Nessel charges 5 priests in Michigan sexual abuse investigation

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says Friday. May 24, 2019, during a news conference in Lansing, Mich. Law enforcement with the Michigan Attorney General's office on Thursday charged five men with 21 counts of criminal sexual conduct as part of its ongoing investigation into sex abuse at Catholic churches in the state. The charges are based on disturbing evidence of abuse investigators said they found in records seized from Michigan dioceses, authorities said Friday, and just the first in what will be a long investigation of clergy abuse in Michigan.

Lansing — Attorney General Dana Nessel has authorized sexual misconduct charges against five priests who are serving or have served in three Michigan dioceses, the early results of her investigation into priest sexual abuse. 

Starting Thursday, representatives from Nessel's office worked with courthouses and police departments in Macomb, Washtenaw, Wayne, Berrien and Genesee counties as well as Arizona, Florida and California to file charges and arrest the clergy members, all of whom had already been removed from ministry. 

The charges are "just the tip of the iceberg" Nessel said, noting that her office has received more than 450 calls from residents in its investigation of Michigan's seven dioceses.

"Unfortunately, those clergy were hiding in plain sight, purporting to comfort their parishioners, hearing their confessions, and taking advantage of their position of faith and authority," she said at a Friday Lansing press conference. "Today we begin holding those clergy accountable.”

Among those charged are the Revs. Timothy Michael Crowley, who served in various parishes including St. Thomas Rectory in Ann Arbor; Neil Kalina, who served at St. Kiernan Catholic Church in Shelby Township; and Patrick Casey, who served at St. Theodore of Canterbury Parish in Westland.

The two others are Vincent DeLorenzo, who most recently served at Holy Redeemer Church in Burton, and Jacob Vellian, who served in St. John the Evangelist Parish in Benton Harbor. 

All of the priests have been arrested, some out of state, with the exception of Vellian, who currently resides in India. 

The alleged victims in the cases included four boys and one girl between the ages of 5 and 26. The cases stretch from the oldest in the 1970s to the most recent in 2013. 

In the roughly hour-long press conference, Nessel recognized the work of more than two dozen investigators dedicated to the investigation of clergy abuse in Michigan's Catholic dioceses, noting they've seen some "incredibly disturbing" things, including documentation of conversations among those in church leadership positions about where an accused priest should be placed next. 

The department has encountered cases where an incident could not be charged because the accused clergy member had died, children were groomed until they were of a legal age or the statute of limitations had expired, she said.

In several cases, Nessel could bring charges only because the priests had left the state after the incident, putting a freeze on the statute of limitations clock.

Deputy Solicitor General Ann Sherman noted that, as a Catholic, those responsible for harming children or covering up the incidents did not reflect her faith.

One priest discussing an allegation of child sexual abuse against a fellow priest said the child “needed to simply admit he teased, enticed or gave permission for the abuse to occur," Sherman said. The priest added that a bruised apple was the result of two sins: one on behalf of the person who dropped the apple and another on behalf of the apple that allowed itself to be bruised, Sherman said.

Bishops in the Kalamazoo, Lansing and Detroit dioceses expressed solidarity with the victims involved in each of the cases and promised continued cooperation with authorities.

"One sinful, criminal act, especially against God’s most vulnerable and trusting children, is unacceptable and one suffering soul too many," the archdiocese said in a statement.

"Any priest who commits reprehensible acts against children does grave harm to victims," Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea said in a statement. "He betrays the priesthood and the entire Church. I pray that Christ brings healing to all involved.” 

Nessel said the investigative team continues its work despite repeated threats of cuts to her department budget, including $2 million in supplemental funding and 10% and 15% reductions to the department's overall budget proposed by the GOP-controlled Senate and House.

"This has nothing to do with partisanship," Nessel said, of the investigation started by her Republican predecessor Bill Schuette. 

Casey, Kalina, Ventline cases 

Casey, 55, is charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and was arrested Thursday in Oak Park. He was most recently assigned to St. Theodore of Canterbury in Westland later that year.

Casey is accused of engaging in sexual acts during confession with a 24-year-old man who came to him for counseling in 2013.

When the man reported the incident to the archdiocese in 2015, Casey admitted the acts occurred and the archdiocese removed Casey from ministry, according the attorney general’s complaint.

The Aug. 1, 2018, dismissal was based on a finding that Casey “took advantage of someone who was vulnerable,” according to the complaint. The Detroit archdiocese said the "canonical process appropriate for this allegation" is pending in Rome.

