Cleared Priest Is out of Ministry

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
March 12, 2004

A priest cleared of criminal wrongdoing after accusations of sexual misconduct with a teenager won't return to the ministry, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson says.

The Rev. Steven G. Stencil remains on a paid leave of absence but is no longer allowed to present himself as a priest in public, diocese officials said Thursday. The decision followed a review by the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board.

The 51-year-old priest had taken a leave from St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church on Tucson's Northwest Side in September 2000 and was barred from practicing his ministry a few months later, in February 2001, because diocese officials say he did not follow the rules about overnight stays with youths.

The state Attorney General's Office declined to prosecute Stencil last year after receiving a complaint against the priest based on a report from the Casa Grande Police Department. The Attorney General's Office took the case after a conflict of interest arose in the Pinal County Attorney's Office.

The state office had been reviewing a complaint by a 21-year-old man related to an incident when he was 17 - a minor. The man told authorities that Stencil touched him inappropriately during horseplay in a swimming pool at a party in Casa Grande in 1999 when Stencil was pastor of St. Anthony Parish there.

The young man previously said the incident was an accident but changed his mind in February 2002, shortly after the Diocese of Tucson settled 11 lawsuits that accused four priests of sexually abusing 10 young men in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

Stencil was not one of the four priests named in the civil actions that the diocese settled in 2002 for an amount believed to be in the millions of dollars. But his name does appear on a list of 26 clerics, made public by the diocese, of men with "credible" allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor against them, diocese officials say.

The church standard for sexual misconduct that applies to priests on the local public list is much broader than the criminal definition and includes any instance when a child is "being used as an object of sexual gratification for an adult."

The new Sexual Misconduct Review Board, created in 2002, replaced the diocese's Sensitive Claims Committee, which has been criticized for being made up largely of church employees and for catering to insurance needs.


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