Ex-priest accused in PA grand jury report denies allegations, survivors’ group reacts

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a lengthy article about a former priest in the Diocese of Erie who disputes what is reported about him in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. SNAP, the oldest and largest support group for survivors of clergy abuse, takes strong issue with the priest’s denial that he abused anyone.

Former clergyman Stephen does not appear to deny that he had sex with at least two men during his time as a Catholic priest. We do not know if both were parishioners, but Kevin McParland belonged to then Father Jeselnick’s church. Kevin came from a devout Catholic family, and was particularly vulnerable to the priest’s inappropriate touching because his beloved father was very ill.  

Children raised in the Catholic faith are taught to trust and obey their priests. The inherent power of the clergy’s exalted position is recognized in a handful of states, and sexual relationships between a priest and a parishioner are considered criminal because of the severe harm that can be inflicted on the victim.

In our eyes, Kevin was certainly abused by Father Jeselnick, even if he was 20 years old at the time. The young man suffered greatly because the clergyman failed to maintain appropriate boundaries, and will continue to struggle with the effects of this abuse for the rest of his life.

The Diocese of Erie recognized Kevin’s injuries and supported him for many years as he worked on his recovery. The survivor also received a small settlement and an acknowledgement of his suffering from Father Jeselnick. We would also like to point out that Bishop Lawrence Persico permanently removed Father Jeselnick from ministry in 2014, long before the PA grand jury convened.

With respect to the allegations of child sexual abuse, we obviously have no firsthand knowledge. However, we know that false allegations are extremely rare. We also know that it is also not at all unusual for survivors to take decades to come forward, especially those who may have repressed the memory of the abuse. The average age of disclosure is 52. Moreover, as we saw in the recent case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, it is not unknown for clergymen who prey on vulnerable adults to also abuse minors.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is still taking information from survivors, witnesses, and whistle blowers. If anyone has information that would shed light on the allegations against Father Jeselnick, we urge them to call the AG’s Hotline (1-888-538-8541).

To ensure that all evidence of abuse is heard in open court in the future, we also beg Pennsylvanians to support the removal of statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse, both criminal and civil. For those survivors who are already beyond the SOL, like Kevin and those men who alleged Father Jeselnick abused them as children, we also implore concerned citizens in the state to support an open civil window, such as was adopted in Guam.

CONTACT: Melanie Sakoda, SNAP California (melanie.sakoda@gmail.com, 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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