Defrocked Priest Was Investigated in 2000 on Sexual Assault Allegations
By Cole Waterman
May 9, 2018
Nearly 20 years ago, a former priest of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw was investigated by police after a young man accused him of grabbing his penis.
Though the allegation didn't result in criminal charges, the priest ended up stripped of his holy title.
Now 72 and living in Indiana, the former Rev. Jack J. "Father Jack" Leipert is one of five former clerics the diocese has permanently removed from ministry due to credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors. The diocese announced the names in April in the wake of the arrest of the Rev. Robert J. "Father Bob" DeLand Jr. on sexual assault charges.
In November 2000, Leipert, then 54, was serving as the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Bad Axe. According to reports obtained by MLive from the Bad Axe Police Department via a Freedom of Information Act request, a 21-year-old man visited the police department on Nov. 9 to file a complaint against Leipert.
The man said that on Oct. 29, 2000, Leipert had approached him at a Bad Axe gas station and asked if he'd like to perform some handyman work for $10 or $11 per hour. The man agreed to this and gave his phone number to Leipert.
Leipert called the man a few days later and the man visited the church at 311 Whitelam St. on the evening of Nov. 7. After they looked at the work that needed to be done, the two men went to Liepert's nearby home, where the younger man inspected some hanging wallpaper the priest had asked him about fixing.
Meanwhile, Leipert made conversation by asking the man about his background, family, girlfriends and work, the man told police. As this occurred, Leipert's hand brushed against the younger man's rear, the man told police. He said it wasn't anything serious, but it caught his attention.
They moved to another room where the priest showed the man some paint peeling off a wall.
"Father Jack started to rub (the man's) arm, then reached down and grabbed" his crotch, police reports state. The man "said he was completely shocked and did not know what to say."
Leipert called the man's house to ask him to dinner and offer him money for having stopped by on Nov. 7. The man declined the priest's offers and hung up on him, he told police.
Detectives later conferred with Huron County Prosecutor Mark J. Gaertner regarding the complaint. Gaertner is currently a Saginaw County assistant prosecutor and is one of those handling the DeLand matter.
In the Huron County case, investigators decided the complainant would meet with Leipert while equipped with recording equipment and discuss the Nov. 7 incident with him.
The complainant agreed, and met with Leipert. During their conversation, the priest said he "was sorry for what happened" and that the young man's mentions of past girlfriends had "turned him on," the police report states.
Needing something more concrete, investigators later used a young-looking Huron County Sheriff's deputy to go undercover and meet with Leipert. This conversation also failed to generate anything incriminating against the priest.
Investigators and prosecutors decided to talk to the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw to "ask that something be done by the church to handle this matter."
Police closed the case and prosecutors did not issue charges against Leipert. In December 2000, Gaertner wrote a letter to the 21-year-old complainant, stating that while there may be sufficient factual evidence to sustain an initial criminal charge, he did not feel the prosecution would be able to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Attorney David J. Masud, representing the diocese, wrote a letter to Gaertner in January 2001.
"On behalf of the Diocese," the letter states, "I would ... like to thank you for the discretion that you have exercised in dealing with this matter. I remain confident that all involved, including the community, will have benefited from your efforts."
In June 2001, the diocese barred Leipert from acting as a priest. In 2006, Leipert was laicized, or defrocked.
Via a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to the Huron County Prosecutor's Office, MLive/The Saginaw News obtained correspondence from years ago between Gaertner and Masud.
Gaertner in 2008 lost a reelection campaign to Timothy J. Rutkowski. Gaertner is currently an assistant prosecutor in the Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office and is one of those handling the DeLand criminal matter, while Rutkowski remains Huron County's prosecutor.
Rutkowski had run against Gaertner in 2000 and 2004, losing both times. Rutkowski's brother is the Rev. William J. Rutkowski, who at the time was the pastor of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Bay City, a member church of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.
In late August 2000 -- two months before the Leipert investigation began and after Gaertner won the Huron County prosecutor election against Timothy Rutkowski -- the Rev. Rutkowski wrote an op-ed published by The Bay City Times and The Huron Tribune entitled "Embarrassed by election."
In the letter, the Rev. Rutkowski voiced strong criticism of Gaertner.
Speaking to The Saginaw News-MLive on Wednesday, May 9, Gaertner said the letter was not viewed favorably by many in Huron County.
"People would come up to me -- businessmen, the school superintendent, pastors of other denominations, police officers -- and the general consensus was, 'What in the heck is Father Bill doing? He's a priest. He shouldn't be writing that letter.'"
Timothy Rutkowski in early 2004 announced he was again running against Gaertner. This led to some of the same citizens again approaching Gaertner about the Rev. Rutkowski's 2000 op-ed and concern he would try to influence the election, Gaertner said.
In February 2004, Gaertner wrote a letter to Masud recounting the Leipert investigation and stating Timothy Rutkowski's intention to run against him had "resurrected the prior issue in the minds of some of the individuals involved in the (Leipert) investigation and others that gained knowledge of the investigation."
Gaertner added the catalyst for the renewed interest was the Rev. Rutkowski's 2000 letter.
"Even though I encourage community members to get involved in government," Gaertner wrote in 2004, "I find it disturbing Rev. Rutkowski would use his position within the Catholic Church to legitimize his personal opinion about a political matter. The general feeling is that the Diocese should not allow a priest to engage in, and influence, political matters especially in light of the fact the way Huron County law enforcement handled the Leipert matter in a discreet and professional manner. Some individuals have remarked, and I paraphrase, 'Is this the way the Diocese thanks us?'"
Gaertner went on to say he considers Sacred Heart a necessary pillar in Bad Axe and that he did not want the church to receive negative publicity regarding the resolved Leipert matter. His stated desire was "to have Rev. Rutkowski not to be engaged in public comment during this election cycle, as it will resurrect the prior matter involving Rev. Leipert."
Masud in March 2004 wrote a response to Gaertner, stating he appreciated that the prosecutor brought the matter to the diocese's attention "in the professional manner that it has been presented."
Gaertner said his letter to Masud was in no way a threat, nor did he decline to charge Leipert in 2000 for anything other than legitimate reasons.
"I knew if we were investigating and charging a priest, we would have to have very good, solid evidence," Gaertner said. "That's why we were so meticulous with the DeLand case and we insisted on having good, quality recordings."
Once the police investigation into Leipert was complete, Gaertner said he and then-Bad Axe Police Chief John Bodis met with Bishop Kenneth E. Untener, head of the diocese.
"We let him know that if we had had the evidence, (Leipert) would have been charged," Gaertner said. "It would have been a he-said, he-said (case) without recordings. The bishop thanked us and said the matter would be addressed.
"I thought we did the right thing and I still think we did the right thing," Gaertner said.
In addition to Leipert, the other four clerics the diocese in April named as having been defrocked are:
In March the Rev. Ronald J. Dombrowski, 72, was suspended as a "precautionary measure" after a person told the diocese on March 15 that Dombrowski allegedly sexually abused them when they were a minor.
The diocese forwarded the complaint to law enforcement. No criminal charges have been filed against Dombrowski.
The diocese has also suspended DeLand after his late February arrest.
DeLand is charged in Saginaw County with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving injury and single counts of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct, assault with intent to commit second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between males, selling alcohol to a minor, and distributing an imitation controlled substance. The charges involve three separate males, one of whom is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against DeLand, Bishop Joseph R. Cistone, and the diocese.
DeLand's trial dates are pending.