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Catholic priest implicated in Pennsylvania child sex abuse report served in multiple Colorado parishes after alleged abuse
It’s become a tragically familiar story: a priest is accused of molesting minors—or even admits it to other clergy—and instead of being removed from ministry, is simply transferred to another location. This was the case with Stephen Edward Jeselnick, a priest named in the shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report that exposed more than 300 abusers.
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According to the report, Jeselnick was working in Pennsylvania in the late 70s when he allegedly sexually assaulted 3 brothers. The 3 victims, now adults, have testified that the abuse involved repeated incidents both that their home and the church. He was later transferred to Colorado and served there in the early 80s before becoming an Air Force chaplain. During his time in Colorado, the diocese says they never received any complaint against him.
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The grand jury report reveals that in 2014, Jeselnick sought a letter of recommendation from the bishop of Eerie, Pennsylvania. “After reviewing his file and doing an internet search, Persico denied Jeselnick’s faculties as a priest and informed him that he will never again be granted permission to serve in public ministry,” the report states.
The bishop’s stance may have been prompted by a 2008 news item about a man who reported that Jeselnick sexually assaulted him in 1980, when the two were both young adults. The man ultimately sued Jeselnick and won a settlement.
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The three brothers came forward only in 2017. Sadly, the state’s statute of limitations has expired, and it is now too late to prosecute Jeselnick. He is currently retired from the air force and living in Colorado.
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This story reveals the nationwide implications of the Pennsylvania report: Many priests identified in it have served (and potentially harmed minors) in many other states.
The incident is also a reminder of the large amounts of time that can pass between an act of child sex abuse and the victim’s coming forward—in this case, decades. Survivors feel shame and often blame themselves for what happened, making it difficult to tell their story. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, with its hundreds of victim accounts, is one step toward showing these victims they are not alone.
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Although Jeselnick is currently safe from legal proceedings, if the statute of limitations were changed or lifted, he could potentially be prosecuted. Victim advocates around the country have called for statutes of limitations to be extended or done away with so that cases like this one can finally be brought to justice.
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