Priest Remains on Leave from Grand Blanc Church after Allegations of Inappropriate Touching
By Dominic Adams
June 5, 2014
|Holy Family Catholic church (File)|
A Grand Blanc priest accused of inappropriately touching two children is the first priest put on leave in the Catholic Diocese of Lansing since a 2005 decision by the church to publicize the names of priests accused of abuse.
The church says police and child protective services opened an investigation after Rev. Ken Coughlin was accused of inappropriately touching the hands and legs of two students in May.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton told The Flint Journal on Thursday, June 5, that he's reviewing the case to determine if criminal charges will be filed.
But the attorney for the priest says Coughlin did nothing wrong and wants to return the parish.
Typically, the standard with law enforcement agencies is to withhold a suspect's identity until they've been formally arraigned on criminal charges, said Patrick Corbett, a criminal law professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing.
"Law enforcement generally would never do that – you don't go out there and affirmatively reveal someone until they're publicly charged," Corbett said. "If it's just an investigation, law enforcement would not be the ones putting something out there.
"The church is doing this on (its) own."
The Catholic Diocese of Lansing sent a letter last month to parishioners and made a statement that the Rev. Ken Coughlin, of Holy Family Catholic School in Grand Blanc, was put on paid administrative leave after allegations that he inappropriately touched the hands and legs of two students.
The move followed the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which was adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005. The charter says it is a series of steps that ensures a safe environment within the church for children and young people and aims to prevent sexual abuse in the future.
There have been no allegations of sexual abuse against Coughlin.
However, he was removed from the parish and placed on paid administrative leave when the complaints were made, according to Michael Diebold, director of communications for the Diocese of Lansing.
According to a letter from the school written by the Rev. Jonathan Perrotta posted on the school’s website, the alleged incident happened at a school assembly. Perrotta will serve as temporary administrator while the investigation is complete, the letter said.
The Conference of Bishops charter won’t allow the Catholic Church to begin its investigation until the civil investigation is complete, Diebold said.
“We would never convene the review board during a civil investigation,” he said. “We don’t want to do anything that could even be perceived that it would be as interfering with a civil investigation.”
According to his bio on Holy Family’s website, Coughlin, 53, had been with the church since 2007. He has a degree in packaging from Michigan State University and completed pre-theology at a seminary in Minnesota.
He received a Master’s in theology at St. John Seminary in Plymouth in 1990, his bio says.
Coughlin has been barred from communicating with anyone associated with the church or school, according to his attorney Frank J. Manley.
“He’s been touched by the huge outpouring of support from his parish. He’s very proud of the work he’s done at Holy Family,” Manley said. “He welcomes and believes in the process and the transparency so when it’s completed his name can truly be cleared.”
Manley said there has never been any suggestion of sexual abuse and said Coughlin believes he’ll be cleared.
“Once the accusation has been made, even if he is cleared – which he will be – how do you take the taint of the accusation from his name,” Manley said. “The question becomes where does he go to restore his good name?
“He certainly would love to return to the parish. He doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong, but we have to go through the process. In his mind, there’s no facts that support that he shouldn’t be at that church.”
The last allegation of abuse against an active Catholic priest within the Lansing Diocese came in 2002 against Vincent DeLorenzo, formerly of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Burton, Diebold said.
The Catholic Church substantiated the claims and removed DeLorenzo from the priesthood after he admitted to having had “inappropriate sexual contact,” with a minor years before, according to The Flint Journal’s archives.
The only other allegation against since came in 2011 against a deceased priest from a church in Laingsburg, Diebold said. The 10-county Lansing Diocese put out a notice in the church’s bulletin because the incident allegedly occurred in the 1950s, but Diebold said no additional reports came in.
“We don’t do this that often,” Diebold said. “I don’t want to downplay anything, but we have not had a significant number of priests [in the Lansing Dioceses] that have been accused of abuse.”