South Side Priest Dies Leaving Troubling Legacy
By Lorraine Swanson
July 1, 2016
Rev. Robert A. Stepek
Chicago, IL — A priest who unsuccessfully sued two brothers after they accused him of molesting them as children passed away suddenly on June 25.
Rev. Robert A. Stepek reportedly died while cutting grass in the heat. He was in his early 60s. The priest was a former associate pastor of Chicago’s St. Symphorosa Church and St. Christina Church and St. Joseph Church in Homewood. He was also the former pastor at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Burbank.
More recently he held down a civilian job as a community resource officer with the Burbank Police Department.
Stepek vehemently denied accusations that he had molested two brothers, then 9 and 16, at St. Symphorosa Church, where he served from 1981 to 1983
The brothers waited until 2006 when they were adults to report the allegations of abuse by Stepek in the 1980s. Stepek responded by filing an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit against the brothers while maintaining his innocence.
By then he was pastor of St. Albert the Great Church in Burbank. The late Francis Cardinal George asked the popular priest to temporarily step down until the archdiocese completed its inquiry.
In late 2006, the archdiocese’s independent review board completed its inquiry, saying in a written statement at the time that “there was reasonable cause to suspect that sexual abuse of minors occurred.”
The brothers counter-sued Stepek and the Archdiocese of Chicago. Stepek’s defamation lawsuit was eventually tossed, while the archdiocese settled privately with the brothers out of court, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The archdiocese also revealed in 2013 that a special Vatican council could not find sufficient evidence during two canonical trials to prove Stepek had molested the two brothers when they were minors.
The Vatican council did determine Stepek had “engaged in behaviors inappropriate for a priest” and put restrictions on his duties, the newspaper reported.
No criminal charges were filed against the priest.
Stepek was hired by the City of Burbank in late 2007 to serve as a part-time community resource officer for the Burbank Police Department amid a public outcry.
Burbank Mayor Harry Klein, a long-time parishioner of St. Albert the Great, defended the move, stating he thought Stepek was innocent and he did not need to wait for the Vatican to issue a ruling.
"The man was here in our community. He knew many of the people; we knew him," the mayor told the Tribune. "It's not as though you made a decision in a vacuum. You know the person; you know what he stands for."
In a statement issued Thursday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests accused the Archdiocese of hushing up the troubled priest’s death. Patch’s attempts to acquire a press release-obituary from the Archdiocese announcing Stepek’s death went unanswered.
Nor was there an announcement on the Archdiocese’s website, a custom usually followed when a priest dies.
SNAP further stated:
"We believe that local Catholic officials ignored and enabled Fr. Stepek's crimes and then compounded their callous actions by ignoring and tolerating his hardball legal tactics.
"We call on Archbishop Cupich to spread the word of Fr. Stepek’s death through church bulletins, parish websites and pulpit announcements and beg others who saw, suspected or suffered his crimes to come forward … We hope Fr. Stepek’s passing will bring some comfort to those he assaulted and will prompt others he hurt to finally get help, speak out and start healing.”
Former parishioners left positive online messages praising Stepek as a great man and priest.
"What a great guy. I knew him back at St. Symphorosa Church. He was great with the teen groups and later when I was in college he went with me downtown to the art museum to work on a paper for one of my college classes. We had a blast. RIP Fr. Stepek.
Stepek was buried Thursday.