Flint Journal Anthony Otero said he had low expectations when he told police last year he had been abused by a priest in Flushing during the mid-1970s.
“On that day, I didn’t know if Jason Sigler was dead or alive,” said Otero, who grew up in Flushing but now lives in Macomb County. “I assumed he was dead.”
Otero said he wanted to do his part to stop the problem of church sex abuse, even if it had taken him 26 years.
“On that day, I did my part,” he said Tuesday, after prosecutors announced they were charging Sigler with sexual assault. “On this day, I’m satisfied. And I certainly see that the criminal justice system is doing everything it can to bring this man to justice.
“Under our system, (Sigler) has not paid the price for his actions. Now he’s going to pay the price for his actions.”
Sigler, 65, faces three counts each of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct in the Flushing case. First-degree CSC is a maximum life prison offense.
Authorities claim he molested Otero, then 13, in the spring of 1975 and Otero’s younger brother in 1976 or 1977.
Sigler spent eight months at St. Robert Catholic Church in Flushing in 1974 and 1975. He is serving a one-year sentence in the Wayne County Jail for molesting two boys in the Detroit area.
“This is a fellow who has left a trail of victims from the northern border of the United States to the southern,” Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur A. Busch said.
“Of all the priests who have been charged, this guy certainly ranks as a poster boy for bad behavior.”
Busch said Sigler can be prosecuted because he left the state shortly after the alleged crimes, stopping the statute of limitations. Sigler moved to New Mexico in 1975 but returned to visit the victims’ family, authorities said.
Flushing police began investigating Otero’s allegations early last year. Otero went public with his allegations in May, saying Sigler molested him repeatedly over several months.
Sigler’s attorney, Dan A. O’Brien, said Busch “calculated” the timing of the charges to maximize publicity.
O’Brien said he asked Busch to bring the charges sooner so the Flushing case and the Wayne County cases could be resolved at the same time.
“He clearly calculated the timing of this thing to put the spotlight on my client,” O’Brien said. “We tried to contact him, and Wayne County tried to contact him. He kept hemming and hawing and dragging his feet and did nothing.”
O’Brien also said Busch’s press release was “way too detailed” and could hurt his client’s right to a fair trial.
Busch said he deferred prosecution until after Sigler was already in Michigan to face the Wayne County charges.
Police had to establish where Sigler lived in the years after the alleged assaults to make sure the statute of limitations hadn’t run, Busch said.
Sigler recently acknowledged publicly that he had been in New Mexico the entire time, he said.
“As luck would have it, with us being patient, he made statements to the news media,” Busch said.
Sigler served as a priest at various locations in Michigan during the 1960s and 1970s. After leaving the priesthood in 1982, he pleaded guilty to a sex charge in New Mexico and acknowledged molesting at least 17 boys there during the 1970s and 1980s.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., paid at least $13 million to settle more than 20 sexual abuse suits against him.
Prosecutors in Jackson County, where Sigler had served at a parish for two years, warned the Diocese of Lansing to get Sigler out of the state, a church official has said.
But under an agreement with the Rev. John Fackler, then pastor of St. Robert, Sigler was allowed to stay in residence at the parish so he could care for his ailing parents, according to a letter in church records.
Church officials said they didn’t know Sigler was at St. Robert until after he had left.
Otero of Macomb Township said the abuse was a factor in his life going awry, but not the only factor.
“I had to tear down my whole life to get to this point,” he said. “From this point, I can rebuild onto a solid foundation.”
He said he doesn’t know if he will sue the church over the alleged abuse.
“(The church) is probably not even the same organization,” he said. “Should it be held accountable? That remains to be seen. It cost me something to get here. Are they accountable, well”
In Michigan, at least 31 Catholic priests have been removed, suspended or otherwise left their duties because of sexual abuse or misconduct allegations since the beginning of 2002.
Last April, the Rev. Vincent DeLorenzo stepped down as pastor at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Burton after acknowledging he’d had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.
A former Flint Township man claimed DeLorenzo sexually molested him for years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Busch said the police investigation of DeLorenzo has been closed because the statute of limitations had expired. DeLorenzo remained in the Flint area, Busch said.
Busch said he’s reviewed diocese records and doesn’t anticipate that other priests will be charged here.
“We have looked at other priests in the area but there was nothing regarding complaints that would be criminal in nature,” he said. “That’s not to say there wasn’t other incidents that were inappropriate, but they were not criminal.”