Casey is barred from representing himself as a priest or conducting any sort of church ministry, according to an archdiocese statement.

Kalina, 63, is charged with four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and was arrested Thursday in Littlerock, California.

Kalina’s charges stem from accusations that, in the early 1980s at St. Kieran Church in Shelby Township, the priest on several occasions provided alcohol, powder cocaine and marijuana to a 12-year-old boy. The boy said he was fondled on at least four occasions by Kalina.

In 1985, Kalina moved to California, “where he operates a faith-based service program for at-risk young men,” according to the complaint.

Kalina was part of a religious order separate from the archdiocese, called the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission, and left public ministry in 1993, according to an archdiocese statement. The allegation against Kalina was brought to the archdiocese in 2017 and forwarded to his order and the Shelby Township Police Department. 

The Rev. Lawrence Ventline is alleged to have sexually assaulted a Michigan resident, Nessel said Friday, but the allegations fell outside the statute of limitations. Instead, state regulators suspended his professional educationally limited counselor’s license and Nessel filed an administrative licensing complaint against him.

Ventline was restricted from public ministry in 2016 after the archdiocese received a complaint against him. Prior to that restriction, Ventline had not been assigned full-time to a parish for nearly two decades, the archdiocese said. 

DeLorenzo, Crowley cases

DeLorenzo, 80, was charged Thursday with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct dating back to 1995, according to court records.

Attorney General Dana Nessel will hold a  press conference today to update media on her investigation into Michigan’s seven dioceses.

DeLorenzo’s most recent assignment in the Diocese of Lansing ended in 2002, when he left Holy Redeemer Parish in Burton.  He was arrested Thursday in Florida's Marion County. 

He was removed from ministry in the Diocese of Lansing in 2002, after former Bishop Carl Mengling received a complaint of sexual abuse involving a minor, said Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for the diocese.

Since the 2002 complaint, the diocese has received complaints from seven other victims, O'Brien said. The most recent allegations made in March 2018 and January 2019 were first reported to the Genesee County prosecutor and Burton police, then later to the Attorney General's office after the investigation had begun, the diocese said.

“Currently, the diocese is in the process of laicizing (defrocking) this priest,” O'Brien said in a statement.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who took office in 2005, was not aware why charges weren’t authorized against DeLorenzo in 2002, according to a spokesman. During the press conference, Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark said she believes charges against DeLorenzo were declined in 2002. 

Leyton has received no complaints related to DeLorenzo with the exception of the two letters his office received in the past year from the diocese regarding the March 2018 and January 2019 allegations, Leyton's spokesman John Potbury said. The diocese was directed to report the incidents to police and the attorney general.

DeLorenzo was pastor at St. Pius X in Flint from 1976 to 1983, St. Robert in Flushing from 1983-88, and at Holy Redeemer in Burton, from 1988 to 2002, O'Brien said. Prior to that, he served in some Lansing area and Kalamazoo churches.

“The diocese cooperated with civil authorities about the complaint,” O’Brien said. “No one we know of who has sexually abused anyone is in active ministry in the Diocese of Lansing.”

Crowley was charged Thursday with four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was arrested in Tempe, Arizona, the same day. 

His charges stem from the alleged assault of an altar boy, starting when he was 10 years old at St. Mary Parish in Jackson in the early 1980s and later at St. Anthony parish in Hillsdale and St. Thomas in Ann Arbor. 

In 1993, the Diocese of Lansing paid the boy a $200,000 settlement and the boy signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement, according to the attorney general's complaint.

Former Lansing Bishop Kenneth Povish removed Crowley from ministry in 1993. Crowley was later appointed chancellor for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, despite warnings from the Lansing diocese, the diocese said. 

After church protocol changed in 2002, Crowley was removed from the Anchorage archdiocese, defrocked and reported to the Washtenaw County prosecutor's office. 

Vellian case

Vellian is charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct on allegations that he raped a 15-year-old girl at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Benton Harbor as a visiting priest in the early 1970s, according to the complaint.

In 2002, the woman reported the incident to the Diocese of Kalamazoo, indicating that a priest had walked into the room during one of the instances of abuse, according to the complaint. She reported the matter again to a deacon in 2010, who relayed the information to the Benton Harbor Police Department.

The Diocese of Kalamazoo conducted a review in 2010 and found the allegations to be credible.

Vellian now lives at a retirement home for priests in Kerala, India, and state officials are working to extradite him.  

Anyone who would like to report an incident related to clergy sexual abuse in Michigan can call the attorney general's investigation hotline at (844) 324-3374.

(517) 371-3661