Church bars Ukrainian priest over allegations he exploited woman with dementia
Ukrainian Orthodox authorities have barred the pastor of a Humboldt Park church from serving as a priest following allegations that he improperly took more than $500,000 from a 93-year-old parishioner diagnosed with dementia.
Nicholas Chervyatiuk has not been charged with a crime, and he has vigorously denied the allegations, made in papers filed in probate court this spring by the Cook County public guardian.
Church leaders began gathering legal documents and acted against Chervyatiuk following an Aug. 19 Tribune report on the case. He had served as a priest at Holy Patronage Church, 900 N. Washtenaw Ave.
Chervyatiuk, 55, allegedly used the money he took to support two restaurants he ran with a convicted drug dealer, his Brash & Sassy, Inc. hair salon and his portfolio of Chicago-area rental properties, according to probate court papers and separate land, business and court records.
During a June court examination, Chervyatiuk said he considered the money to be payment for care he provided to parishioner Nelly Bridgeman as her health and mental faculties failed.
“I think it was time for me to get paid. … Nelly wanted it that way,” he testified.
Chervyatiuk’s former parish is part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, one of three major Orthodox groups in Ukraine.
A North American church leader, the Rev. Victor Poliarny, told the Tribune: “His behavior doesn’t coincide with the responsibilities of a priest. I think it’s terrible. We don’t approve of the behavior even by a layman.”
Under the order from the patriarch’s office in Kiev, Chervyatiuk will not be allowed to serve as a priest at religious services and he has been removed from the list of the church’s clergy, said John Jaresko, president of the board of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the administrative center for the patriarch in the U.S.
“I hope this puts clergy of all denominations on notice that this behavior . . . is not fitting and will not be tolerated,” Jaresko said.
In a series of recent telephone interviews, Chervyatiuk told the Tribune he did nothing wrong.
“I’ve been very honest to this lady,” he said. He blamed the Tribune for his ouster from the priesthood, saying: “You are happy you did this, right?”
Church authorities said Chervyatiuk has removed his personal belongings from the Holy Patronage facility and that interim priests have been sent to conduct recent services. The parish board has begun interviewing candidates in a search for a permanent replacement, a process that could take weeks or months.
A Nazi prison camp refugee, Bridgeman married an American service member after arriving in the U.S. in 1950. She served for more than two decades as secretary of Chervyatiuk’s church, court records show. Her husband died in 2004 at age 79, and the couple had no children.
Chervyatiuk assumed power of attorney over Bridgeman’s affairs last year, when she was diagnosed with dementia and he moved her into a nursing home, records show.
In the following months, he cashed CDs of Bridgeman’s worth $170,000 and transferred other funds to accounts he alone controlled, according to probate court records filed by the public guardian.
Chervyatiuk used his legal status to control Bridgeman’s accounts, worth at least $540,000 and perhaps as much as $625,000, according to the public guardian.
Suspecting fraud, a bank official in December contacted the public guardian’s office. In March, Associate Cook County Judge Shauna Boliker authorized the office to gather financial records and determine how much of Bridgeman’s money Chervyatiuk spent on her care and how much he allegedly converted for his own use.
The agency, which now is Bridgeman’s legal guardian, says it will seek court permission to recover any funds wrongly converted by Chervyatiuk. As the probate case proceeds, Boliker has ordered financial institutions to freeze $170,000 of the priest’s personal and business bank accounts.