|Local Parish, Domicans Face Sex-Abuse Lawsuit
October 27, 2007
CHICAGO (STNG) — A 40-year-old man is suing a west suburban parish as well as the Dominican order of priests after being molested by a former teacher more than 25 years ago.
Joseph D. Bitterman was a "devout Catholic" and served as an altar boy at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in River Forest when he was in school there, according to a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court.
A Dominican friar, named in the suit as Brother Gilbert Hensley, worked for the parish and was responsible for training altar boys and scheduling them for Mass.
Hensley worked at St. Vincent Ferrer in the '70s and '80s, according to a statement from Fr. Michael Mascari, Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Albert the Great on Saturday.
Hensley allegedly sexually abused Bitterman on at least four occasions, engaging in acts such as sodomy and oral sex, the suit said. The suit claims Bitterman "repressed" these memories until July 2004.
Bitterman is accusing the Dominican Fathers, the Dominicans of the province of St. Albert the Great, the Dominican order of preachers and St. Vincent Ferrer Parish of knowing about Hensley's sexual deviance and failing to do anything to stop it.
Mascari said the order has yet to see the complaint that was filed, but are aware of the allegations. The friar has denied the allegations.
"As a precaution, and to ensure that no children are placed at risk, the friar was removed immediately from all public ministry and is in a supervised environment where he is never alone with minors. This arrangement will continue until we have determined whether these allegations can be substantiated," Mascari said. "What complicates all of this is the sharp divergence of views among psychiatrists and psychologists as to the reliability of recovered memories."
The suit claims Bitterman was not the only boy molested by the priest and teacher, and that it was "widely-known" around the parish and the Dominican order that Hensley suffered a broken jaw after attempting to molest a 17-year-old boy who then attacked him.
Father Brice, Hensley's supervisor, was also molesting boys, according to the suit.
Bitterman says, according to the suit, that he admired and respected Hensley and due to his position in the church, Bitterman failed to report the abuse because he was unaware that the acts were wrongful.
The parishes and religious order allowed Hensley to keep his position within the church—around young people daily—knowing that he was a pedophile with "exploitative impulses and behavior." Bitterman claims he would never have been molested had the organizations acted when they found out about Hensley's sexual disorder.
"I wish to assure that my Dominican brothers and I hold every person as precious and worthy of our protection and care," Mascari said. "This is especially true of the children and young people whom we serve in ministry."
Bitterman is suing for more than $300,000 for the emotional distress and psychological issues he continues to suffer from the abuse, as well as court costs and medical expenses associated with therapy and counseling.
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