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  Priest Removed after Sex Claim

By Linda Leicht
Springfield News-Leader (Missouri)
February 28, 2006

Joplin cleric formerly worked here; allegations did not result in charges.

Linda Leicht, News-Leader

A Catholic priest in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese has been removed following allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor, parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle parish in Joplin learned last weekend.

Bishop John Leibrecht was at all four of the church's services where he announced that Monsignor Stephen Schneider had been relieved of his priestly duties. He also spent the afternoon speaking with parishioners.

Leibrecht said allegations against Schneider were taken to the police as soon as they were received in December, as required by the diocese's policy. After an investigation, police determined the allegations did not meet the criteria for criminal prosecution.

The church's policy covers actions that would not necessarily violate any criminal laws.

Leibrecht would not specify the allegations. He also would not release the age or gender of the alleged victim because the family requested "absolute anonymity."

"I will respect that," he said.

This is the first time a priest has been accused of sexual misconduct since the diocese enacted its own policy following the U.S. Conference of Bishops' own Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth was released in 2002.

"We had the policy reviewed several months ago and it stood up to the review," said Leibrecht. "Now, sadly, we had to implement it."

Although the allegations did not result in criminal charges, Leibrecht said that they did violate "boundary issues" that are in place for all employees.

Schneider, 61, has been a priest in the diocese for 34 years. He had been at St. Peter's for less than a year, previously serving in St. Francis Xavier parish in Sikeston.

He served as pastor at Immaculate Conception in Springfield for 10 years before moving to St. Francis Xavier parish in 2001.

Leibrecht said that the Joplin church would receive a new priest in August.

An announcement will be made at the Sikeston church on Sunday, the bishop said. All priests in the diocese have also been told of Schneider's removal.

Leibrecht said he spoke with Schneider and that the priest admitted his behavior, but insisted there were no other incidents.

"He admitted his mistake, and I believe him when he said there is no other instance," the bishop said.

David Clohessy, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in St. Louis, said Schneider's punishment -- forced removal -- was not sufficient. He said the U.S. Conference of Bishops' charter calls for suspension and further investigation.

"Leibrecht owes it to his flock to be more open, to encourage possible victims and witnesses to contact police, to reach out to others that may have been hurt and try to get to the truth."

Schneider was not available for comment. Leibrecht said the priest said he would retire outside the diocese.

The alleged victim and family were offered counseling and have accepted, the bishop said.

 
 

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