Benedictine monk pleads guilty to battery, still lands on Illinois monastery’s sex abuser list

Chicago Sun-Times [Chicago IL]

May 17, 2024

By Robert Herguth

Brother Joseph Charron initially was charged with sex crimes involving a now-former student. He recently pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, and the sex crime charges were dropped. Still, his Benedictine abbey placed him on its list of credibly accused child sex abusers.

On the same day this spring that Brother Joseph Charron pleaded guilty to a felony battery charge against a former student at Marmion Academy, where the Benedictine monk was a longtime teacher, the Aurora Catholic school circulated a letter saying his conviction did not involve sexual abuse.

“With a heavy heart, I write to notify you that today, in Kane County Circuit Court, Joseph Charron, known to many in our community as Brother Andre, pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated battery of a minor,” the Rev. Joel Rippinger, abbot of the Benedictine monastery that oversees the far west suburban school, said in the March 28 letter. “There was no plea or judgment entered as to any sex offense.”

Yet church officials have since made clear they believe Charron engaged in sexual misconduct. In April, his monastery placed his name on its public, online listing of members deemed to have been credibly accused of child sex abuse.

The Marmion monastery says on its website that being put on the list means that, “based upon the facts and the circumstances, there is objective certainty that the accusation is true and that an incident of sexual abuse of a minor has occurred.”

Charron is on that list with two other monks who served at Marmion: Brother Jerome Skaja and the Rev. Augustine Jones, both now dead. The monastery added the names to the public listing after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation in 2022 on accusations of clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by religious figures at Marmion.

The Diocese of Rockford, the arm of the Catholic church that includes Kane County, followed suit and also added Charron to its own list.

Many Catholic dioceses and religious orders across the United States have been publicly identifying clergy members they believe have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. That’s happened in the wake of the decades-long child sex abuse scandal, with many inside and outside the church saying such transparency acknowledges victims’ suffering and might aid in their healing.

Charron, 68, initially was charged with numerous sex offenses stemming from accusations that he abused the former student, who is now an adult, more than a decade ago.

The sex charges were dropped as Charron pleaded guilty on March 28 to a single count of aggravated battery in a public place, records show.

As part of his plea, Charron admitted he “knowingly made contact of an insulting and/or provoking nature with . . . a male juvenile under the age of 17, in that he pressed his body into the body of” the victim “while he was in a public place of accommodation” — Marmion.

Charron was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

Since his 2022 arrest, he has been on home confinement — at least for most of that time at a house owned by the monks in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, overlooking Lake Michigan. So that time offset the jail time.

Charron paid more than $35,000 in restitution and remains on probation into 2026, records show.

His conviction does not require Charron to register as a child sex offender with police.

Monk’s victim: “I will stand up against what is wrong”

The victim, who came forward with his accusations in 2021, supported the plea agreement, prosecutors say. But he also made clear at the court hearing at which the plea agreement was accepted that Charron’s destruction was profound. In a victim-impact statement, he said:

“I will no longer be silent, nor will I be oppressed. I will stand up against what is wrong . . . and the indifference that the church has shown me is wrong.

“I have been taught by an institution that praises chastity, while many members flaunt the true indifference towards their vows.

“Our family was torn apart by the man — by the lies of men who claimed God’s blessing.

“I can no longer believe in faith-based institutions, nor can I believe in religion in general. I cannot believe in others’ words, and I have learned because I have lived in a world of mistrust, denial of my emotions and a refusal to believe that I could genuinely be hurting. This was the hell I had to live in for the years leading up until this day.

“This is the world that the felon will now need to live in. I give all the lack of acknowledgment shown to me. I give the hell that I’ve been living in the past 15 years of my life away. I finally can move forward to live my life.”

Kane County prosecutor Christine Bayer says, “For the victim to come forward was a big deal.”

Bayer won’t say why her office ended up dropping the sex charges and settling on the aggravated battery count except to say, “I really look to what’s the best interest of the victim and society.”

Charron couldn’t be reached. David Camic, his lawyer, says, “Based on our understanding of the facts, this was an appropriate disposition.”

Marmion leaders ‘deeply sorrowful’

In a written statement, the monastery’s leaders say, “Marmion is deeply sorrowful that this crime occurred and apologizes to the victim and the entire community.”

Charron “will remain out of state on a strict safety plan,” they say. “He will not return to the Marmion Abbey or Academy. We will not disclose his specific location in the newspapers for obvious reasons. We take all proper steps as it relates to neighbors.”

