On November 4, 2006, I drove to St. Albert the Great Catholic parish near Chicago to speak on behalf of SNAP (Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests). The Chicago press descended upon the parish in south-suburban Burbank after the Chicago Archdiocese released a statement that St. Albert’s pastor, Robert Stepek, was being removed from the parish due to credible accusations of molesting boys while assigned to St. Symphorosa parish in Chicago.
During the Saturday vigil Mass, an auxiliary bishop from the archdiocese informed St. Albert parishioners of the move. I was not able to get to the church in time to hear the announcement but, from what the reporters told me, people in the pews started jeering and protesting as the bishop read the statement from the archdiocese. (Keep in mind, sometimes a small minority shout out in such settings but their reaction gets the attention because one cannot hear – or read – the silent members of a crowd.)
Fast forward to today and we are reminded that two St. Albert parishioners, Burbank mayor Harry Klein and the Burbank police chief, are two of Stepek’s biggest supporters. Who knows? They might have been the ones hollering during Mass back in ’06.
Despite accusations that even the Archdiocese of Chicago deemed “credible” that Stepek had sexually abused more than one child, Klein approved his hiring as a “counselor” for the Burbank police department in 2007. For the past six years, the city of Burbank, Illinois, has been paying a known child-molester to, in part, counsel residents, including children.
I remember attending a press conference in front of the State of Illinois building in Chicago regarding a lawsuit Stepek had filed against two of men who had accused him – brothers who he had molested as children. That was in 2009. He charged defamation. Of course, the lawsuit was thrown out of court but, even back then, it was known that Stepek had been working for the city of Burbank.
Now, according to the archdiocese, the Vatican, which had been apparently reviewing the Stepek case all this time (“the Church moves in centuries, not years,” so I have been told by insiders) has decided there isn’t enough evidence against Stepek to keep him out of ministry or laicize him. In other words, he’s good to go as far as the Church is concerned, not unlike Burbank.
The council at the Vatican which instructed Cardinal George on what to do with Stepek found that the pastor-turned-grief counselor had “engaged in behaviors inappropriate for a priest”.
The self-described wise men near Rome have determined Robert Stepek acted inappropriately but that he didn’t molest kids. So, what did he do that was inappropriate? Because of the vague statement by the Vatican, one can only surmise.
My guess is that the inappropriate behavior was breaking the rule of forced celibacy and, maybe, getting caught. It has been estimated that has many as 80% of priests have also broken their ridiculous vows to remain celibate. However, in the Roman Church, it’s not so much what you do but whether or not your sins (and crimes) are publicly exposed. It’s all about public perception and maintaining power, authority, and big monetary donations.
Last year, I spoke at a press conference regarding a different molesting priest in a different diocese. In that case, the Vatican (under Joseph Ratzinger) explained that the reason this particular credibly-accused child molester was still performing ministerial duties was because the victim was over age of consent (according to Church policy at the time of the crimes). The boy was 16.
It’s pretty clear that the men who run the Roman Catholic Church – at the Vatican and all over the globe – just don’t see much wrong with middle-aged or elderly men in positions of power molesting children – teen or toddlers, boys or girls. For lack of a better word, the majority of men in the Roman Catholic hierarchy are weird. They are not normal. They do not think like the rest of humanity no matter what part of the world you look. What is “inappropriate” for them is normal to everyone else.
But, what is acceptable to them is outrageous to any rational adult – the mayor and police chief of Burbank, Illinois not included.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this case. What do you think about the Vatican’s decision to reinstate Stepek? What do you think about Burbank employing him as a counselor? Please share your thoughts below.