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  Worst Kept Secrets
Sexual Abuse Cases: Plenty of Public Information on 15 Joliet Diocese Priests

By Ted Slowik
Herald News
May 5, 2002

JOLIET — Prosecutors and investigators checking out claims of sexual misconduct by Joliet Diocese priests had plenty of public records to review even before the diocese agreed to share some information from sealed court files.

The Joliet Diocese is telling state's attorneys in Will and DuPage counties about 16 priests accused of wrongdoing dating back to 1970. The diocese says it's telling authorities about all priests accused of sexual misconduct.

"Determined or undetermined, credible or not credible, they will be turned over," diocesan attorney James Byrne said during a court hearing last week.

But cases involving at least 15 Joliet Diocese priests already have been documented in published reports, and some say the diocese isn't sharing claims made about priests by people who haven't also gone to authorities or taken civil action.

"They know a lot more than they're telling," said Joliet attorney Keith Aeschliman, who has represented several plaintiffs who filed civil suits against the diocese.

The Herald News has identified 15 priests associated with the diocese who have either been convicted or charged with sex crimes, named as defendants in civil lawsuits or recently removed from their ministries by their diocese because of past claims of inappropriate behavior.

The 15 are not all necessarily among the 16 that the diocese is telling prosecutors about. One priest, for example, admitted to having affairs with adult women and may therefore not be included in the diocese's report about clergy accused of having inappropriate contact with minors.

"There is other information and investigation records not covered by the protective order that can assist the state's attorney in any investigation. The records are the results from private investigations as well as from media coverage in 1993 to 1995 and even now," Byrne argued in a motion filed in late April.

State's attorneys in Will and DuPage counties and the Illinois State Police are investigating the claims. The Joliet Diocese covers DuPage, Will, Kankakee, Grundy, Kendall, Ford and Iroquois counties.

The 15 priests and former priests accused of sexual misconduct that have been publicly named in court documents or by the diocese are:

The Rev. Gary Berthiaume: Berthiaume served time in a Michigan prison in 1978 for molesting a 12-year-old altar boy. Bishop Joseph Imesch, leader of the Joliet Diocese, was pastor of Berthiaume's parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington Hills, Mich., when the boy was abused. Berthiaume later transferred to the Cleveland Diocese, which suspended him April 8.

In a 1999 lawsuit, an Ohio man accused Berthiaume and another priest of molesting him during the 1980s. Even though Berthiaume still answered to church officials in Ohio, he served in the Joliet Diocese since 1987. He served at St. Irene church and school in Warrenville until the early 1990s. He was a chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove for about 15 years until his suspension in April. He lives at the Cenacle, a Joliet Diocese retreat house in Warrenville.

The Rev. Phillip Dedera: Dedera, 56, ministered to youths in Romeoville. A St. Andrew's parishioner said Dedera was a "street priest" who spent a lot of time with boys who were not involved with the church.

After St. Andrew, Dedera served at St. Pius X in Lombard, Visitation in Elmhurst, St. Walter in Roselle, St. Scholastica in Woodridge, St. Mary in Paxton, and St. Patrick in Momence.

The Joliet Diocese said on April 12 that Dedera was suspended because of a recent allegation of sexual abuse made by a person now over 40 years old, and that the alleged abuse occurred when Dedera was at St. Andrew. The diocese said it first learned of the allegations on April 4. Dedera had been a chaplain for six years at Edward Hospital and for four years at St. Patrick Nursing Home, both in Naperville. Dedera is presently living outside the diocese, a diocesan official said.

The Rev. John Furdek: Furdek, 50, was arrested in February 2000 in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Racine County, Wis., on charges of enticement of a minor. Police said he possessed a small amount of marijuana, and anabolic steroids that he intended to sell to an investigator who posed online as a 14-year-old boy.

The sex charge was dropped, and a Wisconsin appellate court is considering a number of Internet-related cases against people who argue that authorities entrapped them.

At the time of his arrest, Furdek was pastor of St. Alexander's Church in Villa Park. Furdek is a graduate of Sacred Heart Grade School, Joliet Catholic Academy and the College of St. Francis. Furdek lives in Chicago.

The Rev. Lawrence M. Gibbs: Gibbs, 57, is the most notorious Joliet Diocese priest accused of sexual abuse. He was a defendant in lawsuits filed by three men represented by attorney Aeschliman, who claims Gibbs may have abused 100 or more boys.

The Gibbs case also provides the strongest evidence that Imesch reassigned a suspected child molester to other parishes where he abused other children.

