Prosecutors Will Investigate Allegations in Diocese Papers
Will and Dupage Departments Could Pursue Charges

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
April 27, 2002

JOLIET — Prosecutors in Will and DuPage counties will use documents turned over by the Joliet Diocese to expand their criminal investigations into allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Because the diocese covers seven counties, Illinois State Police investigators will be asked to help check out claims and determine what agencies have jurisdiction, Will County State's Attorney Jeff Tomczak said Friday.

"We will take this case wherever the evidence leads us," Tomczak said.

The diocese said on Thursday it will give prosecutors information about 16 priests accused of abuses dating back to 1970. The information will include the names of priests, the nature of the allegations, and information about parishes where the men served, Tomczak said. The diocese had not shared the information as of late Friday afternoon.

"They're gathering (the information), and they'll be turning it over in short order," Tomczak said.

Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch has been criticized recently for his response to sexual-abuse allegations. Victims' attorneys have argued he has moved priests around from parish to parish when he should have removed them.

Imesch invited Chicago media to a press conference Friday outside the diocese chancery on Summit Street. He explained the diocese's reason for sharing information with prosecutors.

"I think a lot of things I did might be considered by some people to be a cover-up. I did the best I could with the best intention, with not wanting to hurt anyone, and I don't believe I ever placed any child at risk by any assignment of a priest," he said.

One Joliet attorney says the handing over of documents is not enough.

"I'm overjoyed with the fact it finally is happening, but at the same time, I believe it's damage control by the diocese," attorney Keith Aeschliman told Fox News Chicago on Friday.

Concerning the documents, state police Lt. Ted Rizzo said state investigators are willing to help out.

"We'll be sitting down with the state's attorney next week to determine what our assistance will be," Rizzo said.

Typically, statutes of limitations hinder prosecutions of sex crimes that occurred decades ago. But in some cases, the statutes are suspended when an offender moves out of state. Recent allegations have been leveled against Joliet priests serving in California, Kentucky and Missouri.

Five priests connected with the Joliet Diocese have been suspended from their ministries in the past month.

DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett said on Thursday that his office will follow up on all leads concerning clergy abuse in DuPage County until he "is comfortable that all allegations of abuse reaching as far back as 1970 are fully investigated."

While the diocese is willing to share some information with prosecutors, it's trying to convince a Will County judge to keep documents sealed from public view. The diocese says some individuals who gave depositions believed the information they gave would be kept secret. Reversing that protective order "could be harmful to the reputation of an innocent person if publicly disclosed," diocesan attorney James Byrne argued in a motion Thursday.

Byrne noted that state's attorneys have the power to subpoena documents and interview witnesses if they are not satisfied with the information the diocese will give to prosecutors.

"We will do some good old-fashioned investigative work, utilizing all the tools available to use, including subpoena of documents and personal interviews," Tomczak said.

Diocesan officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Since late March, the Revs. Gary Berthiaume, Phillip Dedera, Carroll Howlin, Fred Lencyzcki and Anthony J. Ross have been suspended from active ministries pending further investigation of claims about past sexual abuse of minors.


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