Catholic Priest Implicated in Pennsylvania Child Sex Abuse Report Served in Multiple Colorado Parishes after Alleged Abuse
By Sam Tabachnik
September 7, 2018
A former priest implicated in the explosive Pennsylvania child sex abuse report served at multiple Colorado churches in the early 1980s, just a few years after allegedly engaging in repeated sexual assault of three brothers in Pennsylvania.
Stephen Edward Jeselnick, 67, was among hundreds of clergymen accused of child sexual abuse by a Pennsylvania grand jury last month. The two-year investigation revealed that leaders within six Catholic dioceses worked to hide the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children over 70 years.
Jeselnick, who currently lives in Colorado Springs, served in the Archdiocese of Denver for nearly seven months from December 1982 to June 1983 on a trial assignment, according to the Archdiocese. Just a few years prior, in the late 1970s, he allegedly engaged in repeated sexual assault of three brothers in Meadeville, Pa., according to the grand jury report. The Pennsylvania brothers, now adults, told the grand jury that Jeselnick’s abuse included genital fondling, oral sex and anal sex, the report states. Jeselnick allegedly abused them in their home and at church, where their mother worked, the report continues.
Initially assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Littleton, Jeselnick was reassigned to the Shrine of St. Anne Church in Arvada in the spring of 1983.
He then served at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Colorado Springs as assistant pastor from 1983 to 1985. He requested, but was denied, formal acceptance into the Colorado Springs diocese in 1985, the grand jury report states, before joining the Air Force as a chaplain.
In 2014, Lawrence Persico, the newly appointed Bishop of Erie, Pa., received a letter from Jeselnick requesting a letter of suitability for ministry, according to the report. “After reviewing his file and doing an internet search, Persico denied Jeselnick’s faculties as a priest and informed him that he will never again be granted permission to serve in public ministry,” the report states.
The grand jury does not mention any allegations against Jeselnick outside Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania brothers did not come forward until 2017. Prior to that, the Erie diocese had no record of their abuse allegations.
The Archdiocese of Denver and Colorado Springs said it did not receive any notice of sexual misconduct during Jeselnick’s tenure in the state.
“The Archdiocese of Denver has never received a notice of sexual misconduct by Jeselnick from his less than seven months of ministry at St. Mary and St. Anne. The Diocese of Colorado Springs has never received a notice of sexual misconduct by Jeselnick arising from his 28 months of ministry or any other activity in Colorado,” the Archdiocese of Denver said in a statement.
The Archdiocese of Denver has a mandatory reporter policy, meaning everyone who works in the church — from priest to volunteer — is bound by their code of conduct to report any allegation of abuse internally as well as to local authorities.
After the Pennsylvania report, several states announced investigations into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
New York’s attorney general’s office issued subpoenas Thursday to every Catholic diocese in the state. New Jersey followed by announcing a criminal task force focused on investigating abuse. Attorneys general in Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico have also said they will investigate sex abuse by Catholic priests in their states and have asked local dioceses for records.
In Colorado, Archbishop Samuel Aquila, the leader of Denver’s Catholic Church, called for an independent investigation into what the church knew about sexual abuse allegations.
The Attorney General in Colorado has limited power when it comes to original criminal jurisdiction. However, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, R-Colorado, says the church has “proven itself incapable of safeguarding the vulnerable in its flock from sexual assault by their holy leaders.”
She added that her office is determining what role it may play in holding those involved responsible.
“The Pennsylvania grand jury investigative report is a stark reminder that only an independent law enforcement investigation will surface sins, redress past wrongs and set a course to repairing the public’s trust,” Coffman said. “The suggestion of tasking a lay commission of practicing Catholics with reviewing the potentially criminal behavior of their revered leaders is exactly the kind of insular thinking that has protected pedophiles and predators from accountability and prosecution for generations.”