Former Priest Accused of Abuse Decades Later Man Says He Was Molested at Lombard School between 1969-70

By Tona Kunz
Chicago Daily Herald
September 24, 2003

A former Roman Catholic priest who served in several DuPage County parishes has been accused for the second time of child molestation and the Joliet diocese with covering up those crimes.

A 47-year-old Glen Ellyn man on Tuesday filed a civil lawsuit against the Rev. Edward Stefanich, 65. The suit alleges repeated sexual abuse between 1969 and 1970 when the man was about 12 years old and attending Christ the King Elementary School in Lombard.

It is the second civil lawsuit alleging abuse at the small Lombard school.

Stefanich was convicted in 1987 of aggravated criminal sexual assault against a 14-year-old girl while working at St. Scholastica parish in Woodridge. He pleaded not guilty but was sentenced to six months in DuPage County jail and 12 months' probation.

Stefanich has not worked with the church since 1987, said John Cullen, spokesman for the Joliet Diocese. Cullen said the diocese could not comment on the new lawsuit because attorneys have not had time to review it.

"As with any other case, we would take it very seriously and assist with any investigation and we would look for justice," Cullen said. "However, it was a long time ago."

The lawsuit, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages, charges Stefanich with battery and child sexual abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, infliction of intentional emotional distress and conspiracy. Stefanich was last known to live in Joliet but could not be reached for comment.

The Glen Ellyn man accusing Stefanich filed the lawsuit under the name John Doe to protect his children, his attorney, Marc Pearlman, said.

In 2001, the man sought counseling for nightmares and trouble sleeping. The counseling brought back memories of the abuse in the church rectory during school hours, Pearlman said.

The lawsuit claims Stefanich befriended the boy who at one time sought to become a priest. The boy was told by Stefanich no one would believe him if he told and that he would go to hell, Pearlman said.

For covering up the abuse, the lawsuit charges the diocese and Bishop Joseph Imesch with conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fiduciary fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and vicarious liability. The lawsuit alleges it was Imesch's responsibility as bishop to keep track of his priests' behavior.

"The diocese fell short and really is to blame that this abuse has gone on as long as it has," said Barbara Blaine, a member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which helped the man file the suit.

Imesch did not return a message left at his office, but spokesman Cullen said the diocese was unaware of the latest claims against Stefanich until Tuesday.

Pearlman urged the diocese to skip a court battle and mediate the matter as the Chicago diocese has done lately.

"The Diocese of Joliet has had a terrible track record with dealing with these types of cases and childhood sexual abuse," he said.

GRAPHIC: Stefanich timeline

- 1965: Ordained

- 1966-69: St. Joseph Catholic Church in Addison

- 1970-74: Christ the King Catholic Church in Lombard

- 1975-77: Visitation Church in Elmhurst

- 1978-87: St. Scholastica Church in Woodridge

- Feb. 17, 1987: Charged with molesting teenage girl

- Aug. 20, 1987: Sentenced to 6 months in jail and 12 months probation

Sources: Kerns, Pitrof, Frost & Pearlman and Jeff Anderson & Associates, Daily Herald Interview


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