Priest Guilty in Child Sex Abuse
Joliet Diocese Warned a Year before Arrest, Court Told
By Joseph Sjostrom
August 21, 1987
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet was warned about a Woodridge priest's interest in a 14-year-old girl in his parish a year before his arrest on a charge of aggravated sexual abuse, according to statements made Thursday in Du Page County Circuit Court.
The priest, Edward Stefanich, 48, pleaded guilty Thursday to reduced charges of criminal sexual abuse against the girl and was sentenced to six months in jail. Assistant State's Atty. Brian Telander told Judge John J. Nelligan that had the case gone to trial, a church deacon would have testified that he relayed information about Stefanich and the girl to the diocese in February, 1986.
A diocesan official said church leaders will "check into" that account. But the official, Rev. James Frederick, finance director, disputed statements made by the girl after the hearing that her parents also had gone to the diocese about Stefanich well before his arrest.
In an interview after the sentencing, the girl said her parents reported Stefanich to the diocese in August or September of 1986--after he asked their permission to marry her when she turned 16--and demanded that he be transferred out of the St. Scholastica parish. Telander cited two specific instances of sexual abuse in court, both in August of that year.
Investigators said Thursday that when no action had been taken against Stefanich by the diocese after several months, the parents went to authorities with the charges that led to his arrest Feb. 14. Neither parent was in court Thursday.
"The family did not contact the diocese until approximately one week before the arrest of Father Stefanich," said Father Frederick, adding that he was responding on behalf of the diocese.
"I am sure the girl and the prosecutor are confused as to the timing. As to the alleged allegations of the deacon, Father (William E.) Donnelly, chancellor of the diocese, will certainly check into this." Rev. Joseph Imesch, bishop of the Joliet diocese, was unavailable for comment.
As part of the priest's plea agreement, Nelligan also sentenced Stefanich to one year's probation. He also resigned from the priesthood and agreed to forfeit the 16 guns that police found hidden in furniture in various places in the church rectory after his arrest.
Stefanich had been pastor of St. Scholastica Roman Catholic Church, 7800 James Ave., Woodridge, for 10 years at the time of his arrest. Although his involvement with the girl was not known by all 1,500 parish families, according to several parishioners who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity, they said it was fairly well known among many church members. The parishioners said the fact that the diocese had been informed and was not doing anything about it was similarly known.
"We'd just like to start all over now," one parishioner said. "No one is surprised, but a lot of people are hurting, and we just need to work through this and get on."
Telander, chief of the Du Page County state's attorney's criminal division, said Thursday during the hearing that a friend of the victim told James Monahan, a deacon in a nearby Catholic parish, as early as February, 1986, that she had seen the girl and Stefanich kissing and holding hands.
Monahan, a deacon at St. Dominic's parish, Bolingbrook, and a psychologist for Catholic Charities, passed on that information to diocesan officials shortly after hearing it, Telander said during the hearing.
Monahan said in an interview later Thursday that he reported the information to a Joliet bishop whom he would not name. Bishop Imesch is assisted by two auxiliary bishops, Rev. Roger Kaffer and Rev. Raymond Vonesh. Monahan said the official he spoke with told him the report would be followed up, but Monahan said he was not aware whether any action was taken as a result of his report.
Telander said during the hearing that Stefanich hired the girl to work for the parish in 1985, then began fondling her and telling her he loved her and wanted to marry her. Her mother learned of the priest's activities after he went to the family's home and asked for permission to marry her, Telander said. The mother refused.
Telander and an investigator who asked not to be named said that the parents told diocesan officials about the priest's request to marry the girl, though they did not yet know about their sexual contact.
In the Thursday interview, the girl, now 16, described the diocesan handling of the matter as "terrible."
"(Diocesan officials) said they would warn him. . . . They offered him a parish in Joliet, but he didn't take it," she said.
Telander said the first explicit sexual contact occurred on Aug. 23, 1986, at a Woodridge apartment occupied by the victim's aunt, for which the St. Scholastica parish was paying $450 a month rent. The second occasion was on Aug. 30 in Stefanich's room in the St. Scholastica rectory, Telander said.
He said Stefanich also bought the girl a pair of diamond and ruby earrings and made down payments on two engagement rings worth a total of $3,400. Telander said that Stefanich bought a $7,000 car for the victim to use and that he used parish funds to pay her high school tuition for two years.
The victim said in the interview that during their relationship she believed Stefanich loved her and felt that she loved him. She said she now believes Stefanich is a "hypocrite" and said she was severely affected by the incident.
"I'm usually all right, and then I'll have a nightmare and dream about the whole thing, and I'll be depressed for a few days again," she said.
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