Joliet Diocese Investigates Misconduct Claims
Panel Also Looks into Old Allegations of Abuse

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
April 11, 2002

JOLIET — Diocese of Joliet officials are investigating a new complaint against an individual as well as new information about sexual cases dating back several years.

It is not known whether the current complaint concerns a priest or where the alleged incident or incidents happened. The diocese oversees 132 parishes in seven counties.

A diocesan panel that includes a social services worker, a psychologist and an attorney is reviewing the recent claims, as well as the diocese's policy for handling allegations of misconduct.

"We've received some allegations from a number of years ago, and the special review committee is looking at that information. A current complaint is being investigated. It is unclear whether any sexual abuse occurred," said Sister Judith Davies, chancellor.

State law requires some professionals, including doctors and educators, to report to authorities all allegations of abuse. Whether the diocese is required to notify local law enforcement authorities about the complaint depends on the nature of the claims and the occupation of the accused, said Will County State's Attorney Jeff Tomczak. Diocesan officials recently shared information about abuse cases with prosecutors, Tomczak said.

"We did have some contact, and it was cooperative. I've received nothing but 100 percent cooperation from the diocese," Tomczak said.

Davies on Tuesday night left voice mail messages in response to questions that The Herald News submitted earlier in the day to Bishop Joseph Imesch, head of the Joliet diocese. Davies apparently read from statements made by Imesch.

The questions were posed in light of a local attorney's request that Will County Judge Herman Haase unseal documents pertaining to settlements of civil lawsuits filed by families of reported victims. The diocese has settled several cases for substantial sums; other cases were dismissed.

"We are not attempting to hide any cases where there has been a credible allegation. Even in instances of false allegations, names of priests have been damaged by publicity given to allegations," Davies said.

In each case, attorney Keith Aeschliman says, the victims' families who received settlements had to sign confidentiality agreements.

"Because of agreements between the plaintiffs and the diocese, information about settlements requires permission from the plaintiffs. On the part of the diocese, there would be no objection to releasing this information," Davies said.

In a majority of the suits, the victims' identities were not revealed. In some cases, the victims are identified only as John Doe or Jim Roe.

Since the clergy abuse scandal erupted earlier this year, officials of dioceses in Boston, New York, Cleveland and many other cities have handed over to prosecutors the names of priests suspected of abuse dating back decades. The local court action seeks to do the same, though some of the accused were identified when the civil suits were filed or settled, or when criminal charges were filed.

"Some dioceses are sharing information, and some are not. At the present time, we are certainly giving further consideration to sharing information," Davies said. "When there have been cases of clergy sexual abuse in this diocese, there has been considerable publicity about them."

That's true of some cases, but not all. Civil and criminal cases involving Joliet Diocese priests Lawrence M. Gibbs, Myles White, Richard Ruffalo and John Furdek received attention. Other cases have received little or no publicity.

On Monday, the Cleveland Diocese placed nine priests on administrative leave, including one who lives in Warrenville and who served as chaplain at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove until Saturday. The Rev. Gary Berthiaume served prison time for abusing an altar boy in 1978.

Imesch has known Berthiaume since the two served together in the Archdiocese of Detroit in the 1970s.

"The Rev. Gary Berthiaume was relieved of his duties at Good Samaritan Hospital at the direction of his bishop. Father Berthiaume is not a priest of the Diocese of Joliet. When the hospital engaged his services, they were fully aware of his background. His ministry at the hospital did not include the pediatric ward," Davies said.

"For 11 years, he served in an exemplary fashion as chaplain without any complaints. The question which needs to be discussed is whether a priest who is guilty of sexual abuse and has undergone therapy should ever be admitted to a limited ministry. Father Berthiaume gives pretty solid evidence of such a person being able to be an effective minister and one who did not pose a risk to children," Davies said.


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