Naida: Nessel falsely accuses church of not cooperating
Attorney General Dana Nessel, during a press conference on Feb. 21, claimed the Catholic Church in its handling of the clergy abuse scandal was “self-policing” and encouraging victims to sign non-disclosure agreements or take confidential settlements.
She also likened her office’s investigation of the church, begun last fall by then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, to the sexual abuse at Michigan State University.
She showed no evidence for her allegations and failed to give credit for the cooperation shown by the Archdiocese of Detroit and other Michigan dioceses.
When the systemic abuse in Massachusetts came to light in 2002, the Archdiocese of Detroit proved its commitment to transparency and accountability by signing agreements with prosecutors from all six counties within its reach and sharing all case files of priests accused of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1940s.
The Archdiocese publicly posted the names of all priests accused of wrongdoing, and in the end four criminal prosecutions resulted.
A new church charter signed in 2002 prohibits any diocese from requesting a non-disclosure agreement. An agreement like that could only happen if a victim requests one.
Despite Archbishop Allen Vigneron pledging his support for Nessel’s investigation and vowing to help in any way possible, she and her office have communicated little with Catholic dioceses much to the frustration of church officials.
Judge Michael Talbot, chair of the Archdiocesan Review Board, in a recent interview on WJR, shared the extent the church here has gone to assist the Attorney General’s office.
Talbot said last October, a group of state police officers led by Richard Cunningham, chief of the AG's Criminal Division, came to archdiocesan offices at the Chancery building in downtown Detroit only to learn that the documents pertaining to the clergy abuse investigation were kept in a different building.
Lacking a search warrant for the archive building, the archdiocese officials waived any search warrant requirement and led the investigators to the documents. They also took them to the office of Monsignor Bugarin to collect other documents related to the investigation which the investigators had not requested.
Had the archdiocese not wanted to cooperate, obtaining those documents could have been far more difficult. But church officials weren’t trying to hide anything, they were trying to help.
Nessel said in her press conference: “The clergy abuse investigation is jarringly similar to the MSU investigation, in that both institutions, when confronted with the public sex abuse scandal, publicly pledged their cooperation with law enforcement authorities but have failed to deliver on those public promises.”
That statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Church officials have continued to work to keep the vulnerable safe from sexual predators.
The documents seized by the AG’s office are the same files the Catholic church has been turning over to county prosecutors since 2002.
“They have been cooperative with us,” says Maria Miller, assistant prosecutor and director of communications for the office.
During her press conference, Nessel mentioned that her office’s Clergy Abuse hotline had received 300 tips, yet none had been shared with the church officials.
Though the statute of limitations may have run out on an accusation preventing law enforcement to act, the Catholic church still has the power to remove an accused priest from service. These tips could prevent a predator from abusing more people.
It's Nessel who actually needs to cooperate with the church. If her investigation is really about protecting people, she would share these tips with the church to keep potential offenders away from their congregations.