AG charges former Farmington priest with sexual assault of minor
By Jonathan Shead
October 20, 2020
|A former Archdiocese of Detroit priest has been charged by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel for the alleged sexual assault of a minor in 1977 at the rectory of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Farmington.|
Photo by Jonathan Shead
FARMINGTON — A former Farmington priest has been charged with one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, a charge that carries a possible 15-year prison sentence, by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Nessel brought charges against Gary Berthiaume, 78, who is charged with sexually assaulting a minor in 1977 at the rectory of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, 23815 Power Road, while he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. The victim reported being 14 years old at the time the alleged sexual actions took place.
The presumptive charges came forward as part of Nessel’s continued investigation into sexual abuse within the seven Catholic dioceses across Michigan.
Berthiaume was arrested at his home in Warrendale, Illinois, Sept. 29, and faces extradition to Farmington, where charges were authorized. Oakland County court records indicate attorney James Lawson, of Illinois, will represent Berthiaume. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper will serve as the plaintiff.
Lawson could not be reached for comment by press time.
These charges are not the first Berthiaume has faced. The priest was arrested in 1977 for sexual assault on two other minors in Michigan.
According to Oakland County court records, Berthiaume was arrested on Oct. 28, 1977. He was charged then, as well as now, with second-degree sexual misconduct. On Feb. 7, 1978, Berthiaume pleaded for gross indecency between males. Berthiaume was sentenced March 16, 1978, to serve five years of probation, with the six months served in Oakland County Jail.
After serving his jail time, Berthiaume was transferred to the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio. He moved again, in 1987, to the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois.
“My office’s investigation into clergy abuse will continue to receive, review and act upon credible allegations of abuse on behalf of the many victims who have come forward,” Nessel said in a statement. “Criminal sexual conduct at any level must not be tolerated, and we must ensure justice is served to those who assault others — particularly those authority figures and people in powerful positions who prey on the weak and vulnerable.”
Press spokesperson for the Michigan AG office Ryan Jarvi said in an email that Nessel’s office was unable to comment any further on the charges, given the ongoing nature of the litigation.
Representatives from Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church declined to comment, requesting the Archdiocese of Detroit be contacted instead.
“The Archdiocese of Detroit learned today of the arrest of Gary Berthiaume, a former priest who served in southeast Michigan in the 1970s. As a general practice, the archdiocese does not comment on pending criminal matters,” a statement reads on the Archdiocese of Detroit website.
The archdiocese’s statement urges anyone with knowledge of clergy abuse to contact their local law enforcement department or the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. A 24/7 victim assistance hotline is available through the archdiocese by calling (866) 343-8055 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There are no time limits or restrictions on individuals wishing to report abuse,” the statement concludes.
The AG’s office has seized more than 1.5 million paper documents and 3.5 million electronic documents through search warrants executed in October 2018 as part of Nessel’s ongoing investigation. Her investigation has resulted in criminal charges being filed against 11 individuals with ties to the Catholic Church, including Berthiaume.
Nessel reminded people that a criminal charge is only an allegation. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. For more information on Nessel’s investigation into clergy abuse, visit michigan.gov/ag.