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CLEVELAND (AP) _ Officers have arrested a suspect in the slaying of a Roman Catholic priest who was shot and hit on the head before his body burned in a fire in his church office, police said Monday.
No information about the suspect would be released until charges were filed, police Sgt. Jacqueline Lewis said.
The Rev. William Gulas, 69, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church, died of a single gunshot wound to the chest Saturday, the Cuyahoga County coroner said Sunday.
The killing stunned members of the congregation.
``It’s unreal. I don’t understand how anyone could do that, especially to someone like him,″ parishioner Richard Drewnowski said. ``He was a wonderful person.″
In addition to the gunshot wound, a preliminary investigation showed Gulas had suffered a blow to the top of his head, Coroner Elizabeth Balraj said.
The fire department had not determined the cause of the fire; the arson unit was investigating. Two other priests shared the rectory but were not there at the time of the fire, The Plain Dealer reported.
Fire officials said Gulas’ body was burned beyond recognition.
Drewnowski said Gulas was an approachable priest who was loved by parishioners.
``I used him for advice in the past on problems I had in my life. He was very helpful with that,″ Drewnowski said.
The diocese planned a prayer vigil Monday evening in front of the rectory.
``It is with deepest regret that we now learn that Father William’s death was the result of a senseless act and a horrifying disrespect for life,″ Bishop Anthony Pilla said in a statement Sunday.
Gulas came to St. Stanislaus in 1993 and led a campaign to renovate the 129-year-old church in the city’s Slavic Village neighborhood. Mass at St. Stanislaus is sometimes celebrated in Polish, and a third of the 1,500 parishioners speak the language.
``Father Gulas was very well liked in the community and he had a number of friends, so this is really a mystery,″ said Celeste Glasgow, spokeswoman for Mayor Jane Campbell.
Ben Stefanski, whose family has been part of St. Stanislaus since its inception, said Gulas helped raise money that not only paid for the church’s recent $1.5 million restoration, but also paid off a $400,000 debt.
He said Gulas was instrumental in helping start the Pulaski Franciscan Community Development Corp., with the goal of rehabilitating the neighborhood around the church.
``He was a typical ethnic pastor, concerned about everybody in the neighborhood _ all the poor and disadvantaged and older people _ not just the parishioners,″ Stefanski said.