Joliet Diocese Did Not Detail Priest's Past, Hospital Says
By Stacy St. Clair and Christy Gutowski
April 4, 2013
The Joliet Diocese acknowledges church officials allowed a Roman Catholic priest to serve as a hospital chaplain even though the bishop declared him unfit for parish ministry because of "inappropriate behavior" with a boy years earlier.
The Rev. Thomas Corbino was not charged with a crime, but Bishop R. Daniel Conlon placed him on "restricted ministry" in 2012 and barred him from having unsupervised interactions with children before he became a part-time volunteer chaplain at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, a diocese spokesman said.
The hospital fired Corbino on Tuesday after learning about the misconduct allegation against him, Central DuPage spokesman Christopher King said. The diocese had not mentioned the allegation when it recommended him for the volunteer post, King said.
"The information that we received on Tuesday was very concerning," King said. "It was new to us, and we dismissed him that afternoon."
Corbino could not be reached for comment.
Corbino transferred to the hospital after a former parishioner at St. Irene Catholic Church in Warrenville accused the priest of touching him inappropriately, taking pictures of him and forcing him to try on clothes in front of the priest as a boy. A diocese review board ruled Corbino engaged in "inappropriate behavior" but found no credible evidence of a crime, church spokesman James Dwyer said.
Dwyer denied the diocese kept the hospital in the dark about Corbino's background. During his brief time at Central DuPage, he was under the supervision of the hospital's head of chaplain services and not allowed to have unsupervised contact with children, according to the diocese.
"The (hospital) administration at the time did know of the circumstances," Dwyer said. "This was inappropriate behavior that never rose to the level of sexual abuse of a minor."
Hospital officials said they became aware of the allegation Tuesday when the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — a national organization that monitors the handling of such allegations — urged Central DuPage to remove Corbino.
"We're glad Corbino's been removed, but patients, parishioners and the public are still owed some straight answers about this troubling situation," SNAP President Barbara Blaine said.
Blaine blasted the diocese's position barring Corbino from parish work but not hospital ministry.
"This is outrageous," she said. "You have an adult who is a priest who is in a position of power and trust over those who are vulnerable. I think he should find another job."
Documents obtained by the Tribune show Conlon received the allegation against Corbino in 2011 and immediately forwarded the claim to prosecutors in keeping with guidelines established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops following a national priest sex abuse scandal.
Nearly a year later, in April 2012, Corbino announced his departure from St. Pius X in Lombard, saying he expected to transfer to another church. His farewell letter did not reference the misconduct allegation.
Corbino's dismissal comes weeks after the diocese relinquished secret files maintained on 16 of 34 priests with substantiated allegations against them, as part of a legal settlement. The diocese does not count Corbino among those priests with credible accusations against them because it said his actions "did not rise to the level of sexual abuse of a minor."
The files, which the Tribune has obtained, detail how the diocese purposefully shielded priests, misled parishioners and left children unprotected for more than a half-century.
Though the Joliet Diocese's past mishandling of pedophile priests has been well-documented, the records offer the most complete portrait of the indifference that greeted allegations almost since the district's inception in 1948. The errors span more than six decades and involve three bishops, 91 places of worship and more than 100 victims.
The files also include evidence of abusive priests being transferred to hospital chapels after being accused of inappropriate behavior.
The files show the Rev. Philip Dedera faced a steady stream of allegations over more than two decades in the diocese. In the mid-1990s, then-Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch removed him from a parish in Momence and sent him to a treatment center for sexual disorders. When the diocese later placed him in a job at Edward , a diocese official told him to seek advice about his new post from the Rev. Gary Berthiaume, whom the diocese made a chaplain at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.
Berthiaume, an old acquaintance of Imesch, had served prison time in Michigan for a child molestation conviction.
When the priest scandal engulfed the church in 2002, Imesch was forced to remove several priests from ministry, including Dedera. The move drew a pointed response from Edward's head chaplain, who wrote a letter citing feelings of "anger and betrayal" that Imesch placed Dedera there without telling her of his problems.
"What troubles me most is the stance of the Catholic Church about these matters. Why is it that when priests are involved in alcoholism and/or sexual misconduct, the church gets help for them and makes the determination that they are not fit for the parish? But the church turns around and makes the judgment that they are suited for ministry in the hospitals and nursing homes (supposedly because they are more supervised). Yet such places are filled with vulnerable people," wrote the Rev. Shelly Bergstrom, a Baptist minister. "This makes no sense to me and the practice should stop."
As for Corbino, it's possible the diocese may try to reassign him in the future, Dwyer said. "I don't know, he may be involved in some other kind of ministry under supervision, but it won't be inside of a parish," Dwyer said.