Despite repeated pledges by Catholic leaders to swiftly remove priests accused of sexually abusing children, documents obtained by the Free Press show that Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida has allowed one local pastor to continue serving a parish for five months after he was accused.
A second accuser stepped forward two months ago, also charging the priest with abusing her decades ago, but Maida’s staff has neither placed the priest on leave nor informed his parish council of an ongoing investigation.
“These allegations go back 35 or 40 years ago and we want to make sure we have thoroughly investigated this,” said Msgr. Walter Hurley, Maida’s point man in the clergy abuse crisis, on Wednesday. Moving too quickly on accusations, before they are fully documented, could unnecessarily tarnish the career of a respected priest, he said.
Hurley said he is certain that no Catholic children are at risk by leaving the priest on the job.
“We are confident about that, otherwise he would not be there,” Hurley said.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, head of the nationwide Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he was stunned that a priest accused months ago by two women has not been put on at least temporary leave.
“This is absolutely shocking,” Clohessy said Wednesday. “Time and time again, the bishops have insisted that if a credible allegation comes to them, then boom! the guy is removed. Then, they can do their investigation and decide what to do with him. Here, we’ve got two victims who have come forward and still the guy is in a parish.
“It sounds as if they are putting potential damage to one adult’s reputation over potentially very severe damage to who knows how many children.”
The Free Press is not identifying the priest because no action has been taken against him by the church or prosecutors.
Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Talbot, the head of Maida’s new review board that serves as a watchdog over such cases, said that the years that have passed since the alleged incidents indicates that the priest is not a current risk to children.
Talbot declined to discuss details of the case. Regarding the delay in resolving it, Talbot said, “As time progresses and there’s no suggestion of anything else happening over the years, then there isn’t the same need for immediacy” in removing an accused clergyman.
Clohessy responded that such an “attitude reflects a stunning level of ignorance about sexual abuse.” Preying on minors often is a secretive, chronic behavior that spans decades.
SNAP, which represents thousands of victims nationwide, has found that victims usually wait until they are adults and sometimes until their parents have died before stepping forward with painful details that have the potential to tear apart their families.
Details of the five-month-old investigation by the archdiocese came to light in documents turned over to the Free Press by Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Although the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged twice this year to immediately report incidents to prosecutors, the documents also indicate that Detroit church officials still are delaying their reports.
The first woman talked to Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Britt on June 16 to report that the priest who befriended her parents in the late 1950s and was a guest in their home would frequently sneak into her bedroom at night. At the time, she said she was 10 to 12 years old and the priest would remove her covers and clothing to see her body.
However, after receiving this report, Britt did not write a summary of it until five days later and the summary was not sent to Marlinga’s office until July 8.
On Sept. 24, Maida received a detailed letter from a second woman who said the priest befriended her parents in the 1960s and then visited her and her sisters in their beds. At age 12, she was sexually assaulted by the priest in his car, the woman claimed. Later, he gave the children in the family new bicycles. Church officials held off for nearly a month before sending the letter to Marlinga’s office on Oct. 16.
On Wednesday, Hurley and Talbot acknowledged that archdiocesan officials are conducting their own investigation.
A few inconsistent details must be checked out, Hurley said, including the fact that the second woman did not correctly identify the first name of the priest.
Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan said his staff also is looking into the case. The second woman lived in Wayne County at the time of the alleged abuse.
Neither case can be prosecuted because the incidents fall outside Michigan’s statute of limitations, but Duggan said he wants to assist Maida’s staff in judging the credibility of the claims.
“On this particular case, if our investigators find these individuals credible, we will forward that report to the archdiocese,” Duggan said.
Until then, Duggan said he supports Maida’s decision to keep the priest in his parish. Earlier this year, “there were at least two priests who were accused, who our investigation proved were unjustly accused,” Duggan said.