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  Suit Claims Abuse Went on for Years

By Tom Spalding
Indianapolis Star
March 11, 2004

A 17-year-old Greene County boy contends in a lawsuit that he was molested by a priest as recently as 1999, an allegation that came as a partial surprise to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The archdiocese was aware of some of the allegations -- which were deemed credible -- because they were first made two years ago.

But officials thought the alleged acts by the Rev. Jonathan L. Stewart, 40, occurred in 1993. The lawsuit, filed last month in Marion Superior Court, said he abused the boy through 1999.

"This is the first we have heard of abuse occurring in 1999. Our records indicate the last incident of sexual abuse occurred in 1993," said Susan Borcherts, a diocese spokeswoman.

Stewart has been on leave from all public ministry since the allegations were first made in February 2001. A church investigation continues. Stewart has denied the allegations.

The archdiocese issued a report last month stating that its research had shown no minors had been abused in the past decade. The report was prepared as part of a national study of clergy abuse commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Officials said they didn't know about the more recent allegations of abuse until they read the lawsuit, filed by the boy's mother.

The lawsuit accuses Stewart of harming the boy sexually from ages 7 to 13.

The archdiocese said Stewart was living in Milan and serving at St. Charles Borromeo Parish at the time.

After being ordained in 1991, Stewart was assigned to religious posts throughout Indiana, including in Indianapolis, Floyds Knobs and Enochsburg.

Eric A. Koch, a Bloomington attorney representing the mother and son -- who are listed as Jane and John Doe -- declined to discuss the lawsuit.

Borcherts said the archdiocese has offered pastoral care and counseling to the plaintiff and his family.

Borcherts said she was unaware of any criminal charges against Stewart, who also was investigated by state Child Protection Services workers and the Greene County prosecutor's office.

Greene County Prosecutor David Powell was unavailable for comment. CPS officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Stewart couldn't be reached. The lawsuit states that his last known address was in Oldenburg, about 50 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

It says the abuse occurred on several occasions and that it caused the boy severe mental anguish, as well as a loss of faith in God.

The archdiocese "represented that Father Stewart was a sexually safe, celibate priest when it knew or should have known of his pedophilic tendencies."

Borcherts said Stewart was one of 20 priests and 12 lay people serving the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 1950 who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.

Since at least the early 1980s, the archdiocese has had in place a policy outlining the church's pastoral response to accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct by its clergy and lay employees and volunteers. That policy was followed strictly, Borcherts said.

 
 

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