LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the number of kids sexually assaulted by Catholic priests in the state over the decades could top 1,000.
It’s the first time anyone has publicly quantified the possible sweep of the abuse at the hands of priests in the state and, if true, would rival last year’s findings in Pennsylvania, which rocked the church and shocked the nation.
Before last week’s series, the AG’s Catholic abuse hotline had gotten 270 tips. It has grown to more than 300.
“We received at least a couple dozen tips as a result of that, some of which we’re investigating immediately,” Nessel said.
“The reality is, there are predators in the priesthood that are still out there and we feel as though they have to be stopped,” she said.
She said the investigation could lead to arrests of priests for sexual assaults dating back to 1995, no matter how old the priests are.
“If these particular individuals didn’t care about victimizing people who were very young in some instances, I’m not going to be deterred from prosecuting them because they have managed to age and so far escape prosecution,” Nessel said.
The investigation also could lead to charges against church leaders who protected pedophile priests.
“We could ultimately be over 1,000 victims in this case,” she said.
The Target 8 investigation identified 14 priests in the Grand Rapids diocese who had molested at least 33 kids since the late 1950s. Most of the abuse happened decades ago. Just one priest in the diocese has ever been convicted of a sex crime.
Survivors Target 8 spoke with accused the diocese of treating the abusers better than the abused. Many of the surviving priests are living in West Michigan and collecting pensions, medical and dental benefits and car insurance — all from the diocese.
The AG office announced in September it was investigating child sexual abuse by priests at all seven diocese in Michigan. It was prompted by a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation that found 300 priests had molested 1,000 children over the decades in that state.
The AG on Thursday urged the church in Michigan to stop self-policing and asked survivors and witnesses to call the AG, not church leaders, no matter how long ago the abuse happened.
“If an investigator comes to your door and asks to speak with you, please ask to see their badge and not their rosary,” Nessel said.
Victims who have been paid off by the church, she said, can still talk to police even if they’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement.
“We’ve heard many stories from victims who’ve been encouraged to take settlements and sign NDAs, or nondisclosure agreements,” she said.
She also urged the church in Michigan to work with her office to set up a fund for victims.
“So victims can get the help that they rightfully deserve for the trauma that they experienced under their watch,” she said.
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The Diocese of Grand Rapids has said it does not have a victim fund. In 2002, it said it had paid more than $1 million on settlements and therapy for victims over the previous decades, but it has refused to say how much it has paid since.
The diocese released a response to the AG’s press conference saying it was investigating with the state’s investigation. It said it had not been informed by the Attorney General’s Office of any new credible accusations against local priests but that it would take immediate action if it is.