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16 Priests Face Inquiry

May 10, 2002 | Detroit Free Press The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has opened investigations of 16 priests who were accused of sexual abuse while serving in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Prosecutor Michael Duggan said Thursday.

Duggan would not speculate on possible charges against any of the priests. He said the reviews could take weeks.

"None of this is going to be easy, but we're going to try," he said.

Duggan's announcement came as the archdiocese removed another priest because a new complaint of sexual abuse came to the prosecutor's office in recent days. The accuser is a woman who said she had been molested as a young girl.

The priest, whom officials would not identify pending notification of his coworkers, was disciplined more than 10 years ago for a credible complaint that he molested a different girl, said Msgr. Walter Hurley, liaison between the archdiocese and the prosecutor's offices.

At the time, church leaders removed the priest from a parish, which was not identified Thursday, and sent him to therapy.

He was eventually allowed to return to ministry in the archdiocese on the advice of the professionals who treated him.

"They indicated to us that he did not represent a danger to anyone," Hurley said. He would not detail the new allegation, but said he thought it happened before the priest was treated.

Hurley declined to detail where the priest, in his late 60s, has been working, but said it was not in a parish.

Archdiocesan officials said the removal of that priest left at least seven who are actively ministering in the six-county archdiocese despite being named in allegations recently turned over to prosecutors.

And it brings to at least eight the number of priests whose work has been restricted by the Archdiocese of Detroit in connection with sexual abuse allegations since January. At least six other priests have been restricted by church officials elsewhere in Michigan.

Earlier this week, Hurley and archdiocesan spokesman Ned McGrath had said there were just four accused priests serving the archdiocese, but they revised the number Thursday.

Hurley and McGrath said they do not believe the allegations against the seven priests who are still serving and said the priests pose no risk to people. Hurley would not identify the priests.

Prosecutors must contend with statutes of limitation in several cases. Deadlines to file criminal charges have likely passed in some instances, Duggan said. But he said some older cases may be prosecutable because the priests left Michigan before the statutes of limitation expired, in effect causing the clock to stop.

Duggan said prosecutors also will be looking to see whether the 16 priests were involved in more recent criminal activity.

The cases to be investigated were culled from complaints against 40 priests in Wayne County. All but three were obtained from the Archdiocese of Detroit, which agreed in Aprilto share for the first time all allegations that have come into the church in the last 15 years.

Future complaints will be reported immediately, the archdiocese said.

The new allegations against the three additional priests came from callers who contacted the prosecutor's office directly.

Duggan said the review of Wayne County's files showed that 25 percent of the victims were female, that victims ranged in age from 7 to 17.

Many of them said they didn't realize the impact of the abuse they suffered until they were older, Duggan said.

"The stories are chilling," he said. "They were all kids. What we are dealing with are pedophiles."

Prosecutors in Oakland and Macomb counties, who each received complaints against 11 priests, said they are investigating a handful of cases for possible charges.

Prosecutors in St. Clair County, with two cases, and Monroe, with one, have already ruled out charges. Lapeer County has no cases. Some priests were named in more than one case.

Duggan said the archdiocese has been cooperative, and that he saw no evidence that church leaders obstructed justice by keeping some allegations secret for years.

The complaints that his office will not pursue involve priests who are dead, cases where the statute of limitations clearly has expired and false allegations.

Duggan said he reviewed all 40 complaints against the priests himself and recommended Thursday that the archdiocese immediately ban priests from allowing minors to stay overnight in rectories or to vacation alone with priests.

Hurley said he agreed, but stopped short of saying the practices will be banned because such a rule would be ineffective.

Besides, Hurleysaid, "It's difficult for me to see why there should be any juveniles staying in any rectory."

In a workshop for priests on sexual abuse in the late 1980s, priests were warned that unsupervised personal contact with minors is considered "inappropriate," Hurley said, noting that the warning will be repeated.

However, he said, only Cardinal Adam Maida could impose such a ban. Maida is revising archdiocesan policy on sexual abuse. The new policy won't be final until after the nation's Catholic bishops meet to discuss the issue in Dallas in mid-June, Hurley and McGrath said.

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