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  Local Priest Won't Face Prosecution

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
May 8, 2003

The Arizona Attorney General's Office has declined to prosecute a Tucson priest accused of sexual misconduct by a Casa Grande man.

The Rev. Steven G. Stencil remains on a paid leave of absence. His status as a priest will be reviewed by the Catholic Diocese of Tucson's Sexual Misconduct Review Board later this month, said Paul N. Duckro, director of the diocese's Office of Child, Adolescent & Adult Protection.

The state Attorney General's Office took the Stencil case last year after a conflict of interest arose in the Pinal County Attorney's Office, which investigated the complaint against Stencil based on a report from the Casa Grande Police Department.

Chuck Teegarden, spokesman for the Pinal County Attorney's Office, this week said the state sent his office a letter declining to prosecute Stencil, who formerly ministered at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church on the Northwest Side. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office said she could not comment on the case.

Stencil could not be reached for comment.

The local diocesan review board has 12 community members, among them a nun, two priests, an ordained deacon, a retired Tucson police officer and a local lawyer. The new Sexual Misconduct Review Board, created last year, replaced the diocese's Sensitive Claims Committee, which has been criticized for being made up largely of church employees and for catering to insurance needs.

The chairman of the panel is Dr. Jose Santiago, senior vice president and chief medical officer of the Carondelet Health Network in Tucson. Santiago did not return a phone call seeking comment about the case.

The state office had been reviewing a complaint by a 21-year-old man related to an incident when he was 17 - a minor. The man told authorities that Stencil touched him inappropriately during horseplay in a swimming pool during a party in Casa Grande in 1999 when Stencil was pastor of St. Anthony Parish there.

The young man had previously said the incident was an accident but changed his mind in February 2002, 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.

Stencil was not one of the four priests named in the civil actions that the diocese settled for an amount believed to be in the millions of dollars.

Stencil's name appears on a list of 25 clerics made public by the Catholic Diocese of Tucson last year. The clerics on the list are men with "credible" accusations of child sexual abuse against them, diocese officials say.

"Father Stencil remains on administrative leave with pay. The diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board has been made aware of the decision of the Arizona Attorney General's Office and must now determine if the allegation is credible in the context of our own guidelines' definition of sexual misconduct," diocese spokesman Fred Allison said this week.

The church standard for sexual abuse that applies to the priests on the local public list is much broader than the criminal definition and includes any instance when a child is "being used as an object of sexual gratification for an adult."

Allison said diocese officials do not regret putting Stencil's name on the public list.

"When the individual made it very clear he believed the touch was not accidental, that to the diocese met the standard and the requirement for making a report to law enforcement," he said. "You have to believe in the law and you have to trust in the system of justice to get to the truth."

The 50-year-old priest had taken a leave from St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in September 2000 and was barred from practicing his ministry a few months later, in February 2001, because diocese officials say he did not follow the rules about overnight stays with youths.

 
 

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