SPRINGFIELD -- A priest who served the Sikeston parish until last fall was relieved of his duties this past weekend following an investigation of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Monsignor Stephen Schneider, who served as pastor of the St. Francis Xavier Parish from 2003 to 2005, was relieved of his duties as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle parish in Joplin as well as all diocesan duties. Bishop John J. Leibrecht, who oversees the diocese which includes St. Francis Xavier parish as well as St. Peter the Apostle parish, made the announcement to the Joplin congregation following Masses on Saturday and Sunday.
According to a news release issued by the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, an allegation of sexual misconduct was made in December. Leibrecht said in a telephone interview Monday, the diocese then notified the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, which is required by the policy of the diocese.
"After investigation, the authorities notified the diocese that the allegation did not meet the criteria for criminal prosecution," the news release stated. "The allegation was then brought to the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board whose deliberations led to the conclusion that Schneider had violated diocesan standards for conduct."
Leibrecht then informed Schneider, who has served as a priest since 1972, he could no longer function as the parish's pastor. According to the Bishop, Schneider has left the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese.
"He wanted to take time for himself, think things through and get some help and after that we will see what happens. We are definitely staying in contact with him and will try to assist him even as we are trying to assist the family (of the victim)," Leibrecht said.
The Bishop said the Diocese is providing counseling for the family which has requested to remain anonymous. Because of their request he would not say where the incident is alleged to have occurred or when it occurred.
"The family has asked me to do everything I can to make sure their anonymity was respected," he added. "They have gone through quite a bit and when they made that request of me I didn't know how to turn them down because it was helpful to them."
Leibrecht said while he personally delivered the message to the Joplin parish because they were losing their pastor, he expected other priests would address the issue this coming weekend. An interim administrator will be assigned to St. Peter the Apostle parish as soon as possible with a new pastor next August.
While no longer able to function as an active priest, Leibrecht explained Schneider remains in the priesthood. "We believe as Catholics when a man is ordained as a priest that the sacraments of holy orders mark him as a priest for the rest of his life," he said, adding Schneider will not be able to function as a pastor any more.
Schneider was associate pastor at St. Mary's Cathedral in Cape Girardeau until 1974, when he was named director of Sacred Heart House of Studies, a diocesan minor seminary, in Springfield, according to today's Southeast Missourian newspaper. Later, he served as pastor at St. John Catholic Church in Leopold. In August 1985, he was named pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jackson. In 1991, Schneider left the Jackson parish after being reassigned to Immaculate Conception parish in Springfield.