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Ex-Priest's Past Is Not Going Away

Aug 29, 2002 | Detroit Free Press

Somewhere in Albuquerque, N.M., Jason Sigler has spent years trying to leave behind the many sex-abuse allegations he faced while he was a Catholic priest.

This week, the past caught up with him again.

When a coworker of Sigler heard a news report Tuesday that Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan was charging the ex-priest with criminal sexual conduct for allegedly assaulting a River Rouge boy in the 1960s, the coworker called Albuquerque police.

"Come get him, he's here," the worker said, according to Sigler's attorney, Ray Twohig.

They did, escorting Sigler, 64, out of the workplace, which Twohig declined to identify. Only after they took Sigler out did they realize no arrest warrant had been issued yet.

The officers let Sigler go back to work, but his struggle with law enforcement was just beginning.

Sigler is charged with molesting a then-12-year-old cousin in the cousin's River Rouge home or on family vacations. According to the arrest warrant filed Wednesday in Wayne County, on four occasions Sigler told the boy's parents he was going upstairs to bless the young man and instead performed oral sex on him.

Sigler, who left the priesthood in the early 1980s, may also face charges of abusing two boys in the Diocese of Lansing.

Twohig said his client will voluntarily return to Michigan to face the charges involving the alleged River Rouge incident.

"We haven't seen the complaint," Twohig said. "We don't know the name of the alleged victim. . . . All you can say is, 'That sure is a long time ago.' "

One day after Duggan said he was bringing charges against Sigler, another former priest and two current priests, about a dozen people called the Wayne County prosecutor Wednesday to make new claims of abuse by Catholic priests.

"I think there's a great feeling of relief on the part of many victims that something has happened," Duggan said.

Duggan encouraged victims to call his office at 313-224-5655. His investigators are seeking evidence that could make it possible to prosecute 15 other priests. Duggan said he believes the priests commited sex crimes years ago, but can't be prosecuted because the complaints are too old.

The others charged this week are Harry Benjamin, 60, a former priest now living in Virginia; the Rev. Robert Burkholder, 83, a retired priest living in Hawaii, and the Rev. Edward Olszewski, 67, once based in Detroit and now living in Florida.

A lawyer for Benjamin said his client will arrive in Michigan soon to be arraigned on charges of repeatedly molesting a Canton Township youth in 1986.

Attorney Michael Smith said Benjamin intends to fight the charges.

"I'm ready to fight this to the end," Smith said. "Harry's never admitted to me that he's done anything inappropriate."

Smith said he has not seen documentation about the prosecutor's case.

The warrant against Benjamin alleges that he befriended his victim, a 14-year-old, while assisting with masses at the boy's parish, St. Thomas a'Becket. Benjamin invited the victim and other boys to spend the night at Benjamin's residence at St. Jude's rectory on Detroit's east side for pizza, beer and games, the warrant says.

At bedtime, the warrant says, Benjamin assigned beds and, at least 10 times, molested the youth by tickling him, sliding his hands into the youth's underwear and masturbating him.

The warrant says Benjamin admitted abusing the boy in a 1989 letter to an auxiliary Detroit bishop and again in an interview with Msgr. Walter Hurley, who handled abuse cases for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The victim, now 32, reported the abuse to authorities because of news coverage this year about predatory priests.

Exploiting a quirk in the law, prosecutors say they can bring charges on decades-old complaints because the four men moved out of Michigan, stopping the clock on statute of limitation laws in effect at the time that would have required criminal prosecution within six years of the alleged offense.

Smith said he'll fight that contention by prosecutors.

"I think they've got a very tough route to make against Harry Benjamin. I think there are major statute of limitation problems."

In the other warrants:

Burkholder is alleged to have taken a 13-year-old Redford Township boy to Hawaii in 1986, grabbing the boy's penis while he showered and, another time, massaging the boy's buttocks.

Olszewski is alleged to have repeatedly molested Albert Green, now in his early 40s, at St. Cecilia in Detroit and elsewhere. Green was the priest's foster son at the time.

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