4 Priests Protected by Bishop
Deposition Reveals Imesch Found Jobs for Abusive Clerics
By Crystal Yednak
February 4, 2006
Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch said a priest he worked with in Michigan had confided that he sexually abused an altar boy there, but Imesch felt no obligation to tell authorities who were investigating the incident, according to a 2005 deposition.
In the deposition, which was unsealed this week, Imesch adds new details to the record of how he and the Catholic Diocese of Joliet handled several priests accused of abuse.
The Michigan priest, Rev. Gary Berthiaume, admitted the abuse to Imesch after he was arrested but before he was convicted of molesting the boy, according to the deposition. Berthiaume was sentenced to 6 months in prison in 1978.
Years later, Imesch invited him to work at a retreat house in the Joliet diocese.
Asked in the deposition why he didn't report Berthiaume's admission to police, Imesch said:
"Well, I don't think that was my responsibility. He is charged with a crime. He has to be given a trial. My going to the police doesn't have anything to do with whether he's guilty or not."
The deposition is part of a lawsuit filed by a man who alleges another priest, Rev. Edward Stefanich, sexually abused him in the 1960s. The 268-page document had been sealed, but the Tribune and the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault asked that it be released and DuPage County Judge Stephen Culliton ruled to unseal it on Thursday.
The diocese fought to keep the document from being made public, arguing its release allows the case to be tried in the media before any ruling could be made on evidence.
On Friday, the diocese referred all questions to a spokesman, who said church officials had no new comment.
Imesch, 74, who has been bishop in Joliet for 26 years, has come under scrutiny in the past for his handling of sex abuse allegations. In the deposition, Imesch conceded that after he received credible allegations of priests' misconduct, he allowed at least four priests to continue in the ministry.
Berthiaume was one. After his conviction, Berthiaume worked in Cleveland for a time before Imesch brought him to Joliet, according to the deposition. Imesch said he restricted Berthiaume from dealing with young people.
But Berthiaume also served as a chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. After media reports revealed Berthiaume was serving at the hospital, he was removed in April 2002.
Imesch insisted in the deposition that there had been situations since 2002 in which the diocese referred abuse allegations to civil or law enforcement authorities. But under questioning, he was not able to provide any specifics.
When Imesch was asked the name of one priest he had reported to authorities, he said he didn't remember. That started a contentious back-and-forth between Imesch and attorney Jeff Anderson.
" ... I'm struggling with why you can't remember who it would be in connection with ... " Anderson said.
"Well, I certainly couldn't give you all the names and I'm not going to dwindle them out one by one," Imesch said in the deposition. "You expect me to remember every allegation that came. That's--maybe you can do that. I can't."
Imesch then said he had other things going on at the time.
"What other things do you have going on that are more important than bringing this--an allegation of sexual abuse to a priest--by a priest to the police?" Anderson asked.
"The death of a priest," Imesch answered.
"OK. Besides that," Anderson said.
"The death of a parent," Imesch said.
"OK. Besides that," Anderson said.
"And (sic) altercation in a parish," Imesch said.
"What kind of altercation is more important than reporting sexual abuse to law enforcement?" Anderson asked.
Imesch also disclosed that another priest, Rev. Anthony J. Ross, admitted to him that he had abused a boy. Again, Imesch said he did not report the information to police. The abuse allegedly took place in the early 1980s.
"In this particular instance I know that the couple (the parents) did not want any publicity," Imesch said.
Ross continued to write to the boy, according to the deposition. The parents met with Imesch about the priest's letters.
In 1993, Ross was transferred to the diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif., where he served in detention ministry. After church officials there learned of his past problems, Ross was suspended, said Deirdre Frontczak, a spokeswoman for the Santa Rosa diocese.
Ross requested a canonical trial, which resulted in church officials permanently suspending him from serving as a priest, she said.
Also unsealed Thursday along with the deposition were reports from parishioners that the diocese received in 1979. One was from the parents of a 20-year-old woman who were concerned that Stefanich was seeing their daughter.
One confidential memo states the two had been seen "necking" in a parking lot. Parishioners were gossiping about the relationship. The diocese questioned Stefanich about it, but he denied anything was happening, according to the deposition.
In the mid-1980s, Stefanich became involved with a 14-year-old girl. After receiving reports about the relationship, the diocese asked Stefanich about it, but he denied anything was going on. The documents show that Stefanich was not suspended from his duties until his arrest on sexual abuse charges. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to criminal sexual abuse.
Also released with the deposition was a letter from one victim to Imesch in which the writer states that in the future, Imesch should support the decision of families to go to the police and should not tell the family to forgive the abuser.
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