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51 Priests Accused of Abuse

May 4, 2002 | Detroit Free Press

Fifty-one Catholic priests, two deacons and a religious brother have been accused of sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese of Detroit in the last 15 years, church officials said Friday.

The number of priests is three times higher than the archdiocese had disclosed previously. The total number surfaced Friday afternoon as the archdiocese turned over files on the cases to local prosecutors -- part of a deal reached last week.

It was not clear how many of the allegations are credible. Exact numbers of complaints against each clergyman were not released, but prosecutors said some had multiple complaints against them.

Prosecutors are seeing most of the allegations for the first time because the church kept them secret.

In five of the cases, the church made confidential settlements with accusers.

Just three weeks ago, spokesman Ned McGrath said the archdiocese had investigated just 15 to 18 priests since a sexual misconduct policy was issued in 1988. That number, he said, represented about 2 percent of priests in the archdiocese. There currently are about 800 priests.

On Friday, McGrath said the new, higher number included priests not counted in his original statement. That includes 15 who were dead when allegations were made, 12 who belonged to religious orders or other dioceses, and those named in allegations since mid-April.

He said the original total also did not include an undisclosed number of people who claimed they were abused as adults, not children.

The archdiocese did not investigate allegations against dead priests or those in religious orders, McGrath said. Religious orders are responsible for disciplining their own clergy, even if those priests work in archdiocesan churches, he said.

"The question at the time was, how many cases have we processed under our policy?" McGrath said. "I believe I answered that as fairly and completely as I could."

Based on where the alleged abuse happened, the archdiocese delivered files to prosecutors in five counties -- Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, Monroe and St. Clair. Lapeer County, the sixth county covered by the archdiocese, was the only one with no cases.

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said his office was delivered complaints against 11 priests. Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga said he received allegations against about 10. Their counterpart in Wayne County, Michael Duggan, said he would not discuss numbers until after a review, but the archdiocese said his office received cases involving 19 living priests.

In St. Clair County, there were allegations against two living archdiocesan priests. There was one in Monroe County, where Prosecutor Michael Weipert said he has ruled out any possibility of charges.

Some of the alleged incidents dated to the 1940s, but all the complaints were made since 1987, officials said.

Gorcyca and Marlinga said some were recent allegations, as recent as June 2000 in Oakland County. They also said they had cases in which the statute of limitations had long expired.

Prosecutors have said cases as old as 15 years may still be pursued criminally.

Marlinga seemed anxious to start, saying he was taking his cases home over the weekend to make sure none have statutes that might expire by Monday.

"I believe that the archdiocese and the Catholic church were way too slow in identifying and responding to this problem," Marlinga said. But, "I'm pleased that we have the information. . . . They certainly have indicated now that they understand."

"I'm disheartened that they were never brought to law enforcement authorities' attention," he said of the allegations. But now church leaders "should be commended for being open and forthright about the disclosure of these cases."

In a written statement, Cardinal Adam Maida, who leads the 1.4-million-member archdiocese, said he hopes the move will help victims and allow good priests to continue to be appreciated.

"It is our hope that this sharing of information will help in some small way to restore any lack of trust in the church for our honest and, at times, flawed efforts to address this most serious matter," Maida said. "With this commitment to greater transparency in investigating and addressing these issues, we pray that those who have been victimized will be better served and healed."

In Michigan, Catholic officials have taken action against at least 10 priests this year over allegations of sexual misconduct. At least half were connected to the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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