|Skokie Church Stands behind Elder Charged with Sex Assault of Minor
By Mike Isaacs
May 4, 2009
A leader of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Skokie was scheduled to appear in court this week in Wisconsin on two felony charges of second degree sexual assault of a child stemming from incidents that allegedly took place in 1990.
Ronald Schaefer is not only a member of the Skokie church, but he has served as chairman of the Board of Elders for the last couple of years and also is the church caretaker.
Schaefer's high position in the church has bothered some current and former members who said that the church's handling of the situation has created a division. But new Pastor Matthew Conrad last week said that Schaefer is "innocent until proven guilty" and that his reputation has been unblemished since accusations against him were made. Schaefer has not been cited for any legal wrongdoing since the charges were first brought against him in 2006.
Prosecutors in their legal complaint state that in 1990 Schaefer was a teacher and basketball coach at a parochial school in Menomonee Falls, Wis. The victim, a student at the school, said that in 1988-89 Schaefer began to focus attention on her by complimenting her, telling her that she "looked nice" and giving her a special nickname, according to the complaint.
The next year, the complaint states, Schaefer became her eighth-grade teacher and picked her to serve as a babysitter for his children. Toward the end of her eighth-grade year and continuing into the summer -- between March and August of 1990 -- the victim had a sexual relationship with Schaefer when she was younger than 16, the complaint continues.
According to the complaint, Schaefer wrote the victim notes and poems, which she saved and turned over to authorities, and kissed her and told her that he loved her. When the two called each other at their homes, the complaint states, the victim would hang up if Schaefer's wife answered the telephone, and Schaefer would hang up if one of the victim's parents answered.
Prosecutors said that the victim considered Schaefer her first boyfriend. In May 1990, the complaint states, she and Schaefer discussed running away together to Kentucky or Tennessee because "it was OK to get married younger there." He hugged, kissed and performed oral sex on her, the complaint states. They had sex in Schaefer's bed while the victim was babysitting his children and at his parents' home, the complaint states.
Prosecutors said that Schaefer broke off the relationship in August 1990 because the victim was starting high school.
Schaefer was a teacher at Luther North High School in Chicago when he was arrested three years ago on campus by members of the Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force.
Schaefer had 20 years of teaching experience at the time and served as the dean of admissions at the school. He also taught theology at the Northwest Side parochial school.
Schaefer's lawyer, Robert Fisher, said last week that the charges against his client are false. He called Schaeffer "a gentleman of fine character" who has a "fine teaching record." Fisher said he saw some of the letters allegedly written by Schaefer to the victim and turned over to authorities. "I haven't seen all of them, but there was nothing about them that (reflected) anything illegal."
This week's court appearance in Wisconsin was only to be a status hearing, Fisher said. A case that describes events 19 years ago with accusations coming 16 years after the alleged incidents is troublesome and will take time in the court system, he said. Fisher noted that there has been no accusations of misconduct against his client other than the victim's.
Conrad echoed the lawyer's support, stating that the church stands behind Schaefer and knows that his character is reputable and strong. Schaefer does not teach at St. Paul Academy, which is located on church grounds, nor does he attend field trips, but that protects both the school and Schaefer, he said.
Unlike some current and former members, the pastor does not believe the charges against Schaefer have caused significant division in the church. He said that church attendance has been down, mostly because the church is in a transition stage after its long-time pastor died a couple of years ago.
"I believe the church and the school are ready to make a powerful and positive impact in Skokie," Conrad said. "Satan throws anything he can in the way of such a path."
But one church member said the support for Schaefer and his higher position in the church have left some of its members outraged. The member said that there was "shock" that Schaefer became chairman of the Board of Elders after his arrest.
"The chairman of the Board of Elders is the top lay person in the church," the member said. "And he's living right next to the school. It's really a concern for a lot of us -- both current and former members."
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