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Priest Removed As Hospital Chaplain After Sexual Abuse History Surfaces

Apr 9, 2002 | Daily Herald

A Catholic priest who lives at Cenacle Retreat House in Warrenville has been relieved of his priestly duties following revelations he spent time in prison for sexually abusing an altar boy in Michigan.

The Joliet Diocese said Monday the Rev. Gary Berthiaume has been removed from his 11-year post as chaplain at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

The diocese said Monday the hospital "was fully aware" of Berthiaume's background before his employment there. In a prepared statement, the hospital said he was not allowed contact with pediatric patients.

"We are confident that at no time was patient care or safety put in jeopardy," the hospital statement said. "We take the monitoring of his performance very seriously ... and we are aware of no incidents in his 11-year history of service at the hospital."

Since he came to the Joliet Diocese in the late 1980s, Berthiaume also on occasion helped celebrate Mass at St. Irene Catholic Church in Warrenville.

Berthiaume was assistant pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Farmington Hills, Mich., in 1978 when he was jailed for molesting a 12-year-old parishioner, Gary Kedzierski. The pastor at that parish at the time was the Rev. Joseph Imesch, who now serves as bishop of the Joliet Diocese.

Kedzierski's mother, Betty, said Berthiaume took an interest in Gary and his brother, Ken, invited them to be altar boys, and began taking them on frequent outings. Betty Kedzierski was a single mother, and said she was thrilled at first her boys would have a father figure in Berthiaume.

But Gary eventually revealed to his mother that the priest had molested him, and she reported Berthiaume to police.

Five years later, the Kedzierskis filed a civil suit against Berthiaume alleging Gary Kedzierski continued to suffer "severe mental anguish and trauma" and once had to be hospitalized. The church settled the suit for $350,000 - less than what the family would have received if the Kedzierskis hadn't refused to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The Kedzierskis' attorney, Mark M. Bello, said Berthiaume was sued by four boys at another parish in Michigan over abuse dating back to 1968.

Imesch said, when he accepted Berthiaume into the Joliet Diocese in 1987, he was unaware of the allegations of prior abuse by Berthiaume in Michigan.

Imesch said no misconduct allegations have been made against Berthiaume while he served in the Joliet Diocese, and that Berthiaume deserves to put the past behind him.

"It is very difficult for someone who has served 12 years as chaplain to have the (newspaper) ruin whatever is left of his life," Imesch said Monday.

Bello, the lawyer who represented the Kedzierskis, bristled at the remark.

"That's great for Imesch to say, and I almost accept the statement as fair, except you have to weigh that against the public's right to know they have a predator in their midst," Bello said.

Betty Kedzierski said she was troubled to learn Berthiaume was still being embraced by the church 25 years after abusing her son.

"What I don't understand is that they just keep putting them back in the church," she said. "I know there are good priests out there ... but there are abusing priests, and those who just keep standing behind them. I don't understand it. The only thing I can think of is, don't they care?"

The extent and timing of Berthiaume's involvement at St. Irene's was unclear Monday.

But Maureen White, the principal at St. Irene's elementary school, said Berthiaume "has had no association with the school and no contact with our children."

Berthiaume did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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