Burbank Pastor on Leave over Allegations

By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune [Burbank IL]
May 24, 2006

Cardinal Francis George has asked a southwest suburban pastor to temporarily step down while authorities investigate at least two 20-year-old allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, church officials said Tuesday.

Officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago said they informed parish leaders last week that Rev. Robert Stepek, pastor of St. Albert the Great Church in Burbank, took a leave at the cardinal's request while the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and prosecutors investigate claims that date to the early 1980s when Stepek served at St. Symphorosa parish in Chicago.

Church officials said Tuesday they asked parish leaders to convey the information to parishioners, though it is unclear what churchgoers heard at masses this weekend.

Stepek has not been charged with any crimes or accused of any wrongdoing by the church. Unlike previous cases in which Catholic priests were removed from parishes, the archdiocesan review board has not yet reviewed the allegations.

Stepek's case is the first time new protocols have been implemented for handling current and past abuse allegations against clergy.

In February, the archdiocese agreed to report all allegations to DCFS, including cases involving adults who say they were abused as minors.

The church also agreed to suspend its review of accused priests until DCFS has completed its investigation. DCFS and the Cook County state's attorney's office confirmed Tuesday that they were looking into the allegations against Stepek.

"This represents a new step in the process--the preliminary step that is taken while information is gathered," said Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "We don't have enough information to go to the review board ... At the time [the complainants came forward], they didn't want Father Stepek to know their names. He still doesn't know who is accusing him."

But victim's advocates said the archdiocese was not forthcoming to parishioners about the reasons behind Stepek's removal.

Although church officials said parish staff were informed and talking points about the allegations were provided, the archdiocese acknowledged Tuesday that a statement was made only during the mass at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the mass Stepek would have said.

Victims' advocates said the statement did not specify sexual abuse, only "a matter of serious concern." The archdiocese could not confirm or deny that.

A 25th anniversary celebration of Stepek's ordination was also canceled. But no explanation was given at other masses or in other parishes where Stepek has worked, a victims' advocate said Tuesday.

"A caring shepherd would warn his flock," said Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "That's what Cardinal George should have done but didn't."

Church officials argue that it is too early in the process to publicize the allegations.

Stepek worked at St. Christina parish in Chicago between 1984 and 1991 and St. Joseph parish in Homewood between 1992 and 1998.


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