Jacques: Nessel wages crusade against Catholics

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News
People hold rosaries during a Rosary Coast to Coast event on the Detroit River waterfront.

Dana Nessel once referred to Catholic adoption agencies — and their supporters — as “hate mongers.”

Now that she is Michigan’s attorney general, that’s exactly how she's approaching the state’s 2 million Catholics. 

Nessel made that comment in 2015, around the time Michigan lawmakers passed protections for religious adoption agencies that believe it goes against their faith to place children in the state foster care system with LGBTQ couples. 

To Nessel, this was state-sanctioned discrimination. She recently settled an ACLU lawsuit against the state, overturning the former law. Impacted agencies must now shelve their faith in doing this work — or get out altogether. 

The attorney general’s distaste for the faithful goes beyond this case, however.

The latest example is the fight Nessel has picked with esteemed Judge Michael Talbot, whose greatest sin appears to be the fact he’s Catholic.

More:Nessel, Republican lawmaker clash over MSU's hiring of ex-judge

More:Finley: AG Nessel puts civil liberties at risk

Attorney General Dana Nessel answers questions from reporters during a press conference Thursday morning in Lansing.

Michigan State University hired Talbot in February to help ensure its Title IX sexual assault investigations comply with several court rulings mandating universities maintain due process for all students.

Talbot is well-known and respected. He spent the past two decades on the Michigan Court of Appeals, and was chief judge when he retired last year. He’s more than qualified to help MSU bring justice to these campus investigations.

But he's Catholic. Last year, when Talbot was working with the Diocese of Saginaw as it faced allegations of clergy abuse, he got in a tiff with the Saginaw County prosecutor’s office over how it handled a home raid of a bishop battling cancer.

The prosecutor reportedly filed a grievance with the Attorney Grievance Commission over Talbot’s “behavior,” but those claims were quickly dismissed.

Judge Michael Talbot.

That didn’t stop Nessel from bringing the incident to light after news of Talbot’s appointment late last month. In fact, her spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney selectively sent a statement on April 2 about the grievance to members of the media. 

That statement claimed: “The Prosecutor’s Office believes his [Talbot’s] behavior — which included veiled threats and a demand to shut down the office’s investigation into clergy abuse in the Diocese — was inappropriate and bordered on obstruction of justice.”

Grievances submitted to the commission are generally kept confidential. Plus, this one was found lacking merit. 

Nessel apparently discovered that after spreading the rumor. “We did subsequently learn from the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office that the grievance had been dismissed,” Rossman-McKinney told me.

That bit of news wasn’t worth a follow-up press release. And Rossman-McKinney says she and Nessel “continue to be concerned” about Talbot.  

This anti-Catholic pattern has ruffled Rep. Beau LaFave. The Iron Mountain Republican, who is Catholic and says his district has many Catholics, thinks Nessel owes an apology to those she’s offended with her “religious bigotry.”

He first took offense when earlier this year Nessel said clergy abuse victims should ask for the investigator’s “badge, and not their rosary,” during statewide investigations which started under Nessel’s predecessor but which she has doubled down on.

LaFave let that comment slide, but when Nessel went after Talbot's character, he called foul.

“This was a blatant attempt to smear a good judge,” LaFave says. “It is not becoming of the attorney general.”

The next time Nessel publicly offends Catholics, LaFave says he’s ready to draft “articles of impeachment” against her.  

In the meantime, the state’s Catholics should hold on to their rosaries a little tighter.