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  Priest Who Dodged Charges Is New Problem for Tucson Diocese

By Blake Morlock
Tucson Citizen [Tucson AZ]
May 9, 2003

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson has been blasted and sued for allegedly protecting pedophiles, but it's facing a different problem now.

The Most Rev. Gerald Kicanas, bishop of Tucson, must deal with a priest accused of sexual misconduct who state authorities decided not to prosecute.

Prosecutors in the Arizona Attorney General's Office did not charge the Rev. Steven Stencil on allegations he inappropriately touched a 17-year-old boy while running a Casa Grande parish in 2000.

A letter from the Attorney General's Office said there was insufficient evidence to prove sexual abuse beyond a reasonable doubt.

The diocese may still take action against Stencil. But the prospect of murky inconclusiveness may confront a diocese more concerned with restoring trust than reasonable doubt, Kicanas said.

"It's the middle ground that is confusing," Kicanas said. "Certainly the diocese will be cognizant that there is a suspicion of child abuse and would not let him be around children if he is returned to ministry."

More is now expected of priests than is defined by civil law, Kicanas said.

"The covenant or protocol that we established calls for a higher standard (for church employees) than just being found guilty of a criminal offense," Kicanas said.

A diocese Sexual Misconduct Review Committee will recommend to Kicanas a course that depends on whether evidence proves Stencil a threat to children.

Stencil moved from Casa Grande to St. Mark's the Evangelist Catholic Church on the Northwest Side in 2000 but was suspended in 2001 after he slept in a hotel room with a minor during an overnight outing.

If the board determines he is a threat to children, he won't return to the ministry. But if he's exonerated he could return to active status.

The Attorney General's Office took the case after Pinal County prosecutors declared they had a conflict of interest. Chuck Teegarden, spokesman for the Pinal County Attorney's Office, said his office received a letter from the Attorney General's Office stating: "Insufficient evidence exists to prove the elements of sexual abuse beyond requisite of reasonable doubt and we are declining to prosecute this manner."

The man who made the sexual misconduct allegations against Stencil said the priest touched him during a pool party in 2000 when people were playing in the water.

This is the first time the 15-member review committee has dealt with a case that civil authorities have dismissed for lack of evidence.

The panel was established in July 2003 after the Tucson diocese settled 11 lawsuits alleging priests sexually abused 16 boys during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. It enforces a new set of rules put in place after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met last June and adopted a harder line against sexual abuse as a sex scandal engulfed the church.

The next meeting of the diocese sexual misconduct panel is May 29.



 
 

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