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  Diocese Hit with Another Sex Suit
Man Claims Priest Abused Him in '60s

By Karen Mellen
Chicago Tribune
September 24, 2003

A west suburban man is alleging in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that a former priest who served time in jail for abusing a girl in the 1980s abused him in the late 1960s at Christ the King Church in Lombard.

The suit, filed in DuPage County Circuit Court by a plaintiff identified only as John Doe 85, names the Catholic Diocese of Joliet, the bishop and the priest, Edward Stefanich. The plaintiff repressed memories of the abuse by Stefanich until two years ago, said his attorney, Marc Pearlman of Chicago.

The suit alleges the abuse occurred in 1969 at the church rectory while Doe, then about 12 years old, was attending grade school at Christ the King. Pearlman said the man, now in his 40s and working in Niles, declined to be named in the lawsuit because he has four children.

The plaintiff, in a brief phone interview, said he was trying to find closure in filing the lawsuit. "This whole issue has had a tremendous impact on my life," he said.

The plaintiff said he planned to speak with criminal authorities about his allegations.

"He is seeking healing, and he is seeking truth," said Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, at a news conference Tuesday outside the offices of the Joliet diocese. "He wants to let other survivors know they can come forward."

Also named in the lawsuit is Bishop Joseph Imesch. A spokesman for the diocese declined comment, saying church lawyers had not yet had a chance to read the lawsuit.

"This is the first time we've heard [about] him [Stefanich] abusing anybody other than the abuse of the teenage girl," said spokesman John Cullen.

In 1987, Stefanich, who was then 48, pleaded guilty to abusing a 14-year-old girl at St. Scholastica Catholic Church in Woodridge. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and agreed to leave the priesthood.

Officials said Stefanich told the girl he was in love with her and wanted to marry her when she turned 16. Officials said he bought her jewelry and a car and used parish funds to pay her tuition to high school for two years.

Stefanich could not be reached for comment Tuesday at a residence in Joliet where he apparently spends some of his time.

Pearlman said the plaintiff does not know what caused him to remember the alleged abuse, but has been in counseling and has had problems with substance abuse and sleeping since.

The Joliet diocese has had a number of priests removed from the ministry because of abuse allegations, including some with connections to Christ the King.

Lawrence Gibbs, who left the priesthood after being accused of sexual abuse, served at Christ the King in the late 1970s. The Joliet diocese has settled lawsuits involving Gibbs.

Pearlman said he hopes the Joliet diocese works with his client to resolve this lawsuit. Even though it has been many years since the abuse allegedly occurred, Pearlman said the clock on the statute of limitations did not start until after his client remembered what happened, which means the case is viable.

 
 

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