Michigan diocese wants outside review of response to clergy sexual abuse

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Lansing

The Diocese of Lansing will invite an outside agency to review its handling of clergy sexual abuse cases and plans to publish the names of all diocesan priests who sexually abused children.

The diocese is one of the most recent to open its records for review following a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that found an estimated 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s. The report alleged senior church officials, including former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, helped to cover up the complaints.

Michigan bishops in the state's seven dioceses have addressed the Pennsylvania report in letters to Catholic parishioners, reiterated policies put in place after the 2002 revelations of child sex abuse cases in the Boston archdiocese and, in some cases, put additional plans in motion. 

In a report posted Tuesday to the Lansing diocese website, Bishop Earl Boyea outlined the planned independent review of the diocese's handling of old claims and expressed his disappointment in bishops who helped hide the crimes.

“Not only are these acts deeply sinful, they are criminal,” Boyea wrote. “Anyone guilty of causing such pain to victims, as well as those at any level within the Church’s leadership who protected sexual predators, must be held accountable. Justice demands it.”

The Lansing prelate said he supports calls for the involvement of lay people to hold bishops accountable and said he and many diocesan priests would offer mass and prayer “in reparation, especially for the sins of bishops.”

An in-depth review of the handling of sexual abuse allegations and policies is helpful for any faith community or institution so long as the review remains “independent, transparent and survivor-centered,” said Kathy Hagenian, executive policy director for the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“If they’re going to do such an investigation, it needs to be done in a way that would be meaningful for survivors and would be designed to lead to significant avenues for healing, prevention of future abuse and holding perpetrators accountability,” Hagenian said.

Sexual abuse claims throughout the state have cost the church in Michigan millions of dollars, much of which was paid for through insurance and investment income. Many of the confirmed allegations in Michigan in recent years have involved abuse alleged to have occurred prior to 2002. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit has paid nearly $4.5 million in settlements and counseling related to clergy sexual abuse, $1.3 million pertaining to cases reported prior to 2004, said Ned McGrath, director of public affairs for the archdiocese. 

Sexual abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Detroit have been reviewed independently since 2002, when church officials signed agreements with all six county prosecutors within the diocese, McGrath said. The pacts cover Lapeer, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties.

The archdiocese also has a list of abuser priests on its website. 

In recent months, Archbishop Allen Vigneron has called for accountability among clergy, initiated a review of policies and practices related to clergy sexual abuse and rolled out a new website, protect.aod.org, to make resources and information more easily available.

Every complaint since 2002 has been turned over to prosecutors and an internal review involving an independent investigation and review board is begun once prosecutors complete their investigation, McGrath said. Both Vigneron and Boyea said they’ve always followed the recommendations of their review boards.

In 2003, then Lansing Bishop Carl Mengling reported that the diocese had paid out roughly $699,000 between 1988 and 2002 in settlements, counseling and support related to clergy sex abuse claims, roughly $443,000 of which had been reimbursed by insurance. The diocese expects to update those numbers as part of its review, spokesman Michael Diebold said.

Dioceses in Grand Rapids, Marquette, Gaylord, Kalamazoo and Saginaw said total settlement and counseling tallies were not immediately available. 

The “external agency of lay professionals” that will review the Lansing diocese's handling of cases will be made up of experts outside the diocesan structure, Diebold said, and will complement existing measures found in all of Michigan's dioceses.

Those measures include annual audits; a diocesan review board that determines the credibility of claims; background checks of clergy, staff and volunteers; training to identify and report suspected abuse; and a zero-tolerance policy toward clergy who sexually abuse minors and vulnerable adults.

Each diocese encourages people to contact police and the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator to report abuse. Priests who are subject to credible claims are removed from churches and their names are announced in bulletins and news releases. 

Like Detroit, many dioceses also have agreements with local prosecutors regarding the review of their files and the immediate sharing of future complaints.

Kalamazoo Bishop Paul Bradley announced Friday a “plan of action” that would expand reporting avenues, create a code of conduct for clergy, reopen priests’ files to the diocesan review board and list the names of priests against whom sexual abuse claims had been substantiated.

The Diocese of Gaylord is considering hiring an outside agency to review its files and posting a list of priests found to have sexually abused children, said spokeswoman Candace Neff.

The diocese of Saginaw posted a list of clergy removed from ministry due to credible child sexual abuse allegations in April, said spokeswoman Erin Carlson. The list was posted a few months after the Rev. Robert DeLand was placed on administrative leave and charged with multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct. DeLand, a former pastor at St. Agnes Church in Freeland, pleaded no contest to criminal sexual conduct and six other charges in early September

Boyea’s Tuesday report was released the same day the diocese announced an East Lansing pastor responsible for a parish and student center near Michigan State University had been placed on administrative leave.

The Rev. Mark Inglot, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and St. John Student Center, was removed after an adult coworker made a report of sexual harassment. He will remain on leave until an internal review is complete.

Most of the diocesan priests found to have sexually abused children have already been named publicly, but will be compiled into a public list, Boyea said.

“It is important for victims to see the names of their abusers made public, and it helps victims who have yet to come forward see that they are not alone,” he wrote. 

Former Michigan Court of Appeals Chief Judge Michael Talbot is chair of the Archdiocesan Review Board in Detroit. This April, he was appointed a “special independent delegate” to oversee sexual misconduct claims in the Diocese of Saginaw and was appointed to the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board shortly after.

During testimony in May on bills introduced to address the Larry Nassar scandal, Talbot voiced concern over proposed extensions to the time period in which child sex abuse victims could pursue criminal and civil action against abusers. Without increased court resources, he said, the claims resulting from the policy would overwhelm an already burdened court system.

The Michigan Catholic Conference also warned that retroactively waiving the lawsuit deadline could lead to difficult-to-defend complaints over claims dating back more than two decades.


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