Friar Molested Me, Man Says

Chicago Sun-Times
October 28, 2007,CST-NWS-friar28a.article


A 40-year-old man is suing a west suburban parish as well as the Dominican order of friars after allegedly being molested by a former teacher more than 25 years ago.

Joseph D. Bitterman was a "devout Catholic" and served as an altar boy at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in River Forest when he was in fourth or fifth grade, according to a suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court on Friday.

The lawsuit says a Dominican, Brother Gilbert Hensley, sexually abused Bitterman on at least four occasions while working at the parish.

A spokesman for the order said Saturday that Hensley has been removed from public ministry and positions working with kids while the allegations are investigated.

The suit says Bitterman "repressed" memories of the alleged abuse until July 2004.

In his lawsuit, Bitterman is accusing the Dominican Fathers, the Dominicans of the province of St. Albert the Great, the Dominican order of preachers and St. Vincent Ferrer Parish of knowing about Hensley's alleged sexual deviance and failing to do anything to stop it.

Seeks more than $300K

The suit claims Bitterman wasn't the only boy molested by the friar and teacher, and that it was "widely known" around the parish and the Dominican order that Hensley suffered a broken jaw after trying to molest a 17-year-old who then attacked him.

A priest identified as Hensley's supervisor also was molesting boys, according to the lawsuit.

The Rev. Michael Mascari, prior provincial of the Province of St. Albert the Great, said Saturday the order has yet to see the complaint but is aware of Bitterman's allegations.

Mascari said Hensley, who did work at St. Vincent Ferrer in the '70s and '80s, has denied the allegations.

Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Susan Burritt said Friday night that the archdiocese had not been notified of the lawsuit.

The suit alleges the parish and religious order allowed Hensley to keep his position within the church — around young people daily — knowing that he was a pedophile with "exploitative impulses and behavior."

Bitterman is suing for more than $300,000 for the emotional distress and psychological issues he said he continues to suffer from the abuse, as well as court costs and expenses associated with therapy and counseling.

Mascari said Hensley has been placed in a "supervised" position while an investigation ensues.

"As a precaution, and to ensure that no children are placed at risk, the friar was removed immediately from all public ministry and is in a supervised environment where he is never alone with minors," Mascari said.

However, he said, "what complicates all of this is the sharp divergence of views among psychiatrists and psychologists as to the reliability of recovered memories."


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