Gibbs was ordained in 1973 and served at St. Ambrose in Crest Hill, parishes in Glen Ellyn and Lombard, St. Joseph in Lockport, St. Mary Immaculate in Plainfield, St. Joseph in Rockdale, and Ss. Peter and Paul in Naperville.

Glen Ellyn police first investigated Gibbs in 1978, but did not have sufficient evidence to arrest him.

The Herald News obtained documents from Gibbs' personnel file which show that church administrators had serious concerns about Gibbs' mental state before he even entered the priesthood. One wrote that Gibbs "shows signs of immaturity." Another "question(ed) his ability to function as a pastor."

On a psychiatric evaluation form for prospective priests, Gibbs responded to the question, "I am very strongly attracted by members of my own sex," by answering, "True."

Records indicate that diocesan officials also had evidence supporting their decision to ordain Gibbs. In a May 1971 letter to then-Bishop Romeo Blanchette, a psychiatrist wrote, "It is my opinion that Mr. Gibbs is capable of continuing in the priesthood from a psychiatric viewpoint."

Gibbs left the priesthood after the civil suits were filed in the early 1990s. He is married and lives in Woodstock in McHenry County.

The Rev. Carroll Howlin: Howlin, 67, taught at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, an all-boys high school near Lewis University in Romeoville. The seminary closed in 1981.

A man in his 40s told Will County prosecutors on April 22 that Howlin sexually abused him during a camping trip in Wisconsin in the 1970s. Another man's parents met with Imesch on April 9 and told the bishop that Howlin abused their son at the seminary and during a camping trip to Kentucky in 1975.

The diocese's two auxiliary bishops, the Rev. Roger Kaffer and James Fitzgerald, both headed the seminary at various times.

Howlin spent the last 25 years ministering in impoverished, rural Kentucky. The diocese announced April 16 that Howlin was suspended from his ministry pending further review. Howlin lives in Kentucky.

The Rev. Donald C. Kocher: Kocher, 66, was pastor of St. Isaac Jogues church and school in Hinsdale in 1984 when another priest was removed from the parish amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with minors.

In 1997, a 42-year-old married woman who worked at a Lombard parish with Kocher filed a civil lawsuit claiming she was fired after breaking off an affair with Kocher. In a deposition, Kocher admitted having affairs with about 12 adult women over a 20-year period.

Kocher served at three other parishes. He left the priesthood in the late 1990s. His last known address was in Kankakee County.

The Rev. Fred Lenczycki: Lenczycki, 57, was the priest accused in 1984 of inappropriate behavior with at least nine altar boys at St. Isaac Jogues in Hinsdale. DuPage County authorities investigated the claims at the time, but no family was willing to file a report with Hinsdale police.

In a 1997 civil lawsuit, a man claimed Lenczycki molested him in the rectory of the Hinsdale parish and that Kocher and other diocesan officials knew of Lenczycki's behavior. The diocese has said Lenczycki underwent several years of therapy and treatment for inappropriate behavior.

In 1992, Lenczycki began serving as a hospital chaplain in the St. Louis area. The Archdiocese of St. Louis said it first learned of Lenczycki's past behavior in late March, when it asked the Joliet Diocese that Lenczycki be sent back to Joliet. Administrators of the hospitals where Lenczycki ministered said they had no knowledge of the accusations until several weeks ago. The Joliet Diocese announced April 23 that Lenczycki was removed from his ministry.

The Rev. J. Anthony Meis: Meis, 65, was pastor of St. Mary and Joseph Parish in Chebanse from 1988-94, when he resigned because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in the late 1980s. Chebanse is about 10 miles south of Kankakee.

Meis underwent therapy for several months, but by December 1994, he became a chaplain at St. Anthony's Medical Center in St. Louis. The hospital president said Imesch told him about the past accusation against Meis, but the Archdiocese of St. Louis said it had no knowledge of the claim until last week.

Meis resigned from his ministry April 24. He lives in the St. Louis suburb of Pacific, Mo.

The Rev. Anthony J. Ross: Ross, 56, served at St. John the Baptist in Winfield and at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in the 1970s. He also served at St. Peter the Apostle in Itasca until 1982, when the Joliet Diocese sent him to the House of Affirmation in Montera, Calif., to undergo therapy for inappropriate behavior with a minor.

A 36-year-old Joliet-area man says Ross molested him twice at Ross' residence at St. Peter's in 1981, and produced letters that he received in 1983. The letters' author professes his love for the teen boy. The letters are signed, "Fr. Ross."

The boy's parents discovered the letters in 1983 and confronted Imesch. Ross admitted the abuse then, and last month he released a statement in which he apologized to the family.

