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  Accused Priest Speaks against Abuse Claims

By Yvette Presberry
Southwest News-Herald [Illinois]
June 15, 2006

http://www.swnewsherald.com/news_frontpage/2006/06/061506c_priest.php

A Burbank priest sent a letter to parishioners Sunday denying claims of sexual abuse to minors who, decades ago, attended St. Symphorosa Church, 6135 S. Austin Ave.

In a one-page letter, the Rev. Robert Stepek, 51, pastor at St. Albert the Great in Burbank, disputed the claims that he sexually abused minors in the 1980s at St. Symphorosa Church.

The Archdiocese of Chicago received the claims from the victims in May, and asked Stepek to voluntarily remove himself from St. Albert while an investigation is conducted on the allegations.

Stepek currently is at a private residence, and the parish's associate pastors have been taking care of Sunday Masses and other clergy services.

"I speak now because I do not wish anyone to misinterpret my silence as any agreement with these false claims," Stepek said in his letter.

Stepek was 25 years old when he was ordained in May 1981, and he served as associate pastor at St. Symphorosa from 1981 to 1983.

He later served at St. Christina Church, 11005 S. Homan Ave., and St. Joseph in Homewood.

Stepek has served as pastor of St. Albert the Great for eight years.

He was supposed to honor his 25th anniversary of ministry in May at St. Albert, but the celebration was cancelled when he was removed from services.

His birthday was also a somber day on May 23, when the allegations appeared all over the media.

"I do not know why anyone would make such accusations," Stepek said in his letter. "I welcome this inquiry because I am sure that it will show that the allegations have no basis in fact."

James Dwyer, spokesperson for the Archdiocese, said that information is still being gathered for the investigation.

As soon as the abuse claims were made, the Archdiocese informed the Cook County State's Attorney as well as the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Dwyer said that DCFS initially only wanted to know about current claims of abuse, but the state department changed its mind and now takes any case of abuse allegations.

DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe confirmed that an investigation of the allegations against Stepek is under way.

He also said that the notice to officials of the abuse allegations has always been a part of the Archdiocese of Chicago's policy when dealing with cases such as this.

 
 

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