Wheeling Priest May Have Abused Teen Who Came for Help

By Charles Keeshan
Daily Herald
January 22, 2014

[James Steele]

When a 13-year-old boy went to his associate pastor at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Wheeling 30 years ago, confused over the sexual abuse he said he was suffering at the hands of the parish school's principal, James Steel didn't offer the young parishioner comfort.

Instead, according to the findings of a 2006 report made for the Archdiocese of Chicago, there is credible evidence Steel sexually assaulted the teen.

The investigation looked into claims made against Steel, a now former priest who served the Wheeling parish from 1979 to 1984.

"In the (investigator's) opinion there is reason to believe the accused engaged in inappropriate sexual abuse of (the victim)," the private investigations firm Jack Burke & Associates states in the report. "The detail of (the victim's) statement, the corroboration of time and place by former school principal Donald Ryniecki and the opinions of law enforcement officers from Wheeling, IL and from Washburn County, WI support this finding."

A subsequent letter to Cardinal Francis George from Leah McCluskey, the Archdiocese's professional responsibility administrator, states that "in light of the information presented, there is reasonable cause to suspect that the alleged misconduct occurred."

The report was among the hundreds of pages of Archdiocese of Chicago documents related to 30 priests accused of sexual misconduct released Tuesday by a law firm that represents abuse survivors.

Neither Steel nor Ryniecki, the former principal, were charged criminally in connection with the teen's allegations, and the Archdiocese took no action against Steel because he had left the priesthood 14 years before the 2006 report. Ryniecki, who was not a priest, was barred from working or volunteering for the Archdiocese, a spokesman said in 2007.

Steel's tenure at St. Joseph overlapped that of former priest Vincent McCaffrey, who later admitted to abusing more than a dozen children and is currently serving time in a federal prison for child pornography.

For the full report, visit








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