When Ross completed 10 months of therapy in late 1983, the priest returned to the Joliet Diocese. Imesch allowed the admitted child-molester to serve at three other parishes in DuPage County where he interacted with children: Sacred Heart in Lombard, St. Isidore in Bloomingdale, and St. Charles Borromeo in Bensenville. There are no reports that Ross abused anyone after 1983.

"I did the best I could with the best intention, with not wanting to hurt anyone, and I don't believe I ever placed any child at risk by any assignment of a priest," Imesch said during a press conference April 26.

When the parents learned in 1993 that Ross was again serving in the Joliet Diocese, the priest voluntarily transferred to the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California and became a prison chaplain. The California diocese suspended him April 22, saying it had no knowledge of the previous claims against Ross.

The Rev. Richard Ruffalo: Ruffalo died in 1997 at age 62. He served at St. Rose in Kankakee, St. Joseph in Rockdale, St. Peter in Itasca, the Cathedral of St. Raymond, St. Mary in Park Forest and Holy Cross in Joliet.

In 1998, a 34-year-old Vernon Hills man filed a civil lawsuit claiming that Ruffalo sexually abused him in 1980 at St. Mary in Park Forest, where Ruffalo was pastor. The school principal at the time was Sister Judith Davies, current chancellor of the diocese.

The Rev. Daniel Ryan: Ryan, 71, was ordained in 1956. He served at St. Paul the Apostle, St. Joseph in Rockdale, St. Mary Nativity, St. Thaddeus and St. Michael in Wheaton. He was chancellor and auxiliary bishop of the Joliet Diocese. In 1983, he was appointed bishop of the Springfield Diocese. He resigned in 1999 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

In a 1999 civil lawsuit against a former priest of the Springfield Diocese, Ryan was named as a co-defendant. The suit alleged that Ryan failed to act against sexual misconduct by clergy because he was involved in homosexual relationships of his own.

Ryan denied any wrongdoing, and the suit eventually was dismissed.

Last year, Ryan confirmed eighth-graders at the Cathedral of St. Raymond and celebrated a graduation ceremony at Lewis University in Romeoville. In March, members of the Petersburg-based group Roman Catholic Faithful staged a public demonstration along Raynor Avenue to protest Ryan's participation in Bishop Fitzgerald's installation ceremony.

Ryan lives in Springfield.

The Rev. Henry Slade: Slade, 62, pleaded guilty in 1990 to criminal sexual abuse, according to DuPage County court records. He underwent therapy in Maryland and completed one year's probation.

Slade was convicted of sexually abusing a juvenile boy. At the time of his arrest, he was pastor of St. Isidore in Bloomingdale, where he had served since 1982.

The Catholic Directory, a book published annually that catalogs all U.S. priests, no longer has a listing for Slade. Slade's last known address was in Orland Park.

The Rev. David Stalzer: Stalzer died from cancer in 2000 at age 52. He was pastor of St. Mary Magdalene and served at St. Joseph, St. Mary Nativity and St. Dennis in Lockport.

In a 1993 civil lawsuit, a 28-year-old man claimed Stalzer sexually abused him in 1981. The suit was dismissed in 1994 after the accuser dropped out of sight. Many parishioners praised Stalzer's service, and some decried the damage done to his reputation by what was perceived as a false accusation.

The Rev. Edward A. Stefanich: Stefanich, 64, was arrested in 1986 and accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty in 1987 to criminal sexual abuse, served six months in the DuPage County Jail and completed a year's probation and counseling, according to DuPage County court records.

At the time of his arrest, Stefanich served at St. Scholastica in Woodridge.

The girl he abused would later ignore a confidentiality agreement reached with the diocese as part of a settlement and speak at one of the first meetings of The Link Up, an organization for survivors of clergy abuse. Redbook magazine published an article about her experience.

Stefanich has left the priesthood. His last known address was in Joliet.

The Rev. Myles White: White, 60, was pastor of St. Bonifice in Monee. He also served at St. Martin of Tours in Kankakee, St. Joseph in Manhattan, St. Raphael in Naperville, St. Petronille in Glen Ellyn, St. Isaac Jogues in Hinsdale, Sacred Heart in Lombard and Notre Dame in Clarendon Hills.

White was arrested in 1992 by authorities in Indiana who obtained a videotape showing White engaged in sexual activity with a boy who was 14 or 15 years old when the incident occurred in 1990. White served 21 months in prison and was released in 1995.

In 1995, the diocese settled a civil lawsuit filed by a then-18-year-old man who claimed White sexually abused him when the youth was between the ages of 6 and 12.

White's last known address was in Indiana.

 
 

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