Abusive Priests Concern for Detroit Archdiocese
At Least 5 Have Been Suspended

By Patricia Montemurri and Alexa Capeloto
Detroit Free Press
March 2, 2002

In the wake of a scandal that has engulfed the priesthood in Boston, Cardinal Adam Maida said this week that the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit has policies to immediately remove priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.

But one Detroit priest whom Maida removed in 1993, and who according to court files admitted to massaging boys in their underwear while a parish priest in the 1970s, is now pastor of a parish with a school in Alpena.

Long before Maida's tenure, another priest was reassigned to Cleveland parishes after spending six months in jail for molesting a Farmington Hills boy. In 1999, the priest, the Rev. Gary Berthiaume, was sued by a man who said Berthiaume molested him when he was a Cleveland-area schoolboy in the 1980s.

Maida, a canon lawyer who has counseled other dioceses rocked by revelations of sexually predatory priests, said this week he didn't want to issue a list of priests who have been investigated locally for sexual abuse of minors. But archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath confirmed that at least five priests were removed from their duties because of abuse allegations since 1992.

The Detroit archdiocese does not automatically notify civil authorities of every complaint against a priest, according to Maida and the archdiocese's written policy. That's because complaints are screened first by an archdiocesan committee, which includes church officials, a judge, a prosecutor or other officer of the court, a psychologist, a parent and a social worker.

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said Friday he was surprised about such internal screenings. "That's kind of like the fox taking care of the chicken coop," said Gorcyca, adding that archdiocesan staff members are not trained investigators and that the internal investigations may not be conducted properly.

"Their foremost concern is negative publicity, while in the prosecutor's office our foremost concern is the victim," he said.

McGrath said church policies put victims first. Some priests have been falsely accused, but church officials follow the law in notifying authorities, he said.

Maida said, "If there's an accusation that's found to be real, we notify them, as long as there is substance to the accusation."

The archdiocese provides counseling to victims, and priests with diagnosed sexual proclivities toward minors are not assigned to jobs in which they minister to young people, Maida said.

Several cases of priests as sexual predators have surfaced in courts in southeastern Michigan in the last 25 years. Thomas Van Dusen, a lawyer for the Detroit archdiocese, said some claims of long-ago abuse have been settled out of court.

Among cases revealed by the archdiocese or found in checks of courts in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties:

A priest with the Albertine Dominican order who served as pastor of St. Gertrude parish in St. Clair Shores was sued in 2000 by the church secretary, Elizabeth Lacy, who said her work contract wasn't renewed because her teenage son rebuffed the priest's sexual advances.

In written responses to questions posed for the lawsuit, the accused priest, the Rev. Tom Johnston, admitted inappropriate sexual behavior and language but denied any sexual contact. Reached by phone this week at a Dominican center in River Forest, Ill., Johnston said of the case: "That's their allegation. I have nothing to say."

Van Dusen said the archdiocese acted quickly to remove Johnston from the parish.

In 1993, the Rev. Gerald Shirilla was dismissed as the archdiocesan director of worship because of charges he molested youngsters in the 1970s. Shirilla is now pastor of St. Mary Parish in Alpena.

In a 1999 Michigan Court of Appeals opinion in a civil lawsuit brought against Shirilla and the archdiocese by the now-adult victim, the court said Shirilla admitted massaging young boys in their underwear. Declan Demeyer, who brought the suit, could not be reached for comment.

The appellate court's opinion said Shirilla admitted massaging Demeyer's chest and stomach while alone with him in the boy's bedroom in 1978 but denied any sexual contact. The opinion also said Shirilla admitted massaging several other boys.

The appellate's court summary also noted that, under archdiocesan policy, Shirilla was removed from his post in 1993 and treated with drugs "to curb his sex drive."

Shirilla's lawyer, Michael P. Smith, said Friday that the priest never admitted improprieties and never had improper relationships with young boys. Smith said the civil lawsuit was dismissed.

