Here’s where the Michigan AG’s sweeping Catholic clergy sex abuse investigation stands

In this March 5, 2020 file photo, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel addresses the media during a news conference in Lansing. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

By Michigan Advance

November 27, 2023

BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

The Michigan Attorney General’s office announced earlier this month that after five years since the investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church began, the office has wrapped up all active cases against clergy members with many incidents dating back decades.

A total of 11 Catholic priests were charged in the statewide investigation. Back in 2018, the Department of Attorney General executed search warrants for all of Michigan’s dioceses, reporting that they seized 220 boxes of documents and more than 3.5 million digital documents.

“Our team continues to work day and night to bring an end to an era of abuse that has hidden in plain sight for far too long and provide justice to those who have suffered years of unimaginable trauma,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement this summer.

The department also reports the tip line used in the investigation has generated more than 1,000 tips, resulting in at least 180 victim interviews and more than 285 police reports.

With the latest conviction of Timothy Crowley, a former priest in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has secured nine convictions against Catholic clergy. There are two other cases in which priests potentially have to be extradited from India.

The majority of convictions have been against men decades after the sexual abuse occurred, often perpetrated against minors who told investigators and members of the court they didn’t tell anyone out of shame, at the request of their perpetrator, or out of fear of not being believed and creating a worse situation than what had already happened.

Nessel issued a statement following the conviction of Crowley at the beginning of the month saying, “We must all commit to breaking down the walls of silence that so often surround sexual assault and abuse. In the end, we hope this investigation provides a voice to those who have suffered in silence for so long and shines a light on those offenders who have escaped punishment for their crimes by hiding in shadows.”

Although the active prosecutions have concluded, the investigation is still active and those who have information can call the investigation hotline at 844-324-3374 or email the department.

Here’s a look at the cases:

Patrick Casey

The first priest to be convicted in the investigation was Patrick Casey, in his capacity as a priest at St. Theodore of Canterbury Parish in Westland where he was assigned from 2012 to 2015 after serving at other parishes around the state, as well as Cardinal Mooney High School in Marine City.

Casey pleaded guilty in October 2019 to aggravated assault in response to a report from a man who told investigators that when he was 24 years old in 2013, he sought guidance from Casey. The victim said Casey sexually assaulted him, failing to address any element of his serious mental health concerns.

“…[H]e did nothing to help me. … I was messed up before I ever met him. But he could have helped. And he chose not to. He contributed to it instead … I was drowning, I needed help,” according to the man’s victim impact statement read in court during the sentencing. “I hope someday he really understands the gravity of what he did, even if he doesn’t care. … [B]elieve it or not I do pray for him. I hope he doesn’t lose his faith. If anyone deserves to lose his faith from all this, it’s me. But I haven’t.”

Casey pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, with a judge ordering 45 days in jail and one year of probation. He did not have to register as a sex offender like some of the other priests in the investigation, having pleaded down from the original charge of third degree criminal sexual conduct.

The Archdiocese of Detroit said it was made aware of the report of sexual abuse in 2015 and then removed Casey from ministry. Investigators found that the archdiocese, in their processes, found that Casey “took advantage of someone who was vulnerable” and that his actions “were predatory; he became a wolf.”

Though the archdiocese had knowledge of the abuse prior to the attorney general’s investigation and had taken disciplinary action, they did not alert the police because it was between a priest and an adult, a spokesman told The Associated Press. The spokesman said that policy has changed.

Gary Berthiaume

Gary Berthiaume was sentenced to between 17 months and 15 years in prison on two counts of criminal sexual conduct and between 17 months and five years on a count of gross indecency in 2022 after sexually abusing teenagers in the 1970s while he was a priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wyandotte and Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington.

Berthiaume had already served a jail sentence for the sexual assault of two minors in Oakland County in 1977 when he was transferred to the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1978.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office outlines that Berthiaume served within the Catholic Church in Ohio from the 1970s to the ‘90s, admitting to his peers within the church that he continued his “behaviors.” At one point, he told the Cleveland bishop in a letter, “[T]here were a few occasions where I used poor judgment and made foolish decisions in taking young men out between 1983 and 1986.”

After one incident, the Illinois attorney general said the Cleveland bishop sent Berthiaume “for evaluation” to a church-affiliated psychiatric institution.

Upon leaving the facility, Berthiaume moved to the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois, where his old peer from Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington, Mich., in the 1970s was bishop. The Illinois attorney general said Bishop Joseph Imesch of Joliet was aware of the 1977 sexual abuse and behaviors in Clevland and allowed him to serve the diocese.

