It took nearly 30 years, but two former Catholic priests were brought to justice Wednesday, including one who will spend a year in jail.
Jason Sigler, a 64-year-old River Rouge native who was a visiting priest for seven months in 1976 at St. Mary Magdalen in Hazel Park, pleaded no contest in Wayne Circuit Court to seven counts of child sexual abuse involving two young boys. Part of the plea included five years of probation and one year in the Wayne County Jail.
Meanwhile, a Wayne County jury deliberated three hours before declaring the Rev. Edward Oleszewski guilty of four counts of indecent and improper liberties. The incidents occurred at St. Cecilia’s rectory in Detroit during the 1970s with Albert Green, now 44, when he was 11 years old. Prosecutors say they plan to seek the maximum incarceration time of 10 years when Oleszewski, a 67-year-old Detroit native, is sentenced Jan. 30. His advisers, who say he is innocent, said they plan to appeal.
“If you molest a child in this county, it may take a long time but sooner or later the wheels of justice are going to catch up with you,” said Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan. “And today, in two very important cases, they finally did catch up.”
Wednesday’s convictions bring the total number of priests brought to justice in the Archdiocese of Detroit to three. Robert Burkholder, labeled “one of the worst pedophiles we’ve had in this state” by Duggan, was extradited from Hawaii and pleaded no contest to criminal sexual misconduct involving a 13-year-old boy at a Redford parish. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail Nov. 1, and faces a civil suit stemming from another allegation.
Though the Archdiocese of Detroit handed over to civil authorities 51 child sexual abuse allegations against priests after fallout from the clergy abuse scandal, most of those accused will not result in charges because the statute of limitations has run out.
Oleszewski and Sigler, who moved to Florida and New Mexico respectively, effectively stopped the statute of limitations time clock when they left the state.
One of Sigler’s victims, a 40-year-old Hazel Park native who now lives in Melbourne, Fla., traveled back to Michigan to witness the court proceedings.
“It was weird seeing him after 27 years,” said the man, who asked that his name not be used. “In a way, I feel kind of bad for him. He seemed so big way back then. Now he doesn’t.”
He said he was relieved it was over, and was pleased with the jail time.
However, Macomb County resident Tony Otero, who alleges that he and his brother also were assaulted by Sigler when the priest was at a Flushing parish in the Archdiocese of Lansing, said one year is not enough time. Otero said he was asked if he wanted to be part of the plea agreement, but declined because he wants to see him in jail longer and wants those who protected Sigler to be held accountable. Instead, he said, he wants to go to trial.
“This case is more than Jason Sigler,” said Otero, 41. “It’s about the people who protected him in the Catholic church and those people are not being held accountable. If we plea bargain, those people will never be held accountable.”
Otero said he did not necessarily want to see those who protected Sigler to go to jail.
“We want them to at least be exposed for the actions that took place and make sure they don’t happen again,” he said.
In 1970, Sigler left the Diocese of Lansing to seek treatment at a center for priests in New Mexico. But after his release, Sigler worked in New Mexico churches and later acknowledged abusing at least 17 boys during the 1970s and 1980s. He pleaded guilty in 1983 to a sex charge, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe settled more than 20 sex abuse lawsuits against him at a cost of at least $13 million.
Sigler has left the priesthood.