Before becoming a Benedictine, Charron belonged to another Catholic religious order, the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd, working in the Chicago area and elsewhere.

In a 2014 profile of Charron, Marmion’s magazine for students and their families and alumni wrote: “He was attracted to the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd because of their health care work with the poor, the disabled and the elderly.”

Charron entered the order in 1979 and spent part of his early years ministering at Good Shepherd Manor, a facility for men with intellectual and developmental disabilities an hour south of Chicago, in Momence — in the geographic territory of the Diocese of Joliet, whose public list of credibly accused clerics doesn’t include Charron.

During that time, “He came in contact with the Marmion Benedictines when he and his classmates came to the abbey for some classes in spirituality,” according to the magazine.

Monastery ‘substantiates’ priest as another Benedictine child predator

Asked in 2022 about the Rev. Terence Fitzmaurice, an accused child sex predator who had been a member of the St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle before his death, the monastery’s leader said it’s tough to validate such accusations.

“Yes, there were allegations dating back to the 1970s,” said the Rev. Austin Murphy, abbot of the monastery that’s long been associated with Benet Academy, also in Lisle. “However, when the accused member is deceased and the abuse is said to have happened decades ago, there is a challenge in doing an investigation that is adequate for determining whether or not the allegation is substantiated.”

The following year, though, the abbey did just that — substantiating that he was a child molester and putting his name on its public list of its clergy members deemed to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

It also acknowledged that there had been a prior internal review that reached a different conclusion.

An online statement from the abbey says that accusations against Fitzmaurice “were first brought to the attention” of the group in 2004, five years before he died. “The allegations were investigated by the abbey but not found to be substantiated and settlements were reached without an admission of guilt.

“Since then, further allegations have come forward and, in the winter of 2022, another investigation was begun that reviewed the claims against Fr. Terence in total.

“The results of this investigation were shared with the review board for the abbey and the determination has been made . . . that, without making a determination about individual claims, it is substantiated that Fr. Terence Fitzmaurice sexually abused minors.”

Fitzmaurice, who served at St. Procopius Church in Pilsen for years, has been accused of impregnating a girl, beating children and making them masturbate in front of him.

Records show he spent six months in the early 1980s at a care facility in Wakefield, Ohio, that drew news coverage in the 1990s when the family of a mentally impaired man sued the church, saying he was sexually assaulted by one or more members of Charron’s order and contracted HIV. He died of AIDS.

More recently, the Little Brothers folded into another religious order, the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, and the head of that group, Brother David Lynch, says there were no accusations against Charron when he was a member.

“The first we heard” of problems was “when the police contacted us” as part of the Marmion accusations, Lynch says. “We cooperated fully.”

He says Charron left his order because he felt the Benedictines were a better fit.

“We’re a very active order and he wanted a more monastic setting,” Lynch says. “He wanted a more contemplative life. . . . We agreed this was a good fit for him. There was nothing sinister.”

In its statement, Marmion leaders say: “There have not been any other allegations against Br. Charron at this time. But we are humble about what we know and do not know. We ask any victim of abuse — no matter how long ago it occurred — to reach out to us and the law enforcement authorities.”

It’s not uncommon for priests or other members of religious orders to move from one Catholic group to another. But experts say it can be a red flag of trouble. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on one such case last month, involving the Rev. Mark Santo, who died in 2008. Santo, who had been identified as a credibly accused abuser, was a member of the Servite religious order. He moved around the country, leaving the group to be assumed into the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

In Charron’s case, personnel records show he was based for a time in Lombard. He also ministered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and served as secretary general of the Little Brothers order from 1997 to 2002. That year, he became chief executive officer of a homeless shelter in Miami that was the subject of a criminal investigation when a top administrator working for Charron was accused of enlisting homeless people and charity resources to renovate his homes.

Charron initially responded to accusations raised by employees at the charity by threatening them with legal action, according to the Miami Herald, which quoted Charron saying in an internal memo, “I am committed to engage our legal counselors in handling any further allegations as liability for slander.”

Later, according to news accounts, Charron realized he’d been duped and was quoted as saying, “In hindsight, we realize now it was too much faith to be placed in one person.”

Charron resigned from the homeless charity in 2004, saying he needed to care for his ailing mother in Michigan, according to the Herald.

Not long after, he joined Marmion’s monastery.