Sex Abuse Victim Speaks out

By Avian Carrasquillo
Chicago Daily Herald
January 18, 2007

After more than 20 years of silence, a former Wheeling resident has come forward with sexual abuse allegations that the Archdiocese of Chicago has found credible.

Robert Brangard, 38, now of Denver, alleges he was sexually abused at the age of 13 while he was a student at St. Joseph the Worker School, 181 W. Dundee Road in Wheeling.

During 1982 and 1983, Brangard alleges, he was abused by two men associated with the parish: the Rev. James Steel and Donald Ryniecki, who was St. Joseph principal from 1978 to 1984.

Neither man has been criminally charged.

Brangard has filed criminal complaints against both men with the Wheeling Police Department and with the Washburn County (Wis.) Police Department.

The 20-year statute of limitations has expired in Illinois, but Wheeling police are cooperating with Wisconsin police, said Wheeling Deputy Chief Bill Benson.

Steel has an unlisted number, and attempts to contact him at his last known address in Palatine were unsuccessful.

Ryniecki, reached by phone at his Hebron home, declined to comment.

Brangard said the alleged abuse began with Ryniecki. He said the principal would send notes to his teachers requesting Brangard's presence in his office, where the abuse would occur.

He said that after this happened a few times he confided in Steel, who then began to abuse him in the rectory.

Brangard alleges both men abused Brangard together, numerous times, at Ryniecki's cabin in Wisconsin.

Last month, the Archdiocese of Chicago's Professional Responsibility Review Board found Brangard's claims against Steel and Ryniecki to be "credible," according to a letter the Archdiocese sent to Brangard dated Dec. 15, 2006.

James Accurso, an archdiocese spokesman, said that aside from Brangard's allegations, there have been no other complaints against Steel or Ryniecki filed with the archdiocese.

Accurso said after the committee's findings the archdiocese turned over Brangard's allegations to law enforcement officials.

Accurso said the committee's findings were also forwarded to Cardinal Francis George, who accepted them.

But because Steel voluntarily left the ministry, no further action can be taken by the archdiocese, Accurso said.

While it is archdiocese procedure for the professional responsibility administrator to generally meet with the person coming forward with information of abuse and the priest who is being accused, Accurso said the archdiocese cannot comment on individual cases due to confidentiality.

According to the archdiocese Web site, Steel was ordained in 1968. From June 1968 to November 1968, he worked as assistant pastor at St. Tarcissus in Chicago. From November 1968 to June 1974, he was an assistant pastor at St. James in Highwood.

From June 1974 to June 1979, he was associate pastor at St. Stephen in Des Plaines. From June 1979 to June 1984, he worked at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Wheeling.

From June 1984 to June 1987, he was associate pastor at St. John Brebeuf in Niles. From June 1987 to April 1988, he was an associate pastor at St. Hilary in Chicago. He also worked as associate pastor at St. Bonaventure in Chicago from April 1988 to July 1991. From July 1991 to April 1992, he lived at Little Flower in Chicago, which has since closed.

He left the church in 1992 and was "laicized," or voluntarily chose to give up the priesthood.

Because of Brangard's allegations, Ryniecki has been banned from further employment or volunteer work with the Archdiocese of Chicago, and those recommendations were also forwarded to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Accurso said.

Ryniecki, a resident of Hebron, has not been licensed to teach by the state of Illinois since 2001.

Brangard, who made his allegations public on Tuesday, said his ignorance kept him silent for all these years.

"They told me it was normal and that it would make me a better man," he said.

"I believed them. I was taught that a priest was the right hand of God and not to question anything they say," Brangard said.

It wasn't until 2001 after a failed suicide attempt that Brangard came forward with his allegations.

"I had wrote down what had happened in my suicide note, and that's how it got out," he said.

Since then Brangard said he has found help through the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"I know there are other victims out there. Many people have suffered in silence. I'm here to be their voice. They can call me and I will help them through this," Brangard said.

SNAP's offices can be reached at (312) 409-2720.


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