Former Parishioners Shocked by Allegations

By M.K. Guetersloh
The Pantagraph
April 19, 2002

PAXTON - When Rev. Phillip Dedera walked down the streets in Paxton with his little black dog, people were drawn to the happy, friendly priest from St. Mary's Catholic Church.

Now, many of the roughly 100 parishioners from St. Mary's and from St. Joseph's Mission Church in Loda are shocked by the news that the Joliet Diocese dismissed Dedera amid allegations that he sexually abused a teen-ager in 1974.

Dedera was removed from his post as chaplain at Naperville's Edward Hospital. He is one of four priests the diocese has removed from their jobs this month amid allegations of past sex abuse.

During his three-year tenure in Paxton in the late 1980s, Dedera brought church members closer together and even increased their numbers, said Pat Ross of Paxton, a longtime member of St. Mary's.

"We couldn't have asked for a better priest," Ross said. "He was exactly what the church needed at the time. He made such a positive impact on the church and on this community."

And that is probably what shocked local teacher and St. Mary's member Judy Jepsen-Popel the most.

Jepsen-Popel remembers Dedera as the priest who was kind and comforting to her mother who died in 1987. Dedera would just drop by for a brief visit during one of his walks with his dog, "Abby," she said.

"I am just stunned by all of this," she said.

Jepsen-Popel said the news of the sexual abuse by Catholic priests was upsetting, but to hear about Dedera was another blow. "What I was reading in the paper was happening elsewhere, until now. This guy lived across the street from me."

Jim Flaherty, principal at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, remembers Dedera as a friend of the family.

"This is very surprising and very disappointing," Flaherty said. "He was a bright cheerful guy who always had a smile on his face."

While Ross said she feels bad for Dedera, she added that the church must deal with the sexual abuse allegations openly.

"They need to address it and get these men out of the church," she said. "If Dedera or others need help, then the church should see that they get and stop it from happening again."

Jepsen-Popel agreed with Ross that the church needs to up front in its handling of the matter. She added that she did not believe the situation is causing number of practicing Catholics to drop.

"This is certainly upsetting but I don't think people are losing their faith over this," she said.


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