No Contest Plea by Priest in Sex Case

The Associated Press
August 31, 2004

GREEN BAY, Wis. - A Norbertine priest facing trial on charges of sexually assaulting a child pleaded no contest to one of three counts against him as part of a plea deal.

In the agreement late Monday afternoon, the Rev. James Stein, who once served as a priest in Mississippi, pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree sexual assault and had the other two counts dismissed. Stein, 44, had been scheduled to go on trial Tuesday.

He was accused of fondling a 14-year-old Premontre High School student who worked in a living area attached to the priests' quarters at the school in 1988. The boy, now 29, alleges Stein groped him while they swam and used the hot tub at the St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere.

A judge last week refused to bar testimony about Stein's conviction for fourth-degree sexual assault in 1991 and an uncharged allegation of fondling a teen at the St. Norbert Abbey made in 1989.

Stein faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced, but the prosecution indicated it would seek a five-year term.

Stein's transfer to a Jackson, Miss., school while he was facing allegations of sexual abuse in Wisconsin was mentioned in a $36 million lawsuit filed in May against the Catholic Diocese of Jackson. Plaintiffs claimed Stein's move showed a continued pattern of transferring instead of removing such priests in the Jackson diocese.

Documents filed with the lawsuit in Hinds County, showed Stein taught classes at St. Joseph High School in Madison in 2001-2002. He left the school in April 2002.

Stein isn't accused of abusing any Mississippi children.

The Catholic Diocese said in a statement that when it learned of the allegations against Stein in April 2002, he was fired and sent back to Wisconsin.

The Hinds County lawsuit, which represents one side of a legal argument, was filed by two men who claim they were sexually molested in Mississippi from 1963 to 1973 by a now deceased priest.


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