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Michigan officials strip accused priest of counseling license

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — A state licensing panel on Friday revoked the counseling license of a former Michigan priest accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old student in a church sacristy in the late 1980s.  

The state suspended the Rev. Lawrence Ventline’s educationally limited counselor’s license in May, but the Michigan Board of Counseling voted Friday to revoke the license for at least three years. Ventline was also fined $5,000.

Rev. Lawrence Ventline

Ventline, who has denied the allegations, was restricted from public ministry within the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2016 because of the allegation, which the archdiocese said it forwarded to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office in 2016. Ventline had not been assigned to a full-time parish for 20 years prior to 2016, the archdiocese has said.

The Detroit News was unable Friday to reach Ventline for comment.

The allegation against Ventline was detailed in May, when Attorney General Dana Nessel announced charges against five other Catholic priests as part of her continued investigation into clergy sexual abuse in Michigan.

The statute of limitations prevented the department from prosecuting Ventline criminally, Nessel said.

Currently, there is no statute of limitations for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, but at the time the alleged assault took place, the statute of limitations for first-degree criminal sexual conduct was six years.

Other priests being prosecuted by Nessel on decades-old allegations left the state after the alleged incident, which stopped the six-year clock for prosecution under a legal concept called tolling.

The board’s action Friday “ensures that he cannot use his counseling license to lure in and abuse vulnerable patients, including young children,” Nessel said in a statement. “We are grateful for our continued partnership with LARA to help ensure the safety and welfare of our residents.”

The administrative complaint against Ventline accuses him of raping an 11-year-old boy who was a student at a Catholic school associated with Ventline’s parish in the 1989-1990 school year.

Ventline maintained an active educationally limited professional counseling license from 1999 to its suspension in May. As recently as September 2018, Ventline presented himself as a board certified professional counselor in a newspaper, without clarifying the limitations on his license, according to the complaint.

Because Ventline failed to respond to the administrative complaint, the board must consider the allegations “undisputed and true,” according to a statement from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

“LARA remains focused on holding our health professionals accountable and we’re pleased that the board decided to revoke the counselor’s license,” LARA Director Orlene Hawks said in a Friday statement.