It's suit vs. suit in priest case Accusers counter cleric's legal move
Two weeks after a Roman Catholic priest filed a defamation lawsuitagainst two brothers who said he sexually abused them, an attorney forthe alleged victims struck back Wednesday by suing the priest and theChicago archdiocese.
Rev. Robert Stepek, former pastor of St. Albert the Great Churchin Burbank, was removed from ministry last month after an archdiocesanreview board determined there was reasonable cause to suspect thatsexual abuse of minors occurred. Shortly after his removal, Stepekfiled a $4 million lawsuit against his accusers, stating that thesexual abuse allegations were false andretaliation for disagreementsbetween the priest and the two men.
According to Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP),Stepek is one of about a dozen priests who have sued their accusers.But victim advocates said the countersuit is believed to be the firstever filed in the U.S. against clergy. The suit filed in Cook CountyCircuit Court states that Stepek's actions have led the two accusers"to suffer severe and permanent emotional distress, embarrassment, lossof self-esteem and loss of religious faith." The suit also states thatany damage suffered by Stepek was not caused by the accusers but by thearchdiocese, which permitted confidential abuse information to becomepublic.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the accusers, said heis calling on Cardinal Francis George to order Stepek to withdraw hislawsuit and cease and desist from all further action until Vaticanproceedings in his case conclude.
"We took this action because the cardinal has been so woefullysilent," Anderson said during a news conference in his downtown Chicagolaw office. "The cardinal has the power to step in and stop Stepek. Heshould not allow these victims to be re-victimized."
In a statement released Tuesday by the archdiocese, ChancellorJimmy Lago said that last month following publicity about the matter,the cardinal instructed his counsel to write to the attorneys in thecase and ask them not to do anything that would undermine the process."However, we regret that the cardinal's advice and offer of assistancehave not been taken," Lago said in the statement.
Lago also wrote in the statement: "We cannot prevent anyone fromseeking redress from the courts and acknowledge that they have theright to do so. From time to time, persons bringing allegations againsta priest of the archdiocese of Chicago have chosen to bring their casesto the civil courts as well. The archdiocese respects those decisions."
In response to the lawsuit filed by the victims, Lago issuedanother statement Wednesday saying: "The archdiocese regrets whenanyone files a lawsuit in a misconduct matter, whether the person isclaiming abuse or acting in defense of a claim." Lago said thearchdiocese had notreviewed the new lawsuit. .
Phillip J. Zisook, Stepek's attorney, said he had not reviewed thelawsuit either. But Zisook said the idea that a person can destroysomeone's good name through false accusations and be left withoutremedy is "unconscionable."
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.Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia