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  Ex-Berwyn Priest Guilty in Sex Case

By Leon Pitt
Chicago Sun-Times
December 12, 1992

The former pastor of a Berwyn Roman Catholic parish was convicted Friday on four counts of criminal sexual abuse for fondling a 13-year-old girl in the church rectory.

As the verdict was read, the girl, now 15, nestled into the arms of her mother and wept softly, breaking the silence of courtroom spectators, one of whom gasped, "Oh, my God."

The Rev. Robert E. Mayer, 53, formerly of St. Odilo Roman Catholic Church in the near west suburb, could receive probation, but prosecutors will push for a seven-year sentence "for the anguish she (the girl) and her family went through," State's Attorney Jack O'Malley told reporters outside the courtroom.

Mayer, dressed in priestly garb as he had been throughout the three-day bench trial, lowered his head but showed no other visible signs of emotion as Criminal Court Judge Thomas P. Durkin announced the verdict.

As the victim's family rushed from the fifth-floor courtroom, the girl would say only that she was "glad he (Judge Durkin) believed me."

Susan Stopko, the mother of a 15-year-old son at St. Odilo School, cried and said the case was a "total betrayal by the priest of my faith."

In a prepared statement, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago called the case "a personal tragedy for this young girl, for her family, for her classmates and teachers, for the people of St. Odilo parish, for Father Mayer himself and for the archdiocese."

Durkin, who is Catholic, said he wished a jury had been chosen to decide the case because of its public interest. He called the fondling a "terribly egregious act . . . done quickly and out of eyesight of everyone."

It proves, Durkin added, that priests "are no different than other men."

After hearing evidence that included testimony from the girl, Mayer and other witnesses, Durkin said, "Sadly, the state has proven him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I wish to God they had not."

Since Mayer's indictment, the Archdiocese has removed 22 parish priests accused of sexual misconduct - tearing deeply into the fabric of church life. The charges have ignited a storm of controversy among the archdiocese, clergy, parishioners and law enforcement officials.

Mayer's accuser - then an eighth-grader at St. Odilo School - was fondled in the church rectory in January, 1991. She told the court she went to the rectory to deliver a letter from her mother allowing her to convert to Catholicism.

After sitting next to her on a couch, she said, Mayer touched his thigh to hers but said nothing. When she moved away, he inched beside her, again saying nothing, the girl testified, her voice cracking and tears flowing.

When she reached the end of the couch, Mayer stuck his right hand down her blouse, touched her breast and then put his hand under her skirt.

Mayer denied touching the girl or ever being alone with her in the rectory.

During closing arguments Friday, prosecutors Mark Cavins and Roseanne Pulia said the girl's "testimony was unwavering. It was clear and convincing."

But defense attorney Patrick Tuite countered that "the fact she cried on the witness stand does not prove anything." He and co-counsel Brent Stratton said that, although Mayer received the letter, it was not personally handed to him by the girl inside the rectory.

"It would have been contrary to regular practice" of having rectory staff members accept deliveries at the door for the priest, Tuite said.

Three rectory employees and one former worker testifed that they had no recollection of the girl going there and asking to see Mayer.

Several of the girl's male classmates had testified that Mayer, who was assigned to St. Odilo in September, 1990, told them that he thought the girl was cute and that he wanted to have sex with her.

Some sexual misconduct allegations against Mayer date back to the early 1980s, when he was a priest at St. Edna Church in Arlington Heights. No criminal charges were filed at the time.

 
 

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