Priest Sexual Abuse Probe Could Involve More Clergy, Police Say
By Michael Kransz
March 2, 2018
The criminal probe into a Freeland priest accused of sexually assaulting two men could expand to encompass nearly a half dozen other area clergy, if sexual abuse allegations police are hearing prove credible, investigators say.
"We are getting tips on other priests," said Tittabawassee Township Detective Brian Berg. "I would imagine when we verify some of the information we're getting, that other priests will be under investigation."
Berg stressed the allegations of sexual abuse involving five to six other area priests haven't been verified. If they are, an official investigation will launch, the detective said.
Erin Looby Carlson, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, reiterated the diocese will cooperate with law enforcement investigations.
Tips and allegations of sexual abuse have flooded Berg's department following the arrest of 71-year-old Rev. Robert DeLand Jr.
DeLand, a longtime area priest, was charged Monday, Feb. 26, with three felonies on accusations he sexually assaulted a 21-year-old man and 17-year-old boy in his Saginaw Township condominium.
Nearly half a dozen more people have told investigators stories of alleged sexual abuse, attempted or otherwise, at the hands of DeLand, Berg previously said.
Some of the new allegations date back nearly three decades, and all of them involve people who were minors at the time and accessed through DeLand's role as a priest, Berg said.
The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, where DeLand has worked in a variety of roles and parishes since his ordainment in 1973, denies any knowledge of past sexual assault accusations against the pastor.
After DeLand was charged, the diocese placed him on administrative leave and forbade him from working or posing as a priest until the criminal case concludes.
Police are not only investigating current and past sexual abuse allegations against DeLand but whether the diocese knew of them and what they did about it.
"We want to know at what point was the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, and the Catholic Church as a whole, made aware of these incidents and what did they do when they were made aware of them," Berg said.
Berg hasn't reached out to the diocese to provide this information yet, as he's still in the stage of collecting and verifying these claims, he said.
The detective urged anyone who filed past complaints with the church, or elsewhere, to call the Tittabawassee Township Police Department at 989-695-9623.
Because of the amount of tips, Berg cautioned it might be a week or more before he is able to follow up.
"I assure you, we'll leave no stone unturned," the detective said.
Verifying sexual abuse claims from decades ago is like working a cold case, in that physical evidence is not always available, Berg said.
In lieu of documented records, testimony from relatives and others proves invaluable.
"We're going to look for records and talk to people," he said. "A lot of times, older cases can be resurrected because people talk."
Anyone with information about DeLand or other tips is asked to call Tittabawassee Township police at 989-695-9623 or Saginaw Township police at 989-791-7226.
DeLand's next court appearance is March 12 for a pre-examination conference.
He remains released from custody on GPS tether. Because he's court-ordered to have no contact with anyone under 21, he is prohibited from going on school properties and attending church functions.