Celestine Pastor Faces Sex Charges

By Tami Jensen
River Grove Messenger (IL)
April 7, 1999

STAFF WRITER The pastor of St. Celestine Catholic Church in Elmwood Park has been placed on administrative leave after accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior were leveled against him by two men with whom he allegedly interacted with 13 years ago as pastor of St. John Berchmans Church in Chicago.

Father Walter DeRoeck, pastor of St. Celestine since 1996, was withdrawn March 30 from his ministerial assignment after an initial inquiry into the allegations by the Archdiocese of Chicago's professional fitness review administrator and review board.

"We'd rather error on the side of caution," said Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer, adding that Chicago's Archbishop Francis Cardinal George accepted the review board's recommendation to place DeRoeck on leave.

"If there seems to be anything to it at all, it is the Archdiocese's policy to place the priest on administrative leave until further inquiry. In this case, there seems to be enough credibility to the allegations to warrant such action."

The alleged incidents occurred in 1986 when DeRoeck was pastor of St. John Berchmans Church in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. The two men were minors at the time.

Dwyer would not talk in depth about the allegations, stating the charges would be reviewed by a nine-member board composed of three priests, a psychologist, a lawyer and four laypeople. Within 30 to 120 days, the board will make a recommendation to Cardinal Francis George for final consideration.

Assess charges

"We don't want to dismiss the allegations altogether because it took a lot of courage for these men to come forward," Dwyer said. "On the other hand, we can't just accept them at face value because we have to make sure it's not a 'he said, he said' situation.

"We have to determine whether the charges are true. Sometimes, it ends up being a misunderstanding. Whether these accusations will bear fruit in the long run, we don't know. It remains to be seen."

Depending on the validity and severity of the charges, DeRoeck could be removed from his ministerial duties if he is found guilty. In the meantime, DeRoeck will remain on administrative leave in a monitored setting.

"We know how and where to reach him if necessary," Dwyer said.

The men who came forward with the allegations will be offered counseling through the Archdiocese's professional office of victim assistance.

Pastor history

DeRoeck was ordained on May 12, 1971. His first assignment was at St. Paul of the Cross in Park Ridge, where he served as associate pastor for five years.

From 1976-1985, he served as associate pastor at Mary Queen of Heaven Church in Cicero. During this time, he also served on the faculty at Quiqley North high school seminary.

In 1985, he became pastor at St. John Berchmans. He served there until 1991, when he took a one-year leave of absence. In 1992, he was named associate pastor at St. Catherine Laboure parish in Glenview. Four years later, he relocated to St. Celestine in Elmwood Park.

The 54-year-old minister also is known to many as one of the hosts of the religious talk show "Sanctuary," which is co-produced by Chicagoland religious organizations and WLS-TV. His television duties have been suspended pending the review of charges.


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