Whitmer asks for $2M to investigate Catholic clergy sex abuse

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state Legislature to approve a $2 million supplemental allocation for a state investigation into clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state Legislature to approve a $2 million supplemental allocation for a state investigation into clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

The $2 million is expected to pay for the entirety of the investigation and would be funded by state settlement money, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Expected to take about two years to complete, the investigation into Michigan’s seven dioceses and their handling of sexual abuse complaints started in August shortly after a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania found hundreds of abuser priests had molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.

Michigan's investigation will examine cases and any efforts to cover up complaints dating back to the 1950s.

So far, the department has absorbed the costs internally, Rossman-McKinney said, but “the sheer size and scope of the investigation requires that we ask the Legislature to appropriate funds for this project.”

The money will be used for “additional investigatory resources and victims’ advocacy services,” she said.

A similar supplemental allocation also was made to finance the attorney general’s investigation of Michigan State University’s handling of complaints against former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar, Rossman-McKinney said.

The Michigan Legislature will need to approve the supplemental request before the money can be allocated to the clergy sexual abuse investigation.

The Attorney General’s office has received roughly 360 complaints since the clergy sexual abuse investigation began, nearly 60 of which have come in the last few weeks, Rossman-McKinney said. In October, 70 police officers and 14 assistant attorneys general conducted simultaneous raids on Michigan’s seven dioceses and recovered hundreds of thousands of documents.

People with information on clergy sexual abuse in Michigan can call the attorney general tip line at (844) 324-3374.

During a February press conference on the investigation, Attorney General Dana Nessel warned Michigan dioceses to “stop self-policing,” suspend their internal investigations and cooperate with the state’s investigation. She alleged that dioceses were encouraging victims to sign non-disclosure agreements or take confidential settlements.

“If an investigator comes to your door and asks to speak to you,” Nessel said in February, “please ask to see their badge and not their rosary.”

Michigan’s dioceses maintained that they had cooperated with the investigation, said they have not asked victims to sign non-disclosure agreements since 2002 and took issue with Nessel using the rosary as a “punch line.”

“Here’s to hoping future statements show no additional disrespect,” Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Ned McGrath said in a statement after the press conference.

When asked Monday to clarify which dioceses had approached victims with nondisclosure agreements or failed to cooperate with the investigation, Rossman-Kinney said she couldn’t provide any additional information “because it would reveal the details of cases currently under review by our office.”

The investigation would benefit from more dialogue between the dioceses and Nessel’s office, said Michael Talbot, the founding chairman of Detroit’s Archdiocesan Review Board.

While noting he is not a spokesman for the archdiocese, the retired Michigan Court of Appeals judge said he wished Nessel was more specific about which dioceses were being uncooperative.

Many of the dioceses have had agreements to share clergy misconduct files in place with local prosecutors since 2002. Several have independent review boards that investigate new allegations after law enforcement have reviewed the case. 

The diocese only conducts an internal review of a given complaint after local law enforcement and prosecutors have finished their investigation, Talbot said. While prosecutors may be limited in what charges, if any, they can bring because of the statute of limitations or subject matter, canon law provides the archdiocese other options for the priest's removal.

“When we’re free to do it, we would like to learn what we can so we can act on it,” he said. “But we would never impede a criminal investigation that we know about it.”


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