Roman Catholic Priest Charged with Sex Assault on 9-Year-Old Boy

By Andrew Benson
Houston Chronicle
May 2, 1986

A Catholic priest who police say was caught committing a sex act on a 9-year-old boy has been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child.

The Rev. Donald Stavinoha, 43, a co-pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, was arrested late Wednesday and released Thursday on $20,000 bond.

"It's really pretty shocking," said Bob Loper, the assistant district attorney who accepted the charge.

Police said Stavinoha and the boy, who was a parishioner of the 3,500-member church, were discovered shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday inside a church van parked at 830 North Bayou Drive in Glenbrook Park.

A patrol officer, noticing the van, poked his flashlight in an open window and saw Stavinoha and the boy inside.

Police said the arresting officer, a former parishioner of the church, recognized the priest immediately. Stavinoha was brought to the downtown police station.

"After I read him his rights, he just kind of smiled at me," said officer Alphonso Amato. "He said, 'I understand my rights. I want to terminate this interview now.' "

Loper said the boy told police similar incidents with Stavinoha have occurred in the past.

Police were checking whether other youths at the church and school may have been involved, but police had no evidence of that.

The boy's parents told police the priest had taken him to play video games Wednesday night and they were not concerned about the boy's whereabouts.

"They felt if you can't trust a priest, who can you trust?" Loper said. The boy was interviewed on videotape and released to his parents.

"The mother was shocked," Amato said. "Everybody's shocked. The man was well respected and well-known in the community."

Stavinoha, one of three co-pastors at the large Houston church, was suspended from his church duties Thursday, said the Most Rev. Joseph A. Fiorenza, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston.

'We are extremely saddened by the allegations against Father Don Stavinoha," Fiorenza said. "We regret the suffering this is causing to all concerned. His faculties to exercise priestly ministry have been suspended, pending the outcome of the investigations."

Attorneys for the Oblate Fathers, the religious order to which Stavinoha belongs, will investigate the case, said Monsignor Dan Scheel, diocesan chancellor. Stavinoha is suspended without pay from his church, but could receive support from his religious order, Scheel said.

Church officials said Stavinoha was transferred here in June 1983. He was previously assigned to a church in Del Rio and spent time Mexico.


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