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Ex-Farmington priest charged with '77 child sex abuse

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A former Oakland County priest has been charged with sexually abusing a local child, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday.

The charges are part of an ongoing investigation into sexual abuse within the state's seven Catholic dioceses.

Gary Berthiaume, 78, is charged with one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, which could lead to a 15-year prison sentence if he's convicted, said Nessel.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announces the kick off for the "Be Counted" campaign for the Michigan Census in Pontiac on Monday, February 17, 2020.

The victim, who was 14 at the time of the alleged assault, told authorities the assault took place in August 1977 at the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church' s rectory in Farmington, where Berthiaume was a priest with the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Berthiaume was arrested Tuesday at his home in Warrendale, Illinois. He will face extradition to Farmington,  where charges were authorized last week.  He also was arrested in 1977 for sexually assaulting two other minors in Michigan and served a sentence in the Oakland County jail, according to Nessel's office. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit wasn't immediately able to provide a comment Tuesday about the allegations against the former priest.

After his jail term in Oakland County, Berthiaume was transferred to the Diocese of Cleveland, Nessel's office said, then to the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois in 1987.

Nessel said her office seized 1.5 million paper documents and 3.5 million electronic documents through search warrants executed in October 2018  as part of its investigation of sexual abuse by individuals with ties to the Catholic Church, including Berthiaume.

 The attorney general’s investigation has resulted in criminal charges against 11 people with church ties.

“My office’s investigation into clergy abuse will continue to receive, review and act upon credible allegations of abuse on behalf of the many victims who have come forward,” said Nessel in a statement Tuesday. 

“Criminal sexual conduct at any level must not be tolerated, and we must ensure justice is served to those who assault others — particularly those authority figures and people in powerful positions who prey on the weak and vulnerable.”