Joplin Priest Relieved of Duties

By Jeff Lehr
The Joplin Globe [Missouri]
February 28, 2006

The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has relieved a Joplin priest of his parish duties in light of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Bishop John J. Leibrecht came to Joplin on Sunday to inform parishioners at St. Peter's Catholic Church that Monsignor Stephen Schneider has been relieved of all diocesan duties after an investigation of an allegation that was brought to the diocese's attention in December.

Schneider, 61, had served as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish since August of last year.

"He will no longer function as a priest," Leibrecht told the Globe in a telephone interview Monday.

Leibrecht said the allegation was brought to the church's attention in December by the family of the minor who was involved. He said the allegation concerned misconduct of the monsignor in the past, but he would not say when or where. The bishop also would not discuss the specific nature of the alleged misconduct, other than to say it was "a violation of boundaries" in standards of conduct adopted by the diocese for personnel who work with minors.

"I am trying to honor the request of the family (of the minor)," Leibrecht said. "The family has been through some difficult times, and I am honoring their request for anonymity."

He said the Greene County prosecuting attorney's office was notified of the allegation as required by diocesan policy regarding allegations of sexual abuse of minors. After an investigation, the Greene County prosecutor informed the diocese that the allegation "did not meet the criteria" for criminal prosecution, according to the diocese.

The allegation subsequently was taken to the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board, which concluded that the monsignor had violated diocesan standards for conduct, according to the diocese.

"We talked to the monsignor, and there was agreement on the facts," Leibrecht said.

The bishop said no previous allegations of sexual misconduct had been brought against Schneider in any of the parishes where he has served.

Schneider could not be reached for comment Monday. The Greene County prosecutor's office did not return a call seeking information about its investigation.

Audrey Habermann, a member of the parish council, said the parish will "pull together" and "carry on." She said she is concerned for Schneider, who she described as "a deeply spiritual" man who was widely respected by parishioners.

"His homilies were much appreciated," Habermann said.

She said it was her understanding the alleged misconduct happened years ago, and that the parents of the victim just learned about it in December.

"I feel very bad for (Schneider), and I will pray for him every day," Habermann said.

Leibrecht has informed the parish that a new priest will be named in August. He said he is writing the parish a letter to be read at all masses this weekend at St. Peter's that will detail how services are to be provided in the interim period.

Leibrecht said he does not know what the relieved monsignor's plans for the future may be.

"He wants time for himself now, time for thinking and time for prayer," the bishop said.


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