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Published: Tuesday, 7/19/2005

Convicted priest living in church apartment

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Rogers Rogers
DIOCESE DIRECTORY Enlarge

A Roman Catholic priest and former high school teacher who served 21 months in prison is back in the same church-owned apartment at Toledo's Corpus Christi University Parish where federal agents seized child pornography in a raid in December, 2002.

Stephen G. Rogers, 57, listed the apartment at 2963 Dorr St. as his residence after getting out of prison May 5 and registering as a sexually oriented offender with the Lucas County sheriff's department.

The apartment behind Corpus Christi University Parish, across from the University of Toledo, is owned by the Toledo diocese but is a private residence and not a tax-exempt church rectory, said Sally Oberski, director of communications for the diocese. She said Rogers' rental agreement was approved by Bishop Leonard Blair and federal law-enforcement officials.

"Upon his release in May Stephen Rogers complied with all of the necessary requirements for registering as a sexually oriented offender," Ms. Oberski said in a statement.

While Toledo diocesan officials barred Rogers from the ministry after his arrest, the priest has remained on the Toledo diocese's payroll - even during his prison term. He will receive his last paycheck this month, Ms. Oberski said, because he has a full-time job.

Claudia Vercellotti, local co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims' advocacy group, questioned the bishop's decision to let Rogers return to a diocesan apartment about 100 yards from a busy church. Corpus Christi caters to UT students, but holds some events for young children, including a high-school music festival last month and a "Li'l Sibs' Weekend" in April.

"The U.S. bishops set a high standard when they adopted a zero-tolerance policy for sex offenders, and it's time for Bishop Blair's actions to match his words," Ms. Vercellotti said yesterday.

"Moving a convicted sexu-ally-oriented offender back on church property sends a very dangerous message to the community and to the parishioners at Corpus Christi," she said. "It is critical to err on the side of keeping kids safe. Common sense should prevail here."

Ms. Vercellotti also challenged the diocese's decision to keep an imprisoned sexually oriented offender on the payroll after announcing in May, 2004, it was laying off 11 people because of budget woes.

Rogers, a native of Sandusky, was ordained in 1995 and served at St. Peter Parish in Mansfield, Ohio, before he was assigned to Toledo's Central Catholic High School in 1997, where he taught religion and was associate pastor of the school.

In December, 2002, U.S. Customs agents seized a computer, 112 computer disks, 43 videotapes, two books, and a bag of photos from the priest's Dorr Street apartment.

Officials said Rogers subscribed to a child pornography Web site on the Internet from Dec. 23, 1998, to June 27, 2001.

Although Rogers remains a priest pending a decision on laicization from the Vatican, he cannot celebrate Mass or serve the sacraments to anyone but himself, nor is he allowed to present himself as a priest to the public.

Yesterday was Rogers' first day at work as volunteer coordinator for Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity. The full-time, paid position centers on organizing volunteer labor for the nonprofit Christian housing agency that builds affordable homes for needy families.

Chuck Thayer, executive director of Maumee Valley Habitat, said Rogers' job will not put him in unsupervised contact with children and that 98 percent of volunteers are 18 or older.

Because construction work can be dangerous, no one under 14 is allowed to volunteer at Habitat projects, he said, adding that insurance companies require close supervision of anyone 14 to 18 years old.

Rogers' parole officer approved him for the new job, and the local Habitat chapter's executive board was aware of Rogers' conviction, discussed it at length, interviewed him several times, and ultimately decided that "he was the right person for the job," Mr. Thayer said. "Steve has made a mistake and he has paid for that mistake, and is trying to get on with his life now."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com or

419-724-6154.



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