Catholic Church

Holly Tonini/Observer-Reporter

The grand jury report released Tuesday includes summaries of the allegations against each priest, a handful of which are redacted because they have been appealed, and his parish assignments.

Two deceased priests, the Rev. Michael C. Romero and the Rev. Lawrence F. Stebler, who served in local parishes, were part of the report, as were several others.

Romero was a parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception church in Washington from February 1978 to July 1982, and the Rev. John Bauer held the same position at Immaculate Conception from October 1978 to January 1988.

Allegations of sexual abuse against Romero surfaced in 2012 and 2013 in phone calls made to the Diocese of Pittsburgh from the mother and girlfriend of a man who was a student at Immaculate Conception High School.

The mother stated Romero “bought her son all kinds of gifts, including a ski jacket. On one occasion many years later, her son came home for a visit “and knocked from a wall a picture of himself wearing the jacket, breaking it.”

She also reported Romero once took her son on a trip to Cleveland and gave him alcohol; he became so drunk he could not remember anything afterward. She stated her son was now a heavy drinker, and she believed it stemmed back to the sexual abuse and “his early exposure to alcohol by the priest.”

The son called the diocese in October 2013, identifying himself as an altar server at Immaculate Conception church while in grade school through freshman year of high school.

“He stated Romero would encourage him to drink wine after Mass before he returned to class. He also recalled that, on occasion, Romero also took him to the racetrack and bought him alcohol there; that the priest purchased a sweatsuit and asked him to change into it.”

According to the summary, Romero and Bauer would discuss masturbation “a lot in front of him and the other young boys.”

The victim was seeking assistance with counseling in Florida, where he lived, to deal with “repressed issues of sexual abuse.”

The caller stated he attributed “the majority of his problems with alcohol to his early exposure to alcohol by Romero and Bauer, who took him and two other students to a wrestling tournament in Columbus, Ohio.

They were all drinking alcohol as they drove, the victim said.

“The victim reported that Bauer would ‘wrestle’ with him but maintained that there was no genital contact. He found this to be strange that Bauer would want to wrestle with all the boys since he was not a wrestling coach or was not really involved in the wrestling program.”

Diocesan officials met with Bauer to address the allegations.

Bauer stated he recalled the victim as one of those who would work out in the “wrestling room,” often joining them because he found it to be a good workout.

Bauer initially denied making the trip to the wrestling tournament, but then recalled it. He denied providing the boys alcohol during their time in the car and suggested perhaps it was their own alcohol they were drinking, during which he was unaware.

“Bauer also suggested that the victim may have mistaken him for the deceased Romero, who was also assigned to the parish at the same time. Bauer stated that some of the boys would ask him to provide them alcohol but that he never did.”

The victim’s allegation was forwarded to the Washington County district attorney’s office Aug. 5, 2014.

District Attorney Gene Vittone said Tuesday evening he found a copy of the letter from a diocesan attorney, but it referenced only Romero, noting he died in 2000, but not Bauer.

It describes the time frame as the late 1970s and/or early 1980s.

As to the furnishing alcohol to a minor allegation, Vittone said, “It depends on when it occurred as to what the statute of limitations is and how old the minor is. The statutes have changed.”

Bauer remains in active ministry as pastor of St. Hugh and Our Lady of Consolation in Carmichaels, Greene County. The office is closed Tuesdays, and no one answered the phone.

During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said Bauer is still active in ministry because the allegations against him were “not child sexual abuse.”

The oldest allegation of local significance deals with the Rev. Lawrence F. Stebler, who died in 1997.

From 1963 to 1967, Stebler was assigned at St. Hilary, Washington. According to the summary, the Diocese of Pittsburgh received a report from a man who said when he was about 8 or 9 years old, he was sexually abused by Stebler when he was assigned to St. Hilary.

Stebler visited the boy’s home, where he would ask the boy’s parents if he could tuck him in at night.

In a written statement, the now-grown man recalled lying in bed as a child. Stebler would touch him from head to waist “and then lower than that.”

The child didn’t like the contact and asked Stebler what he was doing. The priest’s response was to lie quietly and not say anything.

“He said my mom and dad said it was OK and that he was blessing my organs,” the man recounted.

This went on for two or three years. He disclosed it to two priests who, he said, “basically told him not to discuss it further.” The documents do not mention the names of the two priests.

The victim’s therapist wrote in a 2006 letter to the diocese that “the sexual abuse has stunted the (male’s) emotional development to the point where he cannot emotionally connect with others, which subsequently leads to severe depression.”

The victim twice attempted suicide, and has flashbacks, one of the criteria for diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are diocesan records, according to the summary, that show $1,000 in payments made to the Village of St. Joseph Counseling Services for therapy sessions. An attorney notified the diocese that his firm was representing the victim.

“There was no mention of any pending litigation made at this time,” according to the report. On May 1, 2007, the attorney wrote to the diocese expressing disappointment that the firm had not received a response from the diocese.

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