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  Church Urged to Find Other Abuse Victims
Priest who has died named in 22 cases

By Margaret Ramirez
Chicago Tribune
July 14, 2005

African-American men who were sexually abused as children by a Roman Catholic priest demanded Wednesday that church officials take steps to find other victims who may be suffering in silence.

Rev. Victor Stewart, who died in 1994 at age 54, abused at least 22 boys during the 1980s, some as young as 7, according to an attorney for the accusers.

Fourteen of the men have reached settlements totaling $3 million with the Archdiocese of Chicago, said attorney Phillip Aaron of Seattle. Settlements are pending for eight more victims, he said.

Stewart, an African-American priest, worked at two South Side parishes--St. Charles Lwanga, now closed, and St. Ailbe--as pastor, principal and basketball coach, victims said.

Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer confirmed that church officials had reached a settlement with Stewart's accusers but declined to provide details. Their claims were determined to be credible, he said.

Speaking out publicly for the first time Wednesday, several victims said Stewart preyed on families who were struggling financially, showering the children with gifts and then abusing them.

Monty Murphy, 35, said that when he told his younger brother, Reggie, two years ago about the abuse, he learned the priest had molested them both.

"We have cried many nights together about this," said Murphy, one of about 10 victims of Stewart who attended a news conference outside archdiocese headquarters. "When you're young and innocent, you don't know why this is happening."

"I have nightmares," Murphy said as his voice cracked. "I still have difficulty understanding why this happened to me."

Aaron provided settlement documents, dated 2003, stating that Stewart "allegedly took or committed unwanted sexual actions" with minors, resulting in personal and physical injuries, and church officials "failed to take reasonable steps to prevent such conduct."

He said he believes there are more victims who have not spoken.

"This man was a serial predator, a serial pedophile who preyed on African-American young males," Aaron said. "And there has not been any effort by the archdiocese to come forward and find more victims.

"You have to wonder what type of church this is. Where is the humanity in this?"

Aaron also said several of the victims contracted sexually transmitted diseases from Stewart, and they were concerned that he may have had AIDS.

"At the time of his death, he had the typical profile of an AIDS victim," said Aaron.

Dwyer said the cause of Stewart's death on June 10, 1994, was a subdural hematoma, a bleeding on the surface of the brain.

"We have no reason to believe he had AIDS," Dwyer said. "He died of complications from a surgery he had June 1, shortly before he died."

Asked why the archdiocese had not released a statement on Stewart's abusive past, Dwyer said archdiocese policy is to make an official statement only when an accused priest is removed or withdrawn from active ministry.

Dwyer also said the archdiocese would not make efforts to find other victims.

"He has been dead for more than 10 years. We don't have the unlimited resources to do this," said Dwyer. "If someone is dead, how can you possibly make a complete determination of the abuse?"

Victims' advocates have asked archdiocese officials to post names of all abusive priests on its Web site, but the request has been refused. Dwyer said any person seeking information on a particular priest can make a request on the Web site--or by mail, phone or fax.

Several other dioceses, including Baltimore, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Tucson, Ariz., and Spokane, Wash., have disclosed on their Web sites the names of priests who have faced credible abuse allegations.

"Father Stewart molested these boys and shattered their innocence," said Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "At the minimum, the archdiocese should publicly acknowledge that Victor Stewart abused children."

As of last month, the Archdiocese of Chicago had received 63 credible allegations since January 2002 of priests abusing minors. Of the 28 priests accused, seven are dead, 10 were withdrawn from ministry, 10 resigned and one is incarcerated. Last year, the Chicago Archdiocese spent $18.2 million to resolve sex abuse claims.

Troy Byrd, who said he was abused by Stewart at age 8, said names of abusive priests should be available to the public regardless of whether the abuser was living or dead.

"He made me afraid to go to school," said Byrd. "Now, this is the best thing I can do to prevent this from happening to other children."

maramirez@tribune.com

 
 

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