The Rights of the Accused
[A]fter the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago removed Rev. Robert Stepek from the pulpit of St. Albert the Great in Burbank last month over the allegations, the priest decided that the best way to clear his name was to sue his accusers.
Last week, Stepek joined a handful of Catholic priests who have sought to prove in a court of law that the abuse accusations against them are false. He also appealed to the Vatican for a reversal of his removal from the ministry.
Victims advocates condemn such lawsuits as a threat that will discourage survivors of clergy sexual abuse from coming forward.Speaking of the latter, more tribunals on these shores are in the offing.
Stepek's suit is "a hardball legal tactic that is unbecoming of an alleged spiritual figure," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"Stepek is simply trying to intimidate other witnesses and victims," she said. "Just because a priest has a legal right to sue others, he doesn't have a moral right to do so."
But experts predict that more priests will turn to the civil courts as dioceses increasingly agree to settle claims out of court and remove accused priests from ministry without going to trial.
"The priests feel they are getting no hearing, no real defense, or real opportunity to defend themselves in the church," said Joseph Maher, president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a Detroit non-profit organization whose Latin name means "work for the good of the priesthood."
"They actually feel they are treated more justly and fairly in the civil realm than they are in the church realm," he said.