Teen's lawsuit claims assault by priest at Lapeer Catholic school

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Michigan teen is suing the Archdiocese of Detroit and a Catholic school in Lapeer County amid allegations he was sexually assaulted by a priest more than a decade ago.

The youth was an 8-year-old second grader at Bishop Kelley Catholic School in Lapeer 2010 when he attended a “spiritual formation” session with the priest, Aloysius “Father Al” Volskis, during school, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Detroit.

While in a teacher’s lounge, the priest noticed the boy had a cold and offered two blue pills believed to be medicine; he swallowed them then “fell into a semi-sedated state of consciousness,” the filing said. 

The youth was unable to move but aware of his surroundings, asserting in the lawsuit that the priest “raped and molested plaintiff in the teachers’ lounge.” The boy claims he heard Volskis  “moaning and uttering prayers or chants in Latin during the assault,” which his lawyers wrote left him with bloodied underwear.

The student told his mother he never wanted another session with the priest and soon became withdrawn, stopped doing his homework and often refused to attend school, the lawsuit said.

Volskis continued his ties at the school’s affiliated parish, Immaculate Conception, until early 2011, after he allegedly was accused of sexually assaulting another parishioner, the suit said. “Defendants then sheltered (the priest) in the church rectory … concealed his true whereabouts from the community, and facilitated his escape out of the country,” attorneys wrote.

Meanwhile, the student “experienced trauma, anxiety, psychosis, and depression” as years passed, according to the suit. “Plaintiff was diagnosed with ADHD and sought mental health treatment for years. Continuing to attend Catholic school only exacerbated his trauma, as the sight of priests and other Catholic religious objects reminded him of the assault.

"He became deeply troubled, undergoing severe internal conflict as he wondered whether the assault made him gay, and obsessed over topics such as becoming ‘martyred’ for the church.”

The youth did not disclose the priest’s alleged abuse to relatives until late 2017 or early 2018 because he claimed Volskis had threatened to harm his family if he told anyone. They reported the incident to Bishop Kelley and Immaculate Conception officials about three years ago, the lawsuit said.

The filing accuses the archdiocese and church officials of negligence, “deliberate indifference” to the priest’s alleged conduct as well as violating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act because the youth lacked "equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered." 

The suit also alleges the priest had been transferred to Immaculate Conception from another parish after accusations of sexual improprieties with a parishioner.

Officials at Bishop Kelley and Immaculate Conception did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ned McGrath, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told The Detroit News that “any allegation involving abuse of a young person is one too many. We take them very seriously and we pursue it to the degree that we can.”

According to its website, the archdiocese “reports every complaint it receives, regardless of its source or the date of the alleged activity, to civil authorities” through a 2002 agreement signed with prosecutors in all six counties within its boundaries.

McGrath said the archdiocese did not receive or investigate any abuse complaints against the priest before 2011, when a woman alleged Volskis made sexual advances. The woman's complaint “was turned over to the Lapeer County authorities, who investigated and chose not to proceed. We did proceed with our own investigation and within days had him in restricted ministry,” he said, meaning the priest could not present himself as clergy.

Volskis, who was part of the Diocese of Telšiai in Lithuania, did not live in the rectory after the allegation was reported and had no access to children. His efforts to officially join the Archdiocese of Detroit were terminated, McGrath said.

In 2013, the priest returned to Europe.

After the Bishop Kelley student who filed the lawsuit reported the alleged attack by 2018, an archdiocese victim assistance coordinator contacted the family, McGrath said. “His father didn’t want to work with the diocese, but we still turned (the complaint) over to the authorities.”

McGrath said information would also have been released to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which in late 2018 launched a large-scale probe into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the state. 

The investigation was launched in the wake of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that revealed hundreds of abuser priests who molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.

In December, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office said authorities had seized 220 boxes of paper documents and more than 3.5 million digital documents.

The accused priest in the federal lawsuit has not been among the defendants charged so far in connection with the probe.

Reached Thursday, Ryan Jarvi, a representative for the Michigan Attorney General's Office, said: "We have closed our investigation into this priest as there was insufficient evidence to charge him with any crime."