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  Church Investigating Indiana Priests
Indianapolis Archdiocese Puts 2 on Leave after Separate Claims of Decades-Old Sexual Improprieties

By Bonnie Harris and Judith Cebula
Indianapolis Star
June 28, 2002

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis is investigating two of its priests in response to allegations of sexual misconduct decades ago, church officials disclosed Thursday.

The Rev. Jack Okon, 58, has been accused of fondling a teen-age boy nearly 30 years ago. The archdiocese has placed Okon on administrative leave. Last week, Cathedral High School officials suspended him from his maintenance job and banned him from the campus of the Northside school.

The Rev. John B. Schoettelkotte, 68, of Bristow in southern Indiana was placed on administrative leave June 18 after church officials said they substantiated an allegation that he had inappropriately touched a teen-age girl more than 30 years ago.

Schoettelkotte could not be reached for comment.

Church officials refused to provide details on either case until they complete their investigations.

In the Okon case, the church officials reported him to Child Protective Services, and the archdiocese is "cooperating with authorities and following its internal policies," according to a statement from the archdiocese.

Okon, through his attorney, denied the allegations.

The archdiocese has not said who made the allegations.

An Eastside man, David Steiner, has told The Indianapolis Star that he informed church officials that the priest fondled him and had an inappropriate relationship with his brother Vincent when they were teen-agers in the mid-1970s.

David Hennessy, an Indianapolis attorney who represents Okon, said he knows the allegations are false. "Fr. Jack Okon denies any impropriety with Vince Steiner or his brother David Steiner and would welcome the opportunity to defend himself in a legitimate forum," Hennessy said in a written statement.

He likened what's happening to Catholic priests to the communist witch hunts of the 1950s. "It is irresponsible to print such accusations when there has been no opportunity for the accused to question the accuser," he wrote.

Hennessy said he has advised Okon to not speak to The Star. Okon could not be reached by phone on Thursday.

Cathedral President Steve Helmich said the school had received no previous complaints against Okon, who has been doing repairs, carpen try, landscaping and odd jobs for the school since 1989. Helmich said that on occasion, Okon has officiated at funeral Masses at the school, which has about 1,000 students in Grades 9-12.

The archdiocese has declined to discuss any details of Okon's background.

"All that we've been informed of is that there's been an allegation made; that Jack Okon has been informed of this; that it would be appropriate for Cathedral High School -- as his most recent employer -- to put him on leave, and that's exactly what we've done," Helmich said.

"We're just really upset. We're concerned. We're concerned for Jack; we're concerned for the person who would feel that they would need to bring this up because if indeed there's an issue, they've suffered as well."

David Steiner, 42, is one of hundreds of people who, since January, have brought allegations of sexual abuse against priests in a scandal enveloping the U.S. Catholic Church.

In less than six months, more than 250 Catholic priests and three bishops across the country have resigned or been removed from their posts because of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Steiners say their encounters with Okon occurred while the priest was assigned to St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) and at St. Simon parishes between 1974 and 1977. It was in 1977 that Okon joined the Air Force as a chaplain.

David, Vincent and their grandparents, who helped raise them, attended Mass at Little Flower, and the boys went to school there.

David said Okon took them out for ice cream and on trips.

It was on one of those trips that the fondling took place, he said, adding he can't remember if he was in eighth or ninth grade.

He said he awoke one night on an out-of-state trip to find Okon fondling his genitals. The priest immediately got up from the bed and left the room, David said.

David said he put the incident behind him and never discussed it with anyone until this spring.

He joined the U.S. Navy after high school and was out of state for 22 years. After retiring from the service two years ago, he moved back to his family's Eastside neighborhood and began helping his younger brother, who struggles with mental illness and drug addiction. Medical records obtained by The Star show Vincent was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 16 and, since then, he has been in and out of mental health institutions.

Vincent, 40, was released from prison in May after serving time for snatching an elderly woman's purse.

David said what finally moved him to go to the archdiocese was a February column in The Star about Okon's volunteer work at the Women's Prison. He said he worried that Okon might have contact with vulnerable people.

David said he contacted the archdiocese in April, asked for a meeting and told officials that Okon had molested Vincent.

"I lost a brother and my faith," he told them.

On June 17, David said he met with Chancellor Suzanne Magnant, a top official with the archdiocese, and Rev. William Stumpf, director of the archdiocese office of priest personnel, and told them about his experience with Okon.

"They apologized to me for the Catholic Church when I told them I was fondled," he said. "It meant a lot to me."

They also offered to pay for counseling and find long-term help for Vincent, he said.

There was no attempt to whitewash the situation, said David. "I felt like they were trying to get to the bottom of it."

In Schoettelkotte's case, archdiocese officials would not say who made the allegation or where he was working at the time.

Since his ordination in 1960, Schoettelkotte has been assigned to 15 parishes, including St. Jude, Indianapolis; St. Paul, Bloomington; St. Bartholomew, Columbus; and St. Paul, Greencastle. At the time of his leave, he was pastor of St. Isidore and Holy Cross parishes in Perry County.

The church's response to both cases is in line with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops just three days before David met with Indianapolis church officials.

Church officials will not estimate how long the investigations might take.

Under the new national policy, if investigations show the allegations are true, the priests would be removed from the ministry and no longer allowed to celebrate Mass publicly, wear clerical garb or present themselves publicly as priests.

If the allegations are deemed unfounded, the charter requires the church to take every step possible to "restore the good name of the priest."

 
 

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