AG questions why priests released after charges

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As state Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Monday that her office had charged a sixth Michigan priest with sexual assault, she questioned why some already have been released from custody.

“I will say that we’re seeing a pattern of personal bonds being granted in very serious cases where it has not been my experience that I’ve seen personal bonds on those kinds of cases,” Nessel told Target 8.

“I hope that people aren’t getting special consideration just because they happened to have been or currently are members of the clergy,” she added.

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On Monday, police arrested Father Joseph Baker, 57, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit on a charge of raping a victim under the age of 13, early in his ministry. He’s been a priest since 1993, always serving in the Detroit area.

Also on Monday, Nessel’s office said, a judge released the priest on a tether.

Other accused priests, she said, also have been released with low bonds or no bonds at all.

The Detroit archdiocese tipped off the AG about Baker after removing him from public ministry. The archdiocese also released a list of more than 60 Detroit-area clergy with credible allegations of sexually abusing minors over the decades, according to its website. Nearly half of them have died.

Detroit became the third diocese in the state, after Gaylord and Saginaw, to release such a list.

The Diocese of Grand Rapids has not, even after a Target 8 investigation in February found as many as 14 priests had molested more than 30 children since the 1950s.

Target 8 reached out to the Grand Rapids diocese to ask whether it plans to release such a list, but had not heard back as of Monday afternoon.

The AG in May announced her office had charged the first five priests, who were from dioceses in Lansing, Detroit and Kalamazoo.

“We anticipated that the list of our defendants would grow, and indeed it has, and again we have a long way to go in terms of completing this investigation, so I expect to see further charges coming and more defendants, probably soon,” Nessel said.

The only accused priest who hasn’t appeared in court is Father Jacob Vellian, who served at St. John the Evangelist parish in Benton Harbor. Vellian is accused of raping a girl before she turned 16 and again after she turned 16, two charges that could lead to life in prison. Court records show it happened in 1973.

He’s 84 now and living in India.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Nessel said. “In terms of him eluding authorities, it’s just a matter of having to work with the federal government to have him extradited to the United States, which can be quite  a process.”

It’s not clear how much it will cost the state to extradite him.

“To me, there really is no specific price, no price tag you could put for achieving justice for somebody who has been denied it for so long.”

Anyone who has been victimized by a member of the Catholic church can confidentially report it to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office online or by calling 844.324.3374 during regular business hours. The state also has a hotline for all victims of sexual assault that offers support and resources: 1.855.VOICES4 (864.2374).

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