Stephen E. Jeselnick
Diocese: Diocese of Erie
From the Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:
Father Stephen E. Jeselnick began service in the Diocese of Erie in May 1977, and it is unclear when he officially retired.
A review of the Diocese’s files on Jeselnick reflected no abuse of children under the age of 18 and therefore he was not reportable under the guidelines established by the Church in 2002. This “Charter for the Protection of Young Children and Young People” was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Jeselnick’s file only listed two known victims and both were over the age of legal adulthood.
The same cannot be said, however, for three of Jeselnick’s victims who were not included in the Diocese’s files. The Grand Jury heard in-person testimony from three members of a family who each testified to their abuse at the hands of Jeselnick. Their accounts of Jeselnick’s abuse included genital fondling, oral, and anal sex. This occurred in the late 1970’s when Jeselnick was stationed at St. Brigid in Meadville. All three men and several of their sisters testified that Jeselnick and a previously unidentified Deacon would come to their house and get intoxicated with their parents. Once the adults were sufficiently drunk, Jeselnick would find the boys, who were usually alone, and prey upon them. The three men testified that their mother worked for the parish and would sometimes take the boys to work with her. Jeselnick would sexually violate them both at home and on church grounds, and this abuse still haunts them to this day.
No record of this family’s abuse were located in the Diocesan files because the abuse was never reported to the Diocese and these victims only came forward in 2017. When they did come forward, the Diocese directed them to the Crawford County District Attorney’s Office. In early 2017, both the Diocese and its law firm had been notified that any and all incoming child sexual assault cases were to be referred to the attention of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. However, it was only after a family member reached out to a local newspaper reporter that they were referred to the Office of Attorney General.
In 2014 the newly appointed Bishop of Erie, Lawrence Persico, received a letter from Jeselnick requesting a letter of suitability for ministry. 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.
Additional information regarding the widespread sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania and the systemic cover up by senior church officials is compiled in the Pennsylvania Diocese Victim’s Report published by the Pennsylvania Attorney General following a two-year grand jury investigation. A complete copy of the Report is available on the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website.