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Michigan AG Dana Nessel's report details abuse allegations against 19 priests in Diocese of Kalamazoo

Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News on

Published in Religious News

DETROIT — Attorney General Dana Nessel released the third of seven reports Wednesday related to a years-long investigation into clergy sexual abuse within Michigan's Catholic dioceses.

The report on the Diocese of Kalamazoo indicated there were 19 priests accused of sexual misconduct between the diocese's founding in 1971 and 2024; 12 of those priests were ordained or incardinated within the Diocese of Kalamazoo.

So far, two priests who had been working in the diocese have been charged in the investigation:

Fr. Brian Stanley is an Otsego priest who was sentenced in 2020 to jail and probation on an attempted unlawful imprisonment charge based on allegations in 2013 that he tied a 17-year-old boy to a chair with plastic wrap, taped his mouth and eyes shut, and kept him in a church janitorial closet for about 30 minutes.

Msgr. Jacob Vellian, a visiting priest to the diocese from India, was charged in 2019 with two counts of sexual abuse of a teen girl in the early 1980s. He reportedly died while awaiting extradition on the charges, but the attorney general's office has not received independent confirmation from the U.S. Department of Justice.

"In the end, we hope that this report provides a voice for those who have suffered in silence for so long and that it shines a light on those alleged offenders whose actions allowed them to evade true accountability," Nessel told reporters Wednesday.

Kalamazoo Bishop Edward Lohse said the report unveiled a "disturbing truth" and "historical reality" for the diocese that encompasses Allegan, Barry, Branch, Berrien, Cass, Calhoun, St. Joseph, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

"It is tragic, appalling and inexcusable," Lohse said at a news conference Wednesday. "No one knows this better than you who are the victim-survivors of that abuse. You were entrusted to our care, and we failed to protect you. There is no other way to put it. For that failure, I am deeply sorry.”

The report issued Wednesday is the third of seven reports released related to an investigation that began under Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette in 2018.

Law enforcement conducted simultaneous raids on Michigan's seven dioceses Oct. 3, 2018 as part of the investigation and recovered 22 boxes of paper documents and 3.5 million electronic documents.

 

The investigation was continued by Schuette's successor, Nessel, who issued criminal charges in 11 cases, nine of which have resulted in convictions. At least 38 victims were involved in those cases.

On Wednesday, Nessel was unable to say when the last four reports would be issued but promised they would be released before the end of her term in 2026. Reports for the dioceses of Marquette and Gaylord have already been released and the remaining reports will be issued in this order: the dioceses of Lansing, Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Detroit, Nessel said Wednesday.

The investigation in Kalamazoo included a probe of 65 tips submitted to the attorney general's tip line — 16 of which were provided by the Diocese of Kalamazoo — and a review of more than 345,000 paper and electronic documents.

Of the 19 priests who were the subject of allegations, 12 involved minors, five involved adults, and two involved both minors and adults.

Besides Stanley and Vellian, the names of and allegations against 17 other priests accused of sexual assault were included in the report. But Nessel's office noted that their inclusion does not reflect a determination of credibility by the department.

Of the 19 accused, the investigation found 11 were prohibited from working with children because of violations of a child protection policy or direct sexual abuse or assault of minors. Twelve of the 19 priests are believed dead; the seven still living are not in active ministry, the report said.

The majority of the conduct alleged in the report occurred before 2022, the report said.

In many cases throughout the state investigation, the statute of limitations blocked prosecution on decades-old allegations, the priests had already passed away, a victim was unwilling to appear in court or there simply wasn't enough evidence to bring a case to trial.

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©2024 The Detroit News. Visit detroitnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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