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Nessel set to appeal dismissed charges against former Ann Arbor priest

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An Ann Arbor district judge has dismissed charges against a former Diocese of Lansing priest after deciding a statute of limitations argument by Attorney General Dana Nessel's office that had been used in other clergy abuse cases could not be applied in this one.

Judge Joseph Burke on Tuesday dismissed four counts each of first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct against the former Rev. Timothy Crowley at the conclusion of his preliminary examination. Burke ruled that the six-year statute of limitations that was in place at the time of the alleged assault had expired before Crowley moved out of state, said Joseph Simon, a lawyer for Crowley.

Timothy Crowley

The ruling provided an “enormous sense of relief," Simon said. “I believe the judge followed the law correctly and I am pleased that he did.”

Crowley’s charges stemmed from allegations that he sexually assaulted an altar boy in the 1980s, starting when the boy was 10 years old at a Jackson parish and later at parishes in Hillsdale and Ann Arbor.

The judge’s ruling on the statute of limitations was limited to alleged sexual acts prior to the victim in the case turning 16, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Nessel. The judge considered acts after the alleged victim turned 16 consensual, she said.

The Attorney General’s office plans to appeal the decision.

The Diocese of Lansing, which removed Crowley from ministry in 1993, listed the former priest as one of 17 in the diocese since 1937 considered “credibly accused" of abusing a minor.

“This is a very sad and unsatisfactory conclusion for all those betrayed by Timothy Crowley including the Catholic community within the Diocese of Lansing and, most tragically, his victim who delivered his testimony with great bravery in court this week,” said diocesan spokesman David Kerr.

Crowley was one of seven priests facing sexual misconduct charges as a result of Nessel’s investigation into sexual misconduct.

His was one of at least four cases in the group that involved decades-old allegations that would usually be prohibited from prosecution because of a six-year statute of limitations that applied to certain sexual misconduct charges at that time.

Nessel's office has maintained it could still charge the four accused priests because they left the state after the incident, putting a freeze on the statute of limitations, a legal provision also referred to as "tolling."

“We never got to the tolling question for Crowley because the judge found that the then-six-year statute of limitations had expired before he left the state,” Simon said.

He declined to comment on whether his client denied the allegations detailed by the attorney general in her complaint, noting his client's central argument has been that the statute of limitations had passed.

Crowley, one of the five initial priests to be charged by Nessel as part of Michigan's clergy abuse investigation, was arrested in Tempe, Arizona, in May.

The charges against Crowley 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, according to the attorney general's complaint.

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 in Alaska, despite warnings from the Lansing diocese, the diocese said in May.

After church protocol changed in 2002, Crowley was removed from the Anchorage archdiocese, reported to the Washtenaw County prosecutor's office and later laicized — had his clerical status withdrawn.

Most of the priests charged by Nessel are at varying stages in the litigation process, including four scheduled for trials or preliminary hearings in October and November. One is awaiting a competency exam and another remains in India, while Nessel’s office works to extradite him to the state.

All of the priests had been removed from active ministry in Michigan prior to being charged. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com