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  Pinal Cites Conflict in Review of Priest's Case

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
May 10, 2002

An investigation into a local priest's reported sexual contact with a teen-ager is in limbo while authorities seek a county attorney's office that can take the case.

The Pinal County Attorney's Office on Thursday decided to transfer its review of a police report involving the Rev. Steven G. Stencil because of a conflict of interest, according to Chuck Teegarden, a spokesman for the office.

Prosecutors with the Pinal office had been reviewing a report from the Casa Grande Police Department involving Stencil's contact with a 17-year-old boy, who is now 20.

The young man and his family have some close connections to the Pinal County Attorney's Office, which is why the office cannot handle the case, Teegarden said.

"We will have to send it to another office. We will be talking to several county attorneys," Teegarden said.

Earlier Thursday, Teegarden said his office expected to make a decision on the Stencil case within the week.

The 20-year-old says the priest, then pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Casa Grande, grabbed his crotch for at least two seconds during horseplay in a swimming pool during a party in Casa Grande in 1999.

The young man had previously said the incident was an accident but changed his mind in February, shortly after the Catholic Diocese of Tucson settled 11 lawsuits that accused four local priests of sexually abusing 10 young men in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, and within a week after a Feb. 17 Arizona Daily Star story that said a priest, now identified as Stencil, had been barred from the ministry.

Stencil was not one of the four priests named in the civil suits. He maintains he did not do anything wrong but is reserving further comment until an investigation is complete, he told the Star. Several of his former parishioners have also stepped to his defense.

Stencil was at St. Mark the Evangelist Church on the Northwest Side when he took a leave from his job in September 2000. He was barred from practicing his ministry a few months later, in February 2001.

His suspension followed two incidents involving overnight stays with youths.

In the first, he received a warning for letting the 17-year-old boy spend the night after the pool party in clergy living quarters. Later, when he was working at St. Mark the Evangelist, he was reprimanded for taking some youths on a trip during which they stayed at a motel, though a parent of one of the youths was also on the trip.

Stencil lives in Tucson.

The Diocese of Tucson is conducting a review of how it handled the Casa Grande youth's initial report about Stencil.

The diocese learned of the swimming pool incident a few weeks after it occurred, when the youth confided in another member of the clergy. Diocesan officials did their own investigation but didn't notify law enforcement authorities.

Under questioning by diocesan officials, the boy said the pool incident was probably an accident, diocese spokesman Fred Allison said in sworn testimony Oct. 31. The diocese filed a report with the Pima County Attorney's Office in February after the young man called to say he had changed his mind. Teegarden said a report was filed with the Casa Grande Police Department in April.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer said her office is reviewing all the material it received from the diocese about abuse and possible abuse by clergy. She said any criminal prosecution of Stencil for the Casa Grande incident would occur in Pinal County.

Mayer said the investigation is difficult because most of the reported incidents occurred long ago and the statute of limitations may hinder efforts to file charges.

Since June 1976, Arizona law has required adults with responsibility for the care of children to report any crime against children, including sexual abuse, to either Child Protective Services or law-enforcement authorities. An amendment to the law specified that priests and other clergy must report any such allegation, unless they learn of the crime through confession.

 
 

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