In the early 2000s, as media reports exposing Berthiaume’s past in Michigan came to light, members of the Catholic church came to his defense, saying child abusers can be rehabilitated.

Imesch wrote to a group of Good Samaritan nurses in May 2002, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office: “I am convinced that some abusers can be rehabilitated and can function without putting children at risk. … However, as I listen to many people, there seems to be little support for allowing a child abuser to function in any ministry, even a restricted one. It is unfortunate and will certainly mean the loss of some very dedicated ministers.”

Berthiaume was not removed from ministry until 2007.

Vincent DeLorenzo

In 2002, Vincent DeLorenzo was removed from Holy Redeemer Church in Burton, having publicly admitted to sexually abusing a minor decades prior. At that point, he had been ordained as a priest and worked at Catholic churches for about 37 years, serving in several other Genesee County churches.

The Flint Journal, at the time, covered DeLorenzo’s admission, saying a letter penned by the priest was read to attendees at Good Friday services that year which said, “Many years ago, I had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor. … This has caused harm to that young person. I am sorry it happened and now publicly apologize for what I did.”

The Diocese of Lansing said they sent a complaint they received in 2002 to the Genesee County prosecutor.

Investigators from the Michigan attorney general’s office said the Catholic Church placed him on restricted ministry, but allowed him to stay within the Catholic Church.

DeLorenzo moved to Florida in 2008, which ended up pausing the clock on the statute of limitations on an accusations of sexual abuse from the 1980s and ‘90s, as DeLorenzo had left the state.

The attorney general charged DeLorenzo for sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy in 1987 following the funeral service of the boy’s family member, which he officiated. The office also charged DeLorenzo for the reported serial sexual assault of a child from 1995-2000, starting when the boy was 5 or 6 years old as a student at Holy Redeemer School.

The school-related charges were dismissed and DeLorenzo was sentenced in June on one count of attempted criminal sexual conduct in the first degree to one year in jail, five years’ probation, as well as being mandated to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Neil Kalina

Similarly to DeLorenzo, Neil Kalina, a priest at St. Kiernan Catholic Church in Shelby Township, left the state, so decades old offenses were still within the statute of limitations.

Kalina was convicted of two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) after the attorney general’s office investigated contact Kalina had with a child in the early 1980s.

The affidavit in the case says that between 1982 and 1984, when the boy was between the ages of 12 and 14, Kalina plied the boy with alcohol and cocaine, among other drugs. During this time period Kalina and the boy would spend the night in the church rectory and the boy would wake up to Kalina sexually assaulting him.

Kalina was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on two counts of second degree criminal sexual conduct in 2022.

“This is a victory for the survivors who fought to see their abusers held accountable,” Nessel said at the time. “Regardless of how much time has passed or how difficult a case may be, my prosecutors are committed to securing justice for the victims of clergy abuse. Adults who prey upon and subject children to abuse belong in prison.”

Joseph “Jack’’ Baker

Jack Baker, who was pastor at St. Mary Parish and the associated school in Wayne, as well as other Catholic organizations in metro Detroit, had mass support from the community during his trial.

There were some of those who testified during his case of the rape of a child at the school who said even if he admitted to the abuse, it would not sway their opinion of him.

In March, Baker was sentenced to three to 15 years in prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct for the assault of a 7-year-old boy in 2004.

Baker’s defense attorney said after a jury found Baker guilty in 2022, the verdict was unexpected. In fact, when the verdict was read to the court in October 2022, Baker audibly gasped.

During the trial, the victim, then 26 years old, talked about why it took until 2018 to tell anyone about the abuse, saying Baker was a monolith, having the respect and trust of the community, The Detroit News reported.

“He said that I can’t tell anybody because — because what had happened was a sin. … I took that back with me for the rest of my life and it haunted me for as long as I can remember,” the man said during the trial in 2022.

Brian Stanley

When the Diocese of Kalamazoo was first made aware of a report in 2013 that Brian Stanley had tied up a child in a janitor’s room at St. Margaret’s Church in Otsego where Stanley was a priest, they said they reported it to Child Protective Services and placed Stanley on administrative leave pending the outcome of the Otsego Police Department investigation.

The Diocese said according to the Otsego Police Department, “the complaint was not criminal and there would be no charges.’”

Four years later, more reports against Stanley came to light, the diocese said, which then were reported to the Coldwater Police Department. But no charges were filed and Stanley was again placed on administrative leave. He was still on administrative leave when the attorney general filed charges.

