MI AG investigating Catholic church sex crime allegations

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Attorney General’s Office says it has launched an investigation into the alleged sex abuse and assault of children by Catholic priests at all seven dioceses in Michigan.

Bill Schuette’s office says it started its investigation into the allegations in August, but only alerted 24 Hour News 8 to the investigation Friday when it partially denied a Freedom of Information Act request. The office turned down 24 Hour News 8’s request for documented complaints involving 13 priests, saying the information is part of an open investigation it launched in August.

Spokeswoman Andrea Bitely told the Associated Press Friday the Michigan probe was prompted by a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that said an estimated 300 Roman Catholic priests there molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s. However, attorney general’s office first posted information regarding the investigation to its website Friday.

Schuette’s office says its examining alleged crimes dating as far back as 1950, as well as any potential coverups of sex abuse or assault. The office says the investigation includes religious order priests who have worked in Michigan.

The Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids previously identified 14 priests who molested children since the 1950s, but none since the early 2000s.

One of those priests, Father Dennis Wagner, allegedly molested six boys in the 1980s, one of those leading to a charge of gross indecency in 1983. Through a plea bargain, he was convicted of simple assault and received no jail time.

That victim, who was 10 or 11 at the time, didn’t want to be identified. He told 24 Hour News 8 he’s tried to put it behind him and isn’t sure he’d want to be part of an investigation.

Wagner, now 69, was later dismissed from the clergy after other boys came forward saying he’d molested them.

Four of the 14 priests have died, one was deported and most of the rest have either retired or are no longer allowed to present themselves as priests, according to the diocese.

By the early 2000s, the Grand Rapids Diocese had paid more than $1 million to victims through settlements and for counseling. It’s not clear how much it has spent since.

The church also now trains clergy, teachers and others at churches and Catholic schools to identify and report suspected abuse of minors, the diocese reported.

Friday afternoon, the Diocese of Grand Rapids issued a statement, including a list of policies it says it has had in place since 2002 to ensure safety for children in its parishes and schools: 

“The Diocese of Grand Rapids welcomes and will fully cooperate with the Department of the Attorney General. We welcome them to join us in our efforts of inviting survivors to come forward, a practice that has been in place since 2002. We believe this investigation will help to restore the trust of Catholics throughout our 11 counties.”

To read all of the policies, click or tap here for the release from the Diocese.

The Diocese of Kalamazoo also issued a statement Friday, saying it would fully participate in the investigation. That statement said:

“The Diocese of Kalamazoo welcomes the opportunity to cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office as they look further into the handling of allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. As we detailed in our A Plan to Protect, announced by Bishop Bradley on September 14, we are committed to taking additional measures to ensure the protection of all people even as we do all that we can to support and care for the well-being of all survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Our local extensive efforts to provide safe environments has included the training of more than 20,000 people since 2002 which includes all clergy, diocesan and parish employees and volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults to recognize predatory behavior.

“We understand the need to be proactive in our work and in providing information and have recently launched a dedicated website to this issue: www.protect.diokzoo.org. Additionally, we look forward to learning from the Attorney General’s investigation any information that will be beneficial in our shared desire to bring justice and healing to all victims of abuse and to implement safeguards that are successful in eradicating any occurrences of wrongdoing. As a Church we continue to unite our prayers for all victims and invite Catholics to come together at one of the three planned Masses of Reparation and Healing scheduled in the coming weeks.”

To read the statement issued by the Archdiocese of Detroit, click or tap here.

The attorney general’s office is encouraging any victims, their families or witnesses to report any crimes related to this investigation. Anyone who has been victimized by a member of the Catholic church can confidentially report the crime to the attorney general’s office online or by calling 844.324.3374 Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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