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  Priest Charges Surface in Lake
George comforts Winnetka parish

By Julia Lieblich and Todd Lighty
Chicago Tribune
April 10, 2002

Hours after the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago said fresh charges of sexual misconduct by a Lake County priest appeared credible, Cardinal Francis George traveled Tuesday night to a Winnetka parish that just weeks ago lost its pastor amid similar accusations.

As parishioners filed into the gym at Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Church for a closed meeting with the cardinal, George said he hoped to speed up the process of finding a replacement at the Winnetka church for Rev. Robert Kealy, who resigned in March after being accused of sexual misconduct with a teenager more than 25 years ago.

"What can you tell them?" George said. "That priests do sin and bishops have not been responsible in responding to them in some cases."

"You have to keep it in perspective," George said. "One percent of priests are involved in this in some fashion. But nonetheless, every case is individual and every case is a great tragedy. Victims particularly have a hard time putting their lives together."

Later, parishioners left the Winnetka meeting, which was puntuated by applause, saying that most of the discussion revolved around what the parish wanted from its new pastor. Some of the meeting, however, was spent discussing Kealy and why the church leadership did not disclose to the parish a past allegation of misconduct.

Remarks George made before the meeting followed the archdiocese's disclosure that its review board, which handles allegations of sexual misconduct by priests, has determined that there is "reasonable cause to suspect" a Lake County priest had engaged in sexual misconduct with a child that began more than 25 years ago.

Rev. Richard Fassbinder was assigned to Prince of Peace parish in Lake Villa from 1973 to 1997, during the period the abuse allegedly occurred. Although Fassbinder had retired in 1997, the board has restricted him from any additional public ministry and placed him in a monitoring program.

In a letter to parishioners, Rev. Jerome E. Listecki, auxiliary bishop, said archdiocese officials referred the matter to the Lake County state's attorney's office.

"These are difficult times for the church," Listecki wrote. "The climate of sin, distrust, and misrepresentation created by a few has given rise to anger, embarrassment, shame and hurt by many."

Fassbinder's alleged victim, a man now in his 40s, called the administrator of the archdiocese's review board in December to report the abuse, which allegedly began when he was a teenager and "occurred over several years," said James Dwyer, the archdiocese's spokesman.

"We always caution people that these are all allegations," Dwyer said. "But the board did find the allegations credible and that is why we took the action we did."

Lake County Assistant State's Atty. George Strickland said Tuesday that the archdiocese contacted him several times last week to discuss the allegations against Fassbinder. Strickland then met with the archdiocese's legal counsel, who provided him with details of the accusation.

"We are concerned with locating any possible witnesses or any other individuals who may have had improper contact with Fassbinder," Strickland said.

Fassbinder, 75, could not be reached for comment.

According to his biography, Fassbinder was ordained in May 1953 and his first assignment was at St. Hugh parish in Lyons. He served as associate pastor at Queen of All Saints in Chicago from 1954 to 1967 before moving to St. Emily in Mt. Prospect.

Fassbinder then transferred in 1973 to Prince of Peace in Lake Villa, where he became pastor in 1977 and remained until his retirement.

In his letter, Listecki said the archdiocese had received no other allegations of sexual misconduct involving the priest.

"The violation of confidence on the part of clergy brings heartache for us all," Listecki wrote. "We pray for the victims of sexual abuse in the hope that our Lord will bring His healing power to bear on their damages." He also told Prince of Peace parishioners that "we also pray for all clergy who have abused the privilege granted them in their ordination."

Prince of Peace parishioners learned of the allegations during Sunday's masses, when a priest read Listecki's letter, said Tim Leonard, a deacon at the church.

"It was a shock when I heard it. What do you do?" said Leonard, 50, of Lake Villa.

Tribune staff reporters Nancy Ryan and Amanda Vogt contributed to this report.

 
 

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