Former priest withdraws pleas over child sex abuse after judge’s rejection of sentencing agreement

Catholic World Report [San Francisco CA]

January 12, 2022

By Christine Rousselle, Catholic News Agency

Gary Berthiaume, a former priest, withdrew his guilty pleas after being sentenced to spend up to 15 years in prison on charges he sexually abused at least three boys.

Oakland County Circuit Judge Daniel O’Brien rejected his earlier sentencing agreement after learning the details of Berthiaume’s crimes. O’Brien found the one year and one day sentence offered by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to be inappropriately short after hearing victim impact statements.

O’Brien sentenced Berthiaume, 80, to spend the next 20 months to 15 years in prison on Jan. 11.

On Nov. 21, 2021, Berthiaume entered pleas of “guilty” and “no contest” to two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and to one count of gross indecency, respectively.

In Michigan, a defendant may enter a “Killebrew plea,” which is essentially a conditional guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence. This plea can be withdrawn if the judge sentences the defendant to a harsher sentence than what was agreed upon.

After hearing victim impact statements, O’Brien decided that Berthiaume deserved more than 366 days in prison. Berthiaume, as per the terms of the Killebrew agreement, then withdrew his pleas.

Before his guilty pleas were withdrawn, Berthiaume had admitted to molesting two teenage boys in the rectory of his parish in Farmington, Michigan, in 1976 and 1977. He said that he knew the two boys and “coerced” them into abuse.

Berthiaume pled no contest to accusations that he had sexually molested the teenage brother of one of his other victims at a sauna house in the early ‘70s. He said that he did not remember the event, but admitted that it “may have happened.”

The former priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who was ordained in 1968, was dismissed from the clerical state in 2007. He had previously been convicted of the abuse of two minors in 1978.

After Berthiaume served a six-month jail sentence, he was then transferred to the Diocese of Cleveland. While serving in the Diocese of Cleveland, Berthiaume allegedly abused at least one additional minor, and was sued in a civil suit in 1983 by an alleged victim from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

In 1987, he was transferred to the Diocese of Joliet, where he worked at a retreat house and as a hospital chaplain. In 1999, he was once again sued by an alleged victim dating from the 1980s.

He was removed from ministry by the Cleveland diocese in 2002.

Berthiaume was arrested in September 2020 for the abuse of one of the boys in Farmington. In June 2021, he was additionally charged with the abuse of another boy in Farmington and the count of gross indecency.

In court, prior to withdrawing his plea, Berthiaume said that he had been abused by a priest while he was a seminarian and he “should probably never have been ordained.”

“I was sick from what happened to me,” he said. “The victim became the victimizer.” Berthiaume added that he wished he were dead and that he prays for the healing of the boys he victimized.

Assistant Attorney General Danielle Russo read victim impact statements to the court. In one, a man described what he called a “pay to play” situation, and said that Berthiaume gave with gifts, took him on camping trips, and to professional sporting events. Berthiaume, said the alleged victim, would specifically choose him as an altar boy for Masses where he knew the families would give him money.

Most of the boys Berthiaume targeted were from financially insecure families, said the victim impact statement.

One alleged victim called Berthiaume “a demon who disguised himself as a man of God.”

Berthiaume remains out on bond as he awaits his next day in court. As he has withdrawn his guilty pleas, he may now be charged with two additional counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and another count of gross indecency.

Those charges had previously been dismissed as part of the original plea agreement.