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  St. Thomas Parishioners Learn of Latest Priest Scandal

By Rukmini Callimachi
Chicago Daily Herald
September 26, 2002

Parishioners of St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Church in Palatine reacted with shock and tears Wednesday night after receiving the news of sexual misconduct allegations against Walter Huppenbauer, the church's former pastor.

Huppenbauer, 72, who was St. Thomas' pastor from 1984 to 1994, is retired, but recently was formally terminated from the ministry for abusing a female parishioner at St. Hilary's parish in Chicago in the 1960s, Bishop Jerome Listecki told reporters at the church after privately informing the congregation in a town hall-type meeting. He was the church's emeritus pastor before the allegations surfaced.

Parishioners believed they were meeting to discuss allegations that had surfaced earlier in the summer regarding two other St. Thomas priests - not Huppenbauer.

The Rev. Daniel Buck, who served as associate pastor of St. Thomas from 1984 to 1989, and the Rev. Marion Snieg, who served as a visiting priest until this summer, have been terminated from the ministry, Listecki said.

Snieg and Buck were two of the eight priests in Chicago who were publicly removed from ministry by order of the archdiocese this June.

"Three priests in one parish - it's hard for anyone to comprehend," said Steve Gillmann of Palatine, chairperson of the parish council.

All of the allegations were investigated and determined to be credible by the Chicago Archdiocese's new fitness review board.

Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Shauna Bolicker said no criminal charges were pursued against the former priests because, in all three cases, the statute of limitations had passed.

Listecki said that in 1993 the archdiocese was contacted by the female victim, who asked to remain anonymous. Her request, Listecki said, made it difficult for Huppenbauer to be removed, although an investigation was started. The woman returned this August and the investigation was reopened in the wake of recent church reforms, Listecki said.

Because Huppenbauer already was retired, his termination is a symbolic move.

But it follows guidelines set in Dallas this summer by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The guidelines call for the termination of any priest who has committed any act of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Buck was accused of having sexually abused a teenage girl during his tenure at the Chicago parish of St. Francis Borgia, while Snieg was accused of having had sexual contact with underage boys while serving at the Chicago parish of St. Jane DeChantal in the 1950s.

Parishioners expressed shock first at the fact that Huppenbauer's past had not been made known to the congregation sooner, and that the victim's attempt in 1993 to bring the abuse to light had not been successful.

Others expressed dismay at the fact that Snieg, who until recently served as chaplain for Addolorata Villa in Wheaton, was placed under review in 1992, when he was still serving as visiting priest at St. Thomas. But his review status was not made known to the parish or to St. Thomas' pastor.

"It was an oversight," said Listecki. "His case fell through the cracks. At the archdiocese, we knew about it, but the pastor should have known, too."

"I feel very sad about it," said Catherine Karlsen, principal of St. Thomas Elementary School, who considered Buck a personal friend. "But I think it's good that we can talk and that understanding can come from it."

Others responded with a sense of purpose.

"Every school in the U.S. needs to teach the kids about this," said parishioner Cherie Bott of Palatine. "A hand on the shoulder, that's proper. Hands in between your legs - not proper," she said. "That's what needs to come out of this."

 
 

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