KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A priest sexual abuse survivor group is calling on the Kalamazoo Diocese to publish a list of alleged predatory priests who have served there.
Three survivors with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests gathered across the street from the Diocese’s headquarters Thursday morning to make their voices heard.
Ann Phillips Browning says she was abused as a young teenager by Rev. Jacob Vellian when he was in Benton Harbor. She talked about trying to tell her mother about the it.
“And she says, ‘Oh honey, you must have misunderstood his touches. A priest would never do that.’ And his excuse was always that he was from a medical missionary. Didn’t I want to be holier? Didn’t I want more of the holy spirit?” Phillips Browning said of Vellian, who is now in India.
SNAP is traveling around the Midwest, demanding bishops who haven’t already done so publicly release the names of credibly accused priests, nuns, bishops, seminarians and lay staff along with their photos, whereabouts and full work history.
In addition, SNAP is releasing its own list of priests that it says served in the Kalamazoo diocese at one point before moving on to out-of-state parishes, where they were later accused of abuse. The group highlighted six such priests: Rev. Gregory H. Poser, Rev. Thomas F. DeVita, Rev. Michael Howard Weston, Rev. Richard Ohlemacher, Rev. Leonard Bogdan and Rev. Carl Anthony Peltz.
The group says they’re mostly accused of abusing children in other states and countries and were suspended and defrocked by Catholic officials.
“These guys always seek out positions where they have access to kids,” said David Clohessy of SNAP. “My worse fear is that one of these Kalamazoo predator priests this afternoon is going to be volunteering as a soccer coach, he’s going to be at the public library tutoring kids who are struggling.”
About half of the dioceses nationwide have released the names of credibly accused clergy, but not Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids.
The Diocese of Kalamazoo issued the following response Thursday morning:
“The Diocese of Kalamazoo remains steadfast in its commitment to promote greater protection and safeguards of all people, particularly for children and vulnerable adults. The gathering of members of SNAP today outside the Diocesan Pastoral Center provides the opportunity to affirm our care for all survivors of abuse and our work toward healing.
“Information on clergy highlighted by SNAP today has been publicly available for years and, in most cases, reported on by the media. As we stated previously, the Diocese has and will continue to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation and encourages anyone with information related to misconduct to call the reporting number set-up by the Attorney General’s office at: 844.324.3374.
“As we enter this Season of Lent, Bishop Bradley has again addressed this issue in an open letter to parishioners. He called for “even greater vigilance in purging this evil from the Church,” asking the faithful to keep the survivor-victims in their prayers for continued healing.
“For more information on the Diocese’s efforts to safeguard all people, please visit our dedicated website: www.protect.diokzoo.org.”
SNAP’s push comes after a Target 8 investigation into the Grand Rapids Diocese, which revealed 14 priests who had abused 33 children since the late 1950s. Some of the offenders are still living in West Michigan, collecting pensions along with other benefits from the church.
Wednesday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced she was asking the Legislature for $2 million to continue a state investigation into sexually abusive Roman Catholic priests. An AG spokeswoman said their office has taken 360 tips since launching the investigation in August.