It's Suit vs. Suit in Priest Case
Accusers Counter Cleric's Legal Move
By Margaret Ramirez
December 14, 2006
Two weeks after a Roman Catholic priest filed a defamation lawsuit against two brothers who said he sexually abused them, an attorney for the alleged victims struck back Wednesday by suing the priest and the Chicago archdiocese.
Rev. Robert Stepek, former pastor of St. Albert the Great Church in Burbank, was removed from ministry last month after an archdiocesan review board determined there was reasonable cause to suspect that sexual abuse of minors occurred. Shortly after his removal, Stepek filed a $4 million lawsuit against his accusers, stating that the sexual abuse allegations were false andretaliation for disagreements between the priest and the two men.
According to Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Stepek is one of about a dozen priests who have sued their accusers. But victim advocates said the countersuit is believed to be the first ever filed in the U.S. against clergy. The suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court states that Stepek's actions have led the two accusers "to suffer severe and permanent emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem and loss of religious faith." The suit also states that any damage suffered by Stepek was not caused by the accusers but by the archdiocese, which permitted confidential abuse information to become public.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the accusers, said he is calling on Cardinal Francis George to order Stepek to withdraw his lawsuit and cease and desist from all further action until Vatican proceedings in his case conclude.
"We took this action because the cardinal has been so woefully silent," Anderson said during a news conference in his downtown Chicago law office. "The cardinal has the power to step in and stop Stepek. He should not allow these victims to be re-victimized."
In a statement released Tuesday by the archdiocese, Chancellor Jimmy Lago said that last month following publicity about the matter, the cardinal instructed his counsel to write to the attorneys in the case and ask them not to do anything that would undermine the process. "However, we regret that the cardinal's advice and offer of assistance have not been taken," Lago said in the statement.
Lago also wrote in the statement: "We cannot prevent anyone from seeking redress from the courts and acknowledge that they have the right to do so. From time to time, persons bringing allegations against a priest of the archdiocese of Chicago have chosen to bring their cases to the civil courts as well. The archdiocese respects those decisions."
In response to the lawsuit filed by the victims, Lago issued another statement Wednesday saying: "The archdiocese regrets when anyone files a lawsuit in a misconduct matter, whether the person is claiming abuse or acting in defense of a claim." Lago said the archdiocese had notreviewed the new lawsuit. .
Phillip J. Zisook, Stepek's attorney, said he had not reviewed the lawsuit either. But Zisook said the idea that a person can destroy someone's good name through false accusations and be left without remedy is "unconscionable."
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