Priest's Party Gets Criticism
By Stephanie Gehring
Daily Southtown [Chicago IL]
December 1, 2006
A dinner dance to honor a Burbank pastor is troubling the lawyers for two brothers who claim the priest molested them in the 1980s.
Stepek is accused of sexually abusing two brothers while he was a priest at St. Symphorosa Catholic Church in Chicago's Clearing community more than 20 years ago.
While the Archdiocese of Chicago says the event this week is not sponsored by the archdiocese, St. Albert the Great's parish bulletin publicized the dinner dance, and the rectory is taking reservations.
The Rev. Robert Stepek remains on leave from the church while the abuse allegations are under review. He retains the title of pastor.
About 350 of his supporters are expected to gather Thursday at Nikos Restaurant in his honor.
Marc Pearlman, an attorney for Stepek's accusers, said the decision to advertise the event in the church bulletin sends the wrong message.
"The fact that it was put in the church bulletin gives the appearance of being sanctioned by the diocese," Pearlman said. "They should do something to make sure this doesn't happen. Their inability to monitor what is going on at the parish level has contributed to this problem in the first place."
Advertised in the weekly bulletin as "An Evening with our Pastor -- Father Robert Stepek," supporters can reserve seats through the church's rectory.
Susan Burritt, communications director for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the event is not sponsored by the archdiocese.
"The party is not being held at the parish," Burritt said.
"It is being held someplace other than the parish. It is a private, local celebration. It is not sponsored by the archdiocese."
Burritt said organizers posted information about the party in the bulletin to update parishioners who had bought tickets to a 25th anniversary party for Stepek. That party was postponed when the accusations surfaced in May.
Burritt said no parish money has been spent on the event.
"It is his own personal, private party," said Burritt said, who believes checks for the tickets are being made out to Stepek.
The priest stepped down while a panel reviewed the charges against him. Earlier this month, the panel found "there was a reasonable cause to suspect that sexual abuse of minors occurred."
The panel recommended Stepek not engage in ministry. His case now goes to the Vatican for review.
Many of St. Albert's parishioners, shocked by the review panel's decision, have circulated petitions on Stepek's behalf.
Carolyn Farmer, music director at the church, said in an e-mail that 350 people are expected at Thursday's event.
"Because Father Stepek is so genuinely missed at the parish, his family friends and parishioners wanted to have an evening with Father at Nikos Restaurant to show their support," Farmer wrote.
Organizers plan to distribute "We support Fr. Stepek" wristbands at the party, she said in her e-mail.
While Stepek is on leave, the Rev. Michael Adams, a retired pastor from St. Mary Star of the Sea on Chicago's Southwest Side, has been assigned as the temporary parish administrator. Adams said he plans to attend Stepek's party.
Stepek did not return a message Tuesday, but earlier this month he told the Daily Southtown that the people behind the charges wanted to embarrass him on his anniversary and were seeking revenge against him. He insists he never abused anyone.
Farmer said Stepek's 25th anniversary celebration is being kept "on hold until he is exonerated."
Stephanie Gehring may be reached at email@example.com or (708) 633-5971.
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