MI AG: Charges against 5 priests ‘tip of the iceberg’

Target 8

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Attorney General’s Office has announced sexual assault charges against five priests, including a former priest who visited a Benton Harbor parish.

The Kalamazoo Diocese says Father Jacob Vellian was visiting St. John the Evangelist parish when the alleged assault took place. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says he’s now 84 years old and living in India, but has been located and will be extradited back to the state.

“He is proof positive you cannot live long enough nor can you run far enough away to escape from our investigation,” she said in a Friday news conference.

Vellian is the only priest charged that authorities have not yet arrested. Nessel said the five men are facing a total of 21 charges for sexual crimes involving five survivors who were as young as 5 years old.

Those facing charges include:

  • Vellian, 84, visiting the Kalamazoo Diocese — He was charged with two counts of rape and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. The Kalamazoo Diocese says Vellian was visiting St. John the Evangelist parish in Benton Harbor at the time of the alleged act. Nessel says he now lives in Kerala, India.
  • Timothy Michael Crowley, 69, from the Lansing Diocese — He was charged in Washtenaw County with four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Crowley was a priest in various parishes, including St. Thomas Rectory in Ann Arbor. He was arrested Thursday in Tempe, Arizona. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison and a lifetime of electronic monitoring.
  • Vincent DeLorenzo, 80, from the Lansing Diocese — DeLorenzo was a priest at Holy Redeemer Church in Burton. He was arrested Thursday in Marion County, Florida. He was charged in Genesee County with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, or rape, and three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, or sexual contact. If convicted of the most serious charges, he faces up to life in prison and a lifetime of electronic monitoring.
  • Neil Kalina, 63, from the Archdiocese of Detroit — He was charged in Macomb County with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Kalina, who was a priest at St. Kiernan Catholic Church in Shelby Township, was arrested Thursday in Littlerock, California. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and a lifetime of electronic monitoring.
  • Patrick Casey, 55 from the Archdiocese of Detroit — He was charged in Wayne County with one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Casey, who was a priest at St. Theodore of Canterbury Parish in Westland, was arrested Thursday in Oak Park, Michigan. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

“In the last 30 hours, more than a dozen members of our investigative team have been in courtrooms in Washtenaw, Wayne, Genesee, Macomb and Berrien counties while other members of our team have been working with local law enforcement in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan — all in a carefully executed plan to take these charged defendants off the streets,” said Nessel.

She said nearly all of the charges were prompted by tips submitted through the state’s clergy abuse tip line, but were corroborated by files taken from the dioceses and survivor interviews.

The Archdiocese of Detroit says it got a complaint about Casey in 2015 and is working to remove him from the priesthood. While that process moves forward in Rome, Casey is not allowed to present himself as a priest. Kalina, it said, was part of a religious order separate from the Archdiocese. He left active ministry in 1993.

The Archdiocese provided this statement:

“The Archdiocese of Detroit deeply regrets the pain inflicted upon victim-survivors, and offers continued prayers for their peace, healing and pursuit of justice. We continue to cooperate fully with all civil authorities, in the hope that these partnerships may pave the way toward a future of greater trust and transparency. One sinful, criminal act, especially against God’s most vulnerable and trusting children, is unacceptable and one suffering soul too many. We remain committed to preventing sexual abuse against anyone – especially children and vulnerable adults.”

The Archdiocese went on to urge victims or anyone with information about sexual abuse to contact authorities.

On Friday afternoon, the Diocese of Kalamazoo issued the following response to the charges against Vellian:

“The Diocese of Kalamazoo learned today that a former visiting priest from the Archeparchy of Kottayam, India, of the Syro-Malabar Church, who served in the diocese in the early 1970s for one year, was charged by the Michigan Attorney General. We have fully cooperated with this ongoing investigation and will continue to do so. We encourage anyone with information related to misconduct to call the Attorney General’s reporting number at 844.324.3374.

“As a Church, we continue to unite in our prayers for all survivors. We remain steadfast in our commitment to promote greater protection and safeguards of all people.”

The attorney general’s office said a sixth Michigan priest, Lawrence Ventline from the Archdiocese of Detroit, is facing an “administrative complaint” and his license as a professional educationally limited counselor has been suspended by the state.

The Archdiocese said Ventline was restricted from public ministry after a 2016 complaint. He is not allowed to present himself as a priest.

Nessel estimated they’re only 5% to 10% through the information they have in the clergy sex abuse investigation.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

“We anticipate many more charges and arrests as we continue to move forward with this work,” she added.

After the news conference, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests released the following statement, in part:

“The charges announced today will bring not only healing to survivors in Michigan but will also help keep the vulnerable safer.

“By charging five priests with these 21 counts of criminal sexual conduct, AG Nessel and her team have shown that secular investigations work and that survivors who do come forward and make a report have a real shot at justice. We hope that today’s news will encourage other survivors who have yet to speak out to call in to the AG’s hotline at 844-324-3374 or send an email to aginvestigations@michigan.gov.

Shortly before Nessel’s announcement, Target 8 obtained court records for DeLorenzo, which showed he once served at churches in Kalamazoo, but the allegations aren’t from the time he spent there.

Court records list an offense date of Jan. 1, 1995, and list one female victim. But the Diocese of Lansing said that victim is among eight victims who’ve come forward to say DeLorenzo had sexually assaulted them.

The diocese said it first received a complaint in 2002 against the priest of sexually assaulting a minor. It said then Bishop Carl Mengeling permanently removed the priest from ministry.

“The diocese invited victims to come forward and report abuse to civil authorities and to contact the diocese to receive assistance. Since 2002, seven additional victims for a total of eight came forward,” diocese spokesman Patrick O’Brian stated in a news release.

The diocese said it’s taking steps to defrock the priest.

“The diocese cooperated with civil authorities about the complaint,” O’Brien said. “No one we know of who has sexually abused anyone is in active ministry in the Diocese of Lansing. The diocese is committed to cooperating fully with law enforcement so that anyone who would harm children can be brought to justice. “

DeLorenzo was ordained in 1965 and has served in churches in East Lansing, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Flint, Flushing and Burton. He served at St. Joseph in Kalamazoo from 1967 to 1970, and at St. Augustine in Kalamazoo from 1970 to 1971. He served in three churches in the Flint area from 1976 until he was removed in 2002.

The AG’s office opened its investigation in August, prompted by a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into abuse by priests in that state.

The AG’s office, working with the state police and with search warrants, seized hundreds of thousands of pages of records in October from all seven Michigan diocesan offices, including Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

By mid-February, the Michigan AG’s Catholic church hotline had received 270 tips. A Target 8 investigation in February into abuse by priests in the Grand Rapids diocese led to three-dozen more tips.

Target 8 identified 14 priests in the diocese who had abused 33 children since the late 1950s. Some of the offenders still live in West Michigan, collecting pensions and other benefits from the church.

The number of statewide tips has since climbed to about 450, Nessel said.

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).

***EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated Father Jacob Vellian was a priest with the Diocese of Kalamazoo based on information from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. The diocese says he was actually a visiting priest. This story has since been updated to reflect that information.****

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Know something newsworthy? Report It!