feb. 19.

"I think every day he heard me praying about them," Kirsch said of Labuda.

During his meeting with police, Labuda said he wasn't intending to maim the priest but wanted to scare him into leaving the parishes, Shaffer testified.

"This was a big mistake, as I see it in hindsight," Labuda said in a written statement. "And I regret it very much."

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