Nearly two months after the nation’s Catholic bishops vowed to rid the church of priests who sexually abused young people, Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida admits it may take years to determine the fate of accused clergy.
Since January, Maida has disciplined 14 priests for accusations of abuse and tried to assure the 1.5 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit that the men will never harm children in the future.
But the truth is that the priests are caught in a complex legal limbo of church and civil laws. A few priests are contesting Maida’s efforts to end their careers and have many options for appealing the cardinal’s actions through civil courts or the Vatican’s code of canon law.
All the priests disciplined by Maida know that the Vatican has not yet approved the American bishops’ strict new rules for ousting abusers, informally called the Dallas Charter. Several key Vatican officials already have publicly criticized the charter.
Far from the quick, decisive end to the crisis that the bishops hoped to craft at their June summit in Dallas, there is a long, uncertain road ahead, Maida acknowledged.
“There’s no question that we’re facing some very difficult problems,” he said wearily. “We don’t know how long this will take.
“Now, if a priest is accused and he confesses, then it’s clear what I can do in his case. But in any case where the record is unclear, or where the priest challenges this — whew, then this will get very, very difficult.”
Accusations continue to surface. Since the June summit, dozens of people in metro Detroit have made allegations of abuse.
And as many as five priests Maida has removed over the years could face criminal charges, Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan said this week.
Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga has not announced his findings regarding one priest. Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said in June that no charges will be filed in the 10 cases he reviewed.
Maida still has not determined how he will fulfill the toughest part of the charter: a promise either to fully defrock the priests, a process called laicization, or to force the men into a controlled living situation vaguely described in the charter as “a life of prayer and penance.”
The Rev. Ralph Quane, 57, ousted by Maida in May for sexually abusing a minor in the early years of his ministry, is living at the St. Dominic rectory in Detroit and said this week he is unsure what Maida expects.
Quane was removed from his job as a chaplain at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and, following the Dallas Charter, has been ordered not to wear priestly garb or represent himself as a priest.
But Quane said no one has asked him to pursue laicization, “nor do I intend to.” He declined to discuss what a life of prayer and penance might involve.
“I’m not breaking rocks with a sledgehammer,” he said.
The lack of decisive action against accused priests angers many of the men and women who have stepped forward to describe their painful experiences.
“I’m pissed off,” said John Singelyn Jr., who alleges that his boyhood pastor, the Rev. Jude Ellinghausen, abused him for years. “For some reason, it seems like priests are excluded from any kind of punishment. Why is that? If I broke the law, I’d go to jail.”
On June 23, Ellinghausen celebrated with a retirement banquet as he left two small Thumb-area parishes in a deal with the archdiocese to resolve accusations that he abused minors.
Ellinghausen told the Free Press last month and again Wednesday that he never abused anyone. But, he said, he understands why the archdiocese restricted him from the ministry and believes they treated him fairly.
Singelyn, 35, did not step forward to accuse Ellinghausen until he read a report in the Free Press about the retirement in which the priest denied any wrongdoing.
“I was screaming at the paper as I was reading it,” Singelyn said.
To Singelyn, the truth involves a 3-year pattern of inappropriate touching by Ellinghausen between 1976 and 1979, when the priest was associate pastor at St. Jude in Detroit.
“I think he took away part of my childhood,” said Singelyn, who lives in Eastpointe.
At this point, Maida said his first priority is a long-awaited revision of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s policy on abuse, which Maida said he will enact by fall.
“I don’t know how it all will be resolved,” Maida said. “But it’s clear that we won’t be able to find some kind of cookie cutter that will work in every case, because these cases can be so different.”