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  Joliet Diocese Trying to Calm Fears Stirred by Priest's Arrest

By Joseph Sjostrom
Chicago Tribune
February 17, 1987

Diocesan and parish leaders said Monday that they are seeking advice from professional counselors on how to deal with parents' concerns about the welfare of their children following the filing of charges of sexual abuse against a Woodridge priest.

At the same time, a statement issued by the Joliet Roman Catholic Diocese said the priest has been relieved of his duties.

Bishop Joseph Imesch, leader of the diocese, which includes Woodridge, said he expects that parents will be expressing fears to parish and school officials about their own children's welfare, but he said the church has not yet formulated a specific response.

"This is a first for me, and I'm sure for the diocese," Bishop Imesch said. "The professionals will be telling us what to do; we won't be telling them."

Last Friday night, Woodridge police arrested Rev. Edward Stefanich, 48, pastor of St. Scholastica Church, 7800 Janes Ave. in the suburb. He was charged with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for allegedly having sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in the rectory last August. He was released Saturday after posting $10,000, the required 10 per cent of his $100,000 bail.

Police also found 16 guns, some of them loaded, in Father Stefanich's bedroom and in a rectory office. No charges were filed in connection with the guns because the priest has a valid Illinois firearm owner's card, police said.

Bishop Imesch said Father Stefanich was ordained a priest in the diocese 10 years ago. He said Father Stefanich has not been living in the St. Scholastica rectory since his release Saturday, but declined to state his whereabouts.

The girl, now 15, graduated from the parish grade school last June. She and her parents reported the incident to police last week. Woodridge Police Chief James Keyes declined to say what prompted the family to make the report at that time.

Bishop Imesch said he was unaware of the weapons found in the rectory, which police said included handguns, a semiautomatic rifle, shotguns, knives and a large supply of ammunition.

"By a gun collector's standards, 16 guns would not necessarily be a lot," said Bishop Imesch. "I don't think Father Stefanich was waiting for someone to break into the rectory so he could take a shot at him."

Police said the guns were placed in chair cushions and other easy-to- reach locations in the rectory. The victim of the alleged abuse told police about the guns and where to find them, Keyes said.

A statement issued Monday by the diocese and attributed to Bishop Roger L. Kaffer, vicar for clergy, said, in part:

"We are deeply concerned for all involved, the girl, the family the parents, the priest and the community."

It said the diocese would do whatever it could to provide needed help and added:

"Until the matter is resolved, Father Stefanich has been relieved of the administration of St. Scholastica parish. This in no way implies any judgment on the facts, but rather provides for the continued pastoral care of the parish."

 
 

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