13th Priest Removed in Belleville Diocese; He Is Accused of Abuse As a Seminary Student

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
April 26, 1995

Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory removed the Rev. Gary Sebescak from his ministry Tuesday because of an allegation that he sexually abused someone while studying to become a priest.

Sebescak, 35, had been the associate pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Mount Vernon, Ill., about 65 miles southeast of St. Louis. He is the 13th priest since March 1993 to be removed by the Belleville diocese over allegations of sexual misconduct. One deacon also has been removed.

Gregory ordained Sebescak in June and said Tuesday that announcing his removal was particularly painful.

"There is a special bond of affection that I have for him," said Gregory, who has been bishop of Belleville since February 1994.

Gregory said someone had come to him last month and alleged that Sebescak sexually abused a minor six years ago while studying for the priesthood at St. Meinrad Catholic Seminary in St. Meinrad, Ind. Gregory said he had found sufficient reason to remove Sebescak from parish work.

Under diocesan policy, a review board and other church officials will study the allegation further to determine if Sebescak should be permanently removed from the ministry.

Gregory said he had decided to remove Sebescak for now "to ensure that minors are not at risk." But, the bishop said, he had heard of no allegations against Sebescak during the short time he has been a priest.

Gregory declined to say if the purported abuse was supposed to have occurred at the seminary or to give any other information about the complaint, including the sex of the person allegedly abused. Gregory also declined to say where Sebescak was staying since leaving St. Mary's parish in Mount Vernon over the weekend.

Mary Beveridge, the parish secretary at St. Mary's, said in a telephone interview that the parish of about 650 families was "in shock. Our support goes out to the parishioners as well as to Father Gary." She declined to comment further.

Barbara Crawford, a spokeswoman for St. Meinrad Seminary, said in a telephone interview that the seminary had received no allegations of sexual misconduct against Sebescak while he studied there, "and there was nothing in his behavior to suggest any sexual misconduct."

Crawford said Sebescak had studied at St. Meinrad from January 1988 to May 1990 and again from August 1992 to May 1994, when he graduated. She said she believed he had studied at another seminary from May 1990 to August 1992.

The prosecutor's office for Spencer County in southern Indiana, where St. Meinrad is located, had no record of any complaints against Sebescak while he was a seminarian.

Gregory said he had been told that the statute of limitations had expired for filing criminal charges against Sebescak over the allegation.

The Belleville Diocese, which includes 28 counties and about 124,000 Catholics in Southern Illinois, still has about 108 active priests, Gregory said. He also noted that about 20 men are studying for the priesthood in the diocese - a number he called "fairly good" given the overall rural nature of the diocese.

Gregory said Catholic seminaries attempt to screen out candidates with sexual problems. But some could slip through and be ordained, he cautioned. "Psychological testing is an inexact science," Gregory said.


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