The attorney general’s investigation found a report that in 2013 Stanley tied up a teenage boy in saran wrap, covering his eyes and mouth with tape and left him in the janitor’s room at St. Margaret’s Church for over an hour before coming back and letting him go.

Stanley admitted to “secretly confined and knowingly restrained [the victim] for approximately 30 minutes” in court in 2019, according to MLive.

The attorney general’s office said back in 2019 when Stanley was charged that he was asked by the victim’s family to counsel their son. And in looking through the Kalamazoo Diocesan records, it is “apparent” that Stanley had “been engaging in this type of conduct with the binding materials for decades. This type of conduct is a sexually motivated crime.”

Stanley was sentenced in 2020 to two months in jail, a five-year probation period and 15 years on the sex offender registry on one count of attempted false imprisonment.

Joseph Comperchio

A former teacher at St. John Catholic School in Jackson, Joseph Comperchio was sentenced in 2021 to 12 to 30 years in prison on one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

He pleaded guilty to the charges for the sexual abuse of several children in the 1970s during his time teaching drama and music.

During the sentencing, Comperchio read a statement over Zoom, according to MLive, saying, “I didn’t understand back then the hurtful consequences and trauma that my actions inflicted. My state of mind at that time is in no way an excuse for what I did.”

Gary Jacobs

A former priest in the Upper Peninsula, Gary Jacobs was sentenced in two courts in 2021 for a total of three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for the sexual abuse of several children in the area in the 1980s.

He could serve up to 15 years in prison.

Time was given for victim impact statements during which adults recalled their interactions with Jacobs and having to reconcile his role of power and trust in their life with the “monster” and “horrible excuse for a human being” who pleaded guilty to the charges.

“He was in my life from my very earliest memories, fondling my genitals as a mere child. That first act alone put a tremendous burden on me as that little child. I knew what he was doing was wrong … but he was my priest! At the time, as a child, I believed that a priest had a direct dial number to God himself, second in line perhaps only to the pope. Can you even imagine how confusing it must be for a child of 5 years old to have to try and reconcile this?” one man said.

Sexual abuse can cost victims their lives as health issues and emotional trauma can make it so they are not able to participate in key life moments, another man said.

“The impacts of sexual assault continue to affect me, years after the assault, on a daily basis. Not a day goes by when what [Jacobs] has done to me does not interfere with my life or limit the life that I lead in some way,” said. I believe child sexual abuse is worse than murder. Once you are dead you are finished. When you are abused, you endure the mental anguish for the rest of your life,” the other man said.

Timothy Crowley

The last active clergy abuse case to reach a conviction involved Timothy Crowley, who had been a priest at St. Thomas Rectory in Ann Arbor.

Earlier this month, Crowley was sentenced to one year of incarceration, followed by five years of probation after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Upon release, he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Crowley began sexually assaulting an altar boy at St. Mary Parish in Jackson when the boy was 10 years old in the 1980s, according to an affidavit published by WDIV-TV in Detroit.

In 1993, the Diocese of Lansing paid the boy $200,000 as a settlement where the boy abdicated the ability to bring future civil cases for damages and required him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Two other priests charged

The attorney general’s office has now secured nine convictions from the 11 clergy members charged, with two priests potentially needing to be extradited from India: Roy Joseph, who worked in Marquette County, and Jacob Vellian, who worked in Benton Harbor.

Joseph is charged with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for a 2006 incident and Vellian is charged with two counts of rape under old statuates from the 1970s for criminal sexual conduct against a child in the 1970s.

There is a video on YouTube of Vellian’s funeral service from 10 months ago.

The woman who says Vellian molested and raped her when she was a teenager at St. John The Evangelist in Benton Harbor told WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids that she had been searching his name when she saw the video.

“It was hard not to throw up. I was nauseated,” Ann Phillips Browning told WOOD-TV. “I wonder how many of these people know? How many of these people know what he was really like. … I’ve got to believe there’s some.”

Nessel spokesperson Danny Wimmer told the Advance the office is aware of reports that Vellian has died, but it hasn’t been able to corroborate his death to a law enforcement standard.

The investigation does not stop at prosecutions, Wimmer added, as the department is committed to delivering diocese specific reports showing investigative findings.

The Marquette Diocese report, which is available online, outlines accusations and records on reports against clergy for which statute of limitations has run out, the clergy members have died, or otherwise criminal prosecution has not been brought.

READ MORE: Michigan lawmakers renew effort to give sex abuse victims more time to sue

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

 

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