Attorneys React to Priest's Removal

By Stephanie Gehring
Daily Southtown [Chicago IL]
November 7, 2006,4NWS7-07.article

A Catholic priest removed from his Burbank parish is trying to villainize two brothers who accused him of sexual abuse, attorneys for the now-grown men said Monday.

The Chicago Catholic Archdiocese removed the Rev. Robert Stepek from St. Albert the Great Catholic Church on Saturday after an internal church investigation found the allegations of sexual abuse against the two boys were credible.

On Sunday, Stepek said he was innocent and the allegations against him were a form of revenge over past disputes. He also claimed the two men wanted to embarrass him on his 25th anniversary as a priest.

"Stepek is a man who is used to having power and using that power for inappropriate means," said Marc Pearlman, an attorney for the two brothers said Monday. "He is in a situation where he is again trying to victimize these two men and again make them feel powerless."

Pearlman said his clients did not want to speak publicly about their claims and declined to let a reporter interview the men. Because they are victims of alleged sexual abuse, the Daily Southtown is not naming them.

The two former altar boys accuse Stepek of sexually abusing them in the 1980s while he was at St. Symphorosa Catholic Church in Chicago's Clearing community.

Stepek said the men are looking for a large financial settlement.

The men have not yet filed a lawsuit, Pearlman said.

Jeff Anderson, another attorney for the men, said his clients' decision to come forward was rooted in a desire to help others.

"Both of these guys came forward and did so because they suffered in silence, secrecy and shame," Anderson said. "They came to a place where they needed to protect others, and that's what they did. That's what why they brought it to the archdiocese."

Anderson said the priority was to protect others from Stepek by getting him removed from the parish and hopefully put behind bars.

But John Gorman, a spokesman for the Cook County state's attorneys office, said the three-year statute of limitations has long expired, making it impossible to press criminal charges in the case.

Despite this news, Anderson and Pearlman said they hoped that others abused by Stepek more recently might come forward.

"Our hope is that if there are other victims of Stepek, the reason the brothers came forward is to let them know they are not the only ones," Pearlman said. "They don't have to suffer in secrecy. Hopefully they'll come forward, and the state's attorney's office will be able to do something."

In the spring, Stepek voluntarily left the parish while the archdiocese conducted its investigation into the allegations.

Stepek and his parishioners were shocked by the panel's findings.

A petition circulated outside Mass on Sunday, and the church billboard outside told the public that the parishioners demanded their pastor's return.

Pearlman said he was puzzled by parishioners' reaction.

"I appreciate it is a difficult thing for parishioners to accept, that a priest may have done this. But this went through an internal investigation. They determined these allegations were credible," he said.

"As hard as it may be -- it really puts people's own belief system at risk, and they're shaken -- I think it's unfortunate that they rally in support of someone who is found of molesting children, but don't rally in support this devout Catholic family that was so profoundly hurt by this guy," Pearlman said.



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