Church's 3rd Priest Defrocked

By Janet Rausa Fuller
Chicago Sun-Times
September 27, 2002

It was supposed to be a therapeutic meeting. It was not going to be pleasant.

The 70 or so parishioners who gathered Wednesday night at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Church in Palatine came ready to air the thoughts that had weighed them down since summer, when two of the parish's former priests were removed from the ministry on allegations of sexual misconduct.

They were not prepared to hear that a third priest--their pastor at St. Thomas for a decade--had been defrocked on similar charges.

The news of the Rev. Walter Huppenbauer's removal, delivered by Bishop Jerome Listecki at the start of the meeting, blindsided those who knew "Father Wally" as a personable priest with a Santa Claus beard.

Shock turned to sadness--and resolve--for many parishioners, who said Thursday it was only a coincidence that the national priest sex abuse scandal had torn so abruptly into their quiet, suburban world.

"St. Thomas is very strong spiritually, and we've got active people in the parish," said Steve Gillmann, chairman of the parish pastoral council, who was at the meeting. "It is hard as a parishioner to accept because it does make you feel like, 'Why us?' But I don't think anyone knew . . . It just happened, and it's just very unfortunate."

Said Ron Schaefer, parish manager since 1989, "It's an unhappy coincidence."

The retired Huppenbauer, 72, was pastor at St. Thomas from 1983 to 1994. The allegation that led to his formal removal from ministry last weekend dates to the 1960s, when he was an assistant pastor as St. Hilary in Chicago.

The female victim, who was a minor when the alleged misconduct occurred, contacted the Archdiocese of Chicago anonymously in 1993.

The investigation hit a dead end because of the anonymous nature of the case, archdiocese officials said.

The allegation resurfaced in August. This time, the woman identified herself. A review by the archdiocese's independent Fitness Review Board found her claim credible.

The two other priests with past ties to St. Thomas, the reverends Marion Snieg and Daniel Buck, were barred from the ministry earlier this summer after reviews by the board.

Snieg, who is accused of misconduct with minors during his tenure in the late 1950s at St. Jane de Chantal on the Southwest Side, had been a visiting priest at St. Thomas until May.

Buck, associate pastor at St. Thomas from 1984 to 1989, was accused of sexually abusing a minor while at St. Francis Borgia on the Northwest Side in the early 1980s.

Catherine Karlsen, who has been principal at St. Thomas for 17 years, knew all three priests.

"These are human beings we're talking about," Karlsen said. "I worked with all three of them. To me, they were good men."

Allegations against Huppenbauer were particularly hard to stomach, she said, because he was "a personal friend as well as my boss."

Anh Nguyen, 19, a volunteer with the youth ministry group at St. Thomas who was baptized and confirmed by Huppenbauer, said the allegations were "hard to believe."

She wasn't worried, though, about the parish's reputation being tarnished.

"People can look and say, 'Oh wow, St. Thomas had three priests,' but this all happened before they were here," she said.

In a separate case involving another Chicago area priest, lawyers for a 31-year-old Los Angeles bartender filed suit Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court charging that the Rev. Vincent McCaffrey had sexually abused their client in a church on at least 25 occasions.

McCaffrey is being held on federal child pornography charges.


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