IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) - A legal battle is brewing in Ionia County over whether Resurrection Life Church Pastor John Prominski should have told police about allegations that a man was molesting his stepchildren starting in 2009.
A district court judge already dismissed this case in January. Court documents say the judge dismissed the case because of clergy-penitent privilege, which gives members of the clergy the discretion of whether or not to to report possible crimes to police.
Prosecutors are now appealing that decision.
Court documents say that a woman spoke to Prominski in 2009, asking for advice. She said she thought her husband may be abusing her teen daughters.
Documents say Prominski remembers the woman telling him, "one of her girls came to her and told her that their step dad was having them touch themselves in front of him."
The defense's documents say that Prominski spoke to the man and counseled him over a period of about three months, but the man denied the allegations. The girls declined to speak with the pastor at that time.
Documents from proseuctors say the man had admitted to doing this, but said he was doing it so girls would not urinate on themselves while camping.
Then, in 2011, the woman came back to Prominski, saying that this time, her daughter had woken up screaming, "I hate, I hate you, don't ever touch me again." Records say the girl's stepfather was in her bedroom, and that she accused him of touching her. This time, Prominski told the woman to report him to police.
The man ended up pleading no contest to second degree criminal sexual conduct in August of 2011 for abusing his 13-year-old stepdaughter.
"The very thought that he would somehow have done this intentionally, and let someone be injured -- is an anathema," said Prominski's attorney Bruce Block. Block spoke to 24 Hour News 8 over the phone on Thursday.
Prominski was charged with failing to report child abuse -- a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. Prosecutors said the pastor should have told police because the incident was not told to him in confession and the man's wife wasn't admitting a crime she committed.
Prosecutors' documents read, in part, that "Reverend Prominski was not prevented from reporting the abuse perpetrated .... because [the victim's mother] was not disclosing her own flawed actions or thoughts."
Their argument is that privilege does not apply.
Defense attorney Block disagreed, saying in court documents that "the initial statement by [the victim's mother] asking that Rev. Prominski religiously counsel her husband ... was privileged as a confession."
Block said he believes his client is being charged based on the facts that came out later, not on those present in 2009.
"It is easy to be a 'Monday morning quarterback' now that all of the facts are known," Block's brief read. "However, the sketchy facts from 2009 simply did not rise to the level of 'reasonable cause to expect child abuse'..."
"At the moment you make the best call you can with the facts that you know," Block reiterated in a phone interview with 24 Hour News 8. "Pastor John, if he was faced with it again, maybe he would do it differently. [But] at the time, he felt he made the right call."
24 Hour News 8 went to the pastor's home and church, but was told he wasn't available.
The case goes back to court next week, at which time a circuit court judge will decide if the charges against Prominski should stand.
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