Daily Southtown [Joliet IL]
February 23, 2006
On Aug. 11, 2005, Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch answered questions for five hours about how he and other Catholic Church officials handled reports of priests engaging in sexual misconduct with minors.
A judge's ruling in February made a 247-page transcript of the deposition available to the public.
Imesch was questioned by Minneapolis attorney Jeff Anderson, who has sued more than half the nation's dioceses on behalf of clergy abuse victims.
Anderson questioned Imesch about the Rev. Gary Berthiaume, who served at the same parish as Imesch in the Archdiocese of Detroit. In 1977,
Berthiaume was convicted of sexually abusing a young boy, then later transferred to the Cleveland Diocese before being accepted by Imesch into the Joliet Diocese in 1987.
Imesch testified he didn't believe the allegation against his associate until Berthiaume admitted to him that he had molested the boy.
IMESCH: "As far as I can remember I think Gary admitted to me that he had done it before the conviction."
Anderson asked Imesch why he didn't share that information with the police.
ANDERSON: "If he had told you that he had committed the offense against the child, isn't that evidence of the crime?"
IMESCH: "That's a job for the police. I'm not going to get involved in that. That's not my responsibility."
Later, Anderson questioned Imesch about repeatedly transferring the Rev. Larry Gibbs to other parishes and asked about the bishop's definition of a credible allegation of abuse.
ANDERSON: "And when you put him in that parish you didn't alert the parishioners where you assigned him that he had had a credible allegation of sexual abuse, did you?"
IMESCH: "I don't think that's a credible allegation if nothing was charged."
Anderson proceeded to cite police reports that Gibbs went skinny dipping and played games with nude 11-year-old boys.
IMESCH: "Well, I think what happened happened. It was not considered a crime or a criminal activity so there was no reason for me not to transfer him."
When Anderson questioned Imesch about the diocesan review board and who was responsible for determining whether an allegation was credible, Imesch shifts responsibility for the decision onto the review board.
IMESCH: "I'm saying they are more than consultive. What they say I do."
ANDERSON: "It is correct to say that you knowingly continued priests in ministry until the charter required their removal and you knew that credible allegations had been made against those clergymen, correct?"
Anderson questioned Imesch about the Rev. Fred Lenczycki, who was convicted in 2004 of abusing altar boys at a Hinsdale parish in 1987.
IMESCH: "It was inappropriate behavior, but I'm not sure that it was ever classified as sexual abuse."
Anderson pressed the bishop to elaborate.
ANDERSON: "In other words, if the police report it to be sexual abuse and prosecute it, then's it's sexual abuse? If they don't it's not?"
IMESCH: "That would be what I follow, yeah."
ANDERSON: "So if a priest is not prosecuted as far as you're concerned that's - it's not a credible allegation?"
IMESCH: "That's what I would follow."
Anderson asked Imesch about priests that he placed in ministries after the clerics had undergone counseling following reports of inappropriate sexual conduct.
ANDERSON: "If you were satisfied that it occurred then why didn't you remove the priest from ministry?"
IMESCH: "A number of priests received therapy and were given a green light, if you want, to be returned to restricted ministry."
The bishop testified that he sometimes informed other religious people about an offender's past and instructed them to monitor the priest's conduct, though he couldn't recall following up to see whether his orders were carried out.
ANDERSON: "If they're in active ministry wearing a Roman collar given the ability to minister the sacraments and serve as a priest publicly, is it anything that you can do as a bishop and their ultimate superior to prevent them from using their collar to locate and access youth?"
ANDERSON: "So that when you continued those priests in ministry you made a decision to take a risk."
IMESCH: "Sure. It was a risk but with a solid basis for it."
Anderson later questioned Imesch about a Joliet priest who was identified by police as the chief suspect in the homicide of a young man in the late 1980s.
ANDERSON: "If a suspicion of homicide isn't enough to remove and investigate the fitness of
to serve in ministry, what is enough?"
IMESCH: "Suspicion is not enough to remove someone. That's a police job to investigate. If they had found him guilty or said they were sure this is the man, I would have said OK."
ANDERSON: "The bottom line, bishop, is that if the police didn't charge him and convict him you weren't going to remove him, right?"
Later, Anderson asked about then-chancellor the Rev. Roger Kaffer's investigation into a parishioner's report that she saw the Rev. Ed Stefanich and a young girl "necking." The report was made to the diocese in 1985, two years before Stefanich's abuse of another girl was uncovered.
ANDERSON: "Before Christmas 1985 Bishop Kaffer confronted Father Stefanich about the allegations but the priest denied them, correct?"
Later, Imesch was asked about the claims involving the second girl that led to Stefanich's conviction.
ANDERSON: "At the time he went to jail that changed the practice of the diocese. How so?"
IMESCH: "We found out he lied."
The bishop testified that he believed advising the girl's mother to send her daughter to a counselor was the same as going public with an accusation about a priest, since he believed the counselor would be required to report the allegation to civil authorities.
ANDERSON: "Did you give any thought to reporting the information that was in your possession and the possession of Bishop Kaffer and the diocese to turning it over to law enforcement to investigate?"
IMESCH: "I would not do that. There is no verification. There is no hard evidence that this was happening. And I'm not going to say, hey, police, go check on my priest."
Anderson and Imesch exchanged words about whether the diocese should have made the allegations about Stefanich public sooner, which might have encouraged other victims to come forward.
IMESCH: "Who were the other victims of Father Ed?"
ANDERSON: "Well, bishop, if you don't go looking, you don't go finding."
Later, Imesch said he didn't recall telling "Gospel of Shame" author Elinor Burkett in 1992 that the Woodridge girl "was a little Lolita who is now trying to milk as much money out of you or the church as possible."
Burkett used the line in her book.
IMESCH: "I would say that is so far from my feelings and my words that I will say Elinor Burkett is a liar, that I never said this in my life."
Anderson asked Imesch about the cache of weapons that police discovered in Stefanich's rectory upon his arrest.
ANDERSON: "Stefanich was a possessor of firearms and kind of a gun freak?"
IMESCH: "I wouldn't call him a gun freak. I mean people collecting guns are not necessarily gun freaks."
ANDERSON: "Did you ever make any effort in 1987 or at any time as the bishop for the diocese of Joliet to get to the bottom of what he really did with guns and what the nature and purpose of his collection was?"
Again on the issue of the credibility of an allegation, Anderson asked about claims alleged to have occurred years ago, whether the diocese would consider them credible considering the lack of criminal charges due the passage of time.
IMESCH: "It was so long ago that law enforcement is not going to do anything about that."
ANDERSON: "What leads you to that opinion?"
IMESCH: "From other situations that have occurred. They just don't pay attention if it's long ago."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.