Accused priest works as contract psychologist for state
A Catholic priest who was stripped of his priestly faculties in early October also works for the state as a contract psychologist.
Dr. Robert Gerl works with the state’s disability determination service out of a Kalamazoo office, said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The department's understanding is that the psychologist working for the department is the same Gerl whose priestly faculties were revoked by the Diocese of Lansing for credible allegations of sexual assault of an adult male alleged to have occurred decades ago, Wheaton said. The department was looking into the claims, which it learned of through media reports, he said.
Gerl does not work directly with patients in his role with the state, Wheaton said.
Randall Levine, Gerl’s lawyer, urged people not to rush to judgment regarding his client. In a statement, Levine said he was sure Gerl would be vindicated of the allegation of “inappropriate conduct that is supposed to have occurred more than 35 years ago.”
“This is the only person who has ever complained about Mr. Gerl,” Levine said. “He has enjoyed a lifetime of honorable service to the church as a priest, the schools as a counselor and in the community as a respected therapist.”
Gerl declined comment when contacted last week by The Detroit News.
Wheaton said Gerl's contract involves reviewing paper documents to discern whether a person is eligible to receive disability or Social Security benefits. He’s been employed by the state since July 2016.
Gerl has had his full license to practice psychology since 2011, though he worked with a limited license prior to that while completing school, according to state records. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has said it is reviewing the allegations "reported in recent news stories involving this individual."
The Diocese of Lansing removed Gerl’s permission to publicly minister in the diocese on Oct. 5, a couple days after the diocese surrendered its files to Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office as part of an ongoing investigation into clergy sex abuse and potential cover-ups dating back to the 1950s in Michigan’s seven dioceses.
Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Schuette's office, said she could not comment on any details of Schuette's investigation into the dioceses.
The investigation was launched after a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania revealed hundreds of abuser priests who molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s. Schuette’s office has asked any victims or people with information about alleged incidents to contact investigators at Michigan.gov/CI or at (844) 324-3374.
Gerl is a senior priest who has not been assigned to a parish in a number of years, Diocese of Lansing spokesman Michael Diebold said last week. He was unable to provide details of Gerl’s work for the diocese because his was one of the files Schuette’s office took on Oct. 3.
Online church bulletins indicate Gerl filled in at churches in the Lansing area as recently as June.
Following Lansing’s announcement, the Diocese of Kalamazoo issued its own statement saying that Gerl had also served in Kalamazoo. He worked at Nazareth College from 1986 to 1991, at St. Thomas More Parish in Kalamazoo from 1997 to 2000, and at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Portage from 2000 to 2009.
State records indicate Gerl was placed on temporary probation in 2006 because he allegedly was referring to himself as a doctor before being granted a doctoral degree in psychology. The incident was alleged to have occurred while he worked as a school psychologist at the intermediate school district in Allegan County. In 2010, he was again cited for failing to meet regularly with a supervisor during his post-doctoral work.
Gerl worked as a school psychologist for Allegan Area Educational Service Agency from 2000 to 2011, according to Tom Scheidel, a spokesman for the agency. He worked at the Hillside Learning and Behavior Center, "a school for special needs students that serves pre-school through age 26."
"As with all AAESA employees, Mr. Gerl passed a background check prior to his employment. He left AAESA in 2011 of his own accord to pursue a different job opportunity," Scheidel said in a statement.