Joliet Diocese Removes Priest
Abuse Allegation: Churches to Distribute Letter This Weekend

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
April 13, 2002

JOLIET — The Diocese of Joliet on Friday said it removed a priest from his ministries because of a credible allegation of sexual abuse that occurred in the mid-1970s.

The diocese also said it would distribute a letter to all 132 parishes in seven counties this weekend. The letter, which will be read during Masses or inserted in church bulletins, asks that anyone who has suffered abuse from a clergy member come forward.

"The diocese wishes to offer professional counseling assistance to you," Bishop Joseph Imesch says in the letter.

But some urge abuse victims to talk to loved ones and law enforcement officials before approaching the diocese.

"We strongly encourage people who were abused to come forward, but never first to church officials," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Breaking the silence is the first step toward healing, Clohessy said, but victims should not seek counseling from the institution that harbored the abuser.

"I'm surprised and saddened that the bishop is not encouraging people to go to law enforcement first," he said.

The diocese Friday removed the Rev. Phillip Dedera from his ministries after an allegation recently was reported to the diocese by a victim who is now more than 40 years old, the diocese said in a statement.

The Herald News repeatedly attempted to elicit more information from diocesan officials about the complaint Friday, but was unsuccessful.

Four years ago, the Joliet Diocese assigned Dedera to the chaplain's post at Edward Hospital, where he would often visit patients, give Communion and say Mass, said Brian Davis, hospital spokesman.

The diocese notified officials at Edward on Friday morning that Dedera would not be coming in, Davis said.

"We are deeply troubled by these allegations," Davis said. "This is the first we've heard of this. At this time, we know of no other allegations of misconduct."

The diocese also contacted St. Patrick's Residence, a nursing home in Naperville where Dedera was chaplain for six years.

"While he served here, he was highly regarded by residents, their families and our staff," said Sister Anthony Veilleux of St. Patrick's Residence.

Veilleux said anyone who has met Dedera has only had nice things to say about him, and she was surprised and shocked to learn of the allegations.

"They're very disheartened and very sad," Veilleux said of St. Patrick's residents' reactions to the allegations against Dedera. "Residents and staff are praying for victims, families or anyone affected by this."

While at St. Patrick's, Dedera was part of the facility's pastoral care team. Veilleux said he mostly counseled people about death and dying.

Dedera attended Divine Saviour Parish in Downers Grove in the 1960s. In 1972, he was the first parishioner from Divine Savior to be ordained a priest, according to the parish's Web site. He taught Sunday school at Divine Savior, but never served there as a priest, said Shirley Barbeau, parish secretary.

The Rev. Robert Pietras, pastor of Divine Savior, did not return calls seeking comment.

At one time, Dedera served at St. Scholastica Church in Woodridge. Another Joliet Diocese priest stationed at St. Scholastica, the Rev. Edward Stefanich, was convicted of sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl in 1987.

Stefanich served six months in the DuPage County Jail and completed one year's probation, according to DuPage County court records.

JCA move

In another development Friday, it was disclosed that Brother Robert Murphy has been removed from the Board of Members at Joliet Catholic Academy.

Murphy recently told Lewis University officials that he received counseling for inappropriate behavior with minors more than 15 years ago, and the university said Thursday that Murphy removed himself from his post as director of campus ministry.

Murphy's religious order, the Carmelites, also removed Murphy from public ministry. Murphy taught at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago from 1974-85, but did not teach at Joliet Catholic.

Joliet Catholic Academy has been jointly sponsored by the Carmelites and the Sisters of St. Francis since the all-boys Joliet Catholic High School merged with the all-girls St. Francis Academy in 1990, said Sister Faith Szambelanczyk, academy president and chief executive.

"From the merger to now, the Board of Members' role has evolved to ensure that we stick to the philosophy of both orders and the principles of education," Szambelanczyk said.

The school's 21-member board of directors makes most of the policy decisions regarding school operations, she said. The Board of Members meets three times a year and must approve financial matters in some circumstances, she added. The Carmelites appointed Murphy to the board two years ago, she said.

Staff writers Bill Bird, Colt Foutz and Melissa Franic contributed to this report.


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