Conference Decision May Affect Joliet Diocese Priests
10 Accused Priests Facing Discipline Have Local Ties

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
June 16, 2002

Since early April, Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch has said that nine priests in his diocese resigned or were removed from public ministry because of past claims of sexual abuse. One priest, the Rev. John Barrett, was reinstated. Two other priests associated with the Joliet Diocese face sanctions by their bishops.

If newly adopted policies are implemented, bishops will decide the fates of the following 10 priests with local connections:

  • The Rev. Phillip Dedera, 56, was suspended from duties as a chaplain at Edward Hospital and St. Patrick Nursing Home in Naperville. The diocese said that on April 4 it first learned that Dedera was accused of abusing a youth when he served at St. Andrew in Romeoville about 25 years ago.

  • The Rev. Lowell Fischer, 78. The diocese said on May 5 that Fisher was restricted from publicly saying Mass. Fischer retired in 1993, but was chaplain at St. Francis Convent in Frankfort, where he had said Masses for retired nuns. The diocese said Fischer faced an allegation of misconduct from more than 25 years ago.

    But Fischer was accused of engaging in sexual misconduct as recently as 1992, when he would have been 68, according to a report in the Honolulu Adviser. Fischer went to Hawaii on a leave of absence from the Joliet Diocese in 1975 and didn't return until 1993.

    In 1994, a man sued the Honolulu Diocese, claiming that he was referred to Fischer for counseling in 1992. After several months, Fischer threatened to withdraw his support unless the man reciprocated with sexual favors, the newspaper reported. The suit was settled out of court and contained a confidentiality agreement.

  • The Rev. Carroll Howlin, 67. Imesch placed Howlin on administrative leave on April 14. Howlin taught at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, an all-boys high school near Lewis University in Romeoville. The seminary closed in 1981.

    A man in his 40s told Will County prosecutors on April 22 that Howlin sexually abused him during a camping trip in Wisconsin in the 1970s. Another man's parents met with Imesch on April 9 and told the bishop that Howlin abused their son at the seminary and during a camping trip to Kentucky in 1975. The diocese's two auxiliary bishops, the Rev. Roger Kaffer and James Fitzgerald, both headed the seminary at various times.

    Prosecutors are determining whether Howlin, who ministered in rural Kentucky for the past 25 years, may still be criminally charged over the alleged offenses because a statute of limitations is suspended when an offender lives out of state.

  • The Rev. Fred Lenczycki, 57. The diocese announced April 23 that Lenczycki was removed from his ministry as a hospital chaplain in St. Louis. Since 1992, Lenczycki had been in the St. Louis area, where he went after undergoing several years of treatment for inappropriate behavior with minors.

    In a 1997 civil lawsuit, a man claimed Lenczycki molested him in the rectory of St. Isaac Jogues in Hinsdale in 1984. At the time, DuPage County authorities investigated claims that Lenczycki engaged in inappropriate behavior with nine altar boys, but no family was willing to file a report with Hinsdale police.

    The Archdiocese of St. Louis said it first learned of Lenczycki's past behavior in late March, when it asked the Joliet Diocese that Lenczycki be sent back to Joliet, and administrators of the hospitals where Lenczycki ministered said they had no knowledge of the accusations. Imesch has said he verbally told the late Archbishop John May of St. Louis about the claims against Lenczycki.

  • The Rev. J. Anthony Meis, 65. On April 30, the diocese announced that Meis resigned as chaplain at another hospital in St. Louis, where he had served since 1994.

    Meis resigned as pastor of St. Mary and Joseph Parish in Chebanse in 1994 because of a claim that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor in the late 1980s.

  • The Rev. Donald O'Connor, 65. Imesch on May 18 removed O'Connor as pastor of Assumption Parish in Coal City because of a recent claim that O'Connor engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor more than 30 years ago.

  • The Rev. Donald Pock, 69. Imesch said on May 5 that Pock was placed on administrative leave as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle in Itasca.

    Imesch told parishioners on May 6 that an allegation was made in April about an incident that occurred more than 25 years ago.

  • The Rev. Edward Poff, 71. Imesch said on May 5 that Poff was removed from public ministry. Poff retired in 2001, but had been assisting at Masses at St. Patrick's in Joliet and other churches.

    An allegation was made against Poff in 1994, the same year it was alleged to have occurred. At the time, Poff was removed from parish ministry and underwent therapy. He then served as chaplain at St. Mary's Hospital in Kankakee until his retirement.

  • The Rev. Gary Berthiaume. On April 8, Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla placed Berthiaume on administrative leave. Pilla will decide whether Berthiaume should remain a priest.

    Berthiaume served time in a Michigan prison in 1978 for molesting a 12-year-old altar boy. Imesch was pastor of Berthiaume's parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington Hills, Mich., when the boy was abused.

    Berthiaume later transferred to the Cleveland Diocese. In a 1999 lawsuit, an Ohio man accused Berthiaume and another priest of molesting him in a shower during the 1980s.

    Although Berthiaume still answered to church officials in Ohio, he worked in the Joliet Diocese since 1987. He served at St. Irene church and school in Warrenville until the early 1990s. He was a chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove for about 15 years until his suspension in April.

  • The Rev. Anthony J. Ross, 56. On April 22, Bishop Daniel Walsh of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif., suspended Ross, who was a prison chaplain. Walsh, who acted on a recommendation by the diocese's sensitivity committee, will decide whether Ross remains a priest.

    Ross transferred to the California diocese in 1993. Ross was a priest at St. Peter the Apostle in Itasca until 1982, when the Joliet Diocese sent him to Affirmation in Montera, Calif., to undergo therapy for inappropriate behavior with a minor. While receiving counseling for sexual misconduct in 1983, Ross sent a Joliet boy letters in which he made sexually suggestive comments and professed his love for the teen.

    The boy's parents discovered the letters in 1983 and confronted Imesch. Ross admitted that he abused the youth in 1981 when the boy was 15 years old, and in April, Ross released a statement in which he apologized to the family.

    The California diocese said it had no knowledge of the previous claims about Ross.


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