Shirilla "lost nine years of his life," Smith said.

McGrath said that under Maida's policy, Shirilla wouldn't be placed as a pastor again in the Detroit area. He said Diocese of Gaylord Bishop Patrick Cooney would have to answer as to how Shirilla became a pastor in Alpena. Neither Shirilla nor Cooney returned phone calls seeking comment this week.

At least three other parish priests in the Detroit archdiocese were ousted during the 1990s after long-ago allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct involving minors. McGrath released their names Friday with old statements about their ousters.

The Rev. Robert Haener was removed as pastor of St. Anthony's in Temperance in September 1992. The Rev. Joseph Femminineo resigned Oct. 20, 1992, as pastor of St. Rita in Holly. In May 1993, the Rev. Joseph Sito, pastor of St. Cletus in Warren, also resigned. McGrath said Friday only that the three men "are no longer in active ministry."

In 1977, Betty Kedzierski gladly accepted the Rev. Gary Berthiaume's invitation to take her preteen boys on an overnight camping trip, just days after Berthiaume performed the wedding of Kedzierski's daughter at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Farmington Hills.

When Berthiaume asked the mother to take the boys camping again, Betty's son, Gary Kedzierski, then 11 or 12, said this week that he told his mom he didn't want to go because Berthiaume had fondled and kissed him on the outing and other times.

Berthiaume was sentenced in 1978 to six months in jail. Afterward, he was reassigned to the Cleveland diocese. In 1983, Gary Kedzierski sued Berthiaume and the Detroit archdiocese for damages. "It's past history. I wish that people would bury everything," Berthiaume told a Free Press reporter at the time.

Gary Kedzierski said he was surprised to hear from a reporter this week that Berthiaume also is being sued by a man in Cleveland for alleged abuse in the late 1980s at a Catholic school. A spokesman for the Cleveland diocese did not return a phone call about Berthiaume's status. An phone operator with the Cleveland diocese said he was no longer with the diocese.

"I had a very hard time," said Kedzierski. "It's just a revolving door now to hear that the same priest" was implicated again.

Lawrence Nawrocki was pastor of St. Isidore Church in Macomb Township in the 1980s when he molested three boys. He was sentenced in 1989 and released in 1994. McGrath would not comment on Nawrocki's current whereabouts or whether he was defrocked, or stripped of his standing as a priest.

McGrath re-released a 1992 statement that said Nawrocki would never return to active ministry in the Detroit archdiocese or "in all likelihood, in any other."

Maida said he is saddened by the ongoing revelations. "Whenever we find them, we try to rectify them. We try to be as understanding, as kind, as responsible as we can, especially to victims who have suffered abuse."

Maida called sexual deviations of a few priests "a sickness."

"As we learn more, we try to take means to be sure it doesn't happen again. We do everything we can to ferret out anyone who might have a problem. But sometimes these sicknesses are not detectable until the person causes an inappropriate act."

Cases like those in Boston involving abuse that happened decades ago couldn't be prosecuted here because of statutes of limitations.

Michigan also doesn't legally require priests or church officials to report suspected abuse, as they do Michigan teachers and social workers, and as 30 other states require of clergy.

But for people who may remember assaults when they were children in the 1960s, 1970s or most of the 1980s, the statutes of limitations on bringing criminal charges against offenders has long passed. Prosecutors said it may be worthwhile to still come forward, because such complaints can help police if new cases arise.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Tim Baughman said Michigan laws have changed recently, making it easier for more recent victims of sexual abuse who are now adults to bring criminal charges against attackers.

David Clohessy of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said victims often don't come forward because they feel they have no recourse under the law.

"If states allow for late discovery and people can sue well into adulthood, then survivors come forward," said Clohessy.

Clohessy said church policies aren't always designed to put the victims' welfare first. "We found these policies are virtually meaningless. It's like having speed limits with no cops. There's no enforcement mechanism."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.