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Ex-Priest Faces 8 Abuse Charges

Sep 5, 2002 | Detroit Free Press Jason Sigler, one of four men accused in Wayne County of abusing children while working as Catholic priests, was arraigned Wednesday in River Rouge.

Sigler, 64, flew to Detroit from his home in New Mexico to face eight felony counts of criminal sexual conduct. Because he appeared voluntarily, 26th District Judge Raymond Charron released him on a $5,000 bond and allowed him to return home. His preliminary examination is scheduled for Sept. 13.

Sigler said little as Charron read the charges that date to 1965-67: four first-degree counts for performing oral sex on a boy younger than 13 and four second-degree counts for abusing the boy between the ages of 13 and 16. Sigler did not enter a plea.

The Free Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

"This could subject you up to life in prison," the judge told Sigler, who voluntarily left the priesthood in 1982.

According to the warrant against him, filed last week by Wayne County prosecutors, Sigler sometimes told the boy's parents that he was going into the boy's bedroom in the evening to give the child a blessing. Instead, he would fondle the boy, a distant cousin, and perform oral sex, prosecutors say.

Sigler was born in River Rouge and served as a priest in Michigan. He has lived mostly in New Mexico during the past three decades. According to lawyers and court records, he faced civil lawsuits there and served probation on one criminal charge alleging abuse.

"He was amazingly prolific," said Stephen Tinkler, a Santa Fe, N.M., attorney who has represented 20 to 25 alleged victims in separate civil suits against Sigler. All cases were settled by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe archdiocese did not return calls for confirmation.

The other three men named last week in warrants issued by Wayne County prosecutors are the Rev. Robert Burkholder, a Detroit priest who has lived for many years in Hawaii; the Rev. Edward Olszewski, who left Michigan in the mid-1970s to work in Florida, and Harry Benjamin, who was defrocked in 1993 and has been living in the Washington, D.C., area. They have yet to be arraigned.

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