Palatine Parish Comes to Grips with Latest Accusations

By Rukmini Callimachi
Chicago Daily Herald
September 27, 2002

As the news began to sink in, many at the parish of St. Thomas of Villanova in Palatine struggled yesterday to reconcile their former pastor's years of service with the recent allegations of his sexual misconduct with a minor.

The Rev. Walter E. Huppenbauer, 71, is accused of molesting an underage girl more than 40 years ago during his tenure at the Chicago parish of St. Hilary, where he served as assistant pastor from 1957 to 1964.

"My heart is broken for our people," said the Rev. Ray Yadron, senior pastor of St. Thomas, who was Huppenbauer's successor. "Ours is a beautiful community. It's wounded now and it will take some time to heal."

Huppenbauer is the third St. Thomas priest to come under fire after the archdiocese's disclosure in June of sexual misconduct by former associate pastor Daniel Buck and visiting priest Marion Snieg.

None of the allegations against Huppenbauer, Buck or Snieg involve parishioners at St. Thomas.

"None of these things happened here. They happened years ago, before they came to St. Thomas," said Deacon Ed Kaczmarek, a member of the parish for 18 years.

But even though the abuse did not occur at the Palatine parish, the archdiocese first received the allegations of Huppenbauer's misconduct in 1993, when he was still senior pastor of St. Thomas.

That year, the archdiocese was approached by the victim, who asked that her identity not be disclosed to either the fitness review board undertaking the investigation or to Huppenbauer, said Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Because of the condition of anonymity imposed by the victim, the board could not complete its investigation, Dwyer said, and Huppenbauer was not asked to leave the ministry.

But according to a letter sent to the parish by Bishop Jerome Listecki, Huppenbauer was no longer allowed to serve in a parish ministry, and after he retired from St. Thomas in 1994, he was placed under a monitoring protocol that prohibited him from being alone in the presence of minors.

He continued, however, to perform the occasional Mass at St. Thomas.

Because of an administrative oversight, Dwyer said, the archdiocese failed to inform the clergy of St. Thomas of Huppenbauer's changed status.

"I don't know how the error happened, but Huppenbauer was saying Mass and Father Yadron was not aware of the situation," Dwyer said. "It's something that we're always trying to improve. Procedures are not perfect, just as systems are not perfect. They are run by human beings."

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions," said Yadron, in response to the oversight.

For those in the parish who knew Huppenbauer, the sexual abuse charge of 40 years ago does not fit with the image of a man whom they viewed as a progressive force within the parish - a spiritual leader who was affectionately referred to as "Father Wally."

Kaczmarek, who knew Huppenbauer during his 11 years as pastor at St. Thomas, credits him with one of the key spiritual experiences in his life.

In the late 1980s, Huppenbauer encouraged Kaczmarek to work with a new AIDS ministry at the parish. AIDS then was still a taboo topic.

Kaczmarek was sent to the bedside of a dying patient, a gay man who had never been able to share his sexual orientation with his father.

The man asked Kaczmarek, "Does God hate me?" Kaczmarek replied, "How could he hate you? He's your father."

"You should meet my father," the man said.

With the help of others in the parish, Kaczmarek found the dying man's father. He brought him to his son's bedside.

"The two of them just burst into tears," said Kaczmarek, himself sobbing as he remembers the incident. "Then the father got into the hospital bed and held his son like a baby. He died about two weeks later. I credit Father Wally with letting me do this. If he hadn't said go ahead and do this, I might never have had the chance."


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