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  Duggan: Open Priest Files
Other Prosecutors Also Urge Archdiocese to Turn over Records to 'Cleanse Priesthood

By John Bebow
Detroit News
April 5, 2002

Metro Detroit prosecutors are urging the Archdiocese of Detroit to follow Catholic Church leaders in New York and hand over all sex abuse allegations involving priests.

One day after the Archdiocese of New York gave authorities some three dozen abuse allegations going back 35 to 40 years, a spokeswoman for Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan said Thursday he is in negotiations to receive similar records from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

"We made the request in the past two weeks to see if there is anything we should investigate," Duggan spokeswoman Rebecca Tenorio said.

Although the Archdiocese of Detroit is not legally obligated to turn over internal records, other area prosecutors echoed Duggan's plea. Even if allegations are beyond Michigan's 10-year statute of limitations for sex crimes, old files could lead to new evidence, Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga said. "Usually pedophiles don't reach a point where they don't want to do those things anymore," he said.

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said turning over the files is "a very good way to cleanse the priesthood."

The prosecutors' calls add to increasing pressure in Metro Detroit and across the nation for the Catholic Church to deal more openly with sex abuse allegations involving priests. Seventy percent of Catholics surveyed this week by ABC News and The Washington Post said sexual abuse of children by priests is a "major problem that demands immediate attention."

A Gallup poll last week found 72 percent of Catholics think the church has done a "bad job" of handling the crisis.

Four Michigan priests are among dozens nationwide who have left parishes in recent weeks because of sex abuse allegations. But the Archdiocese of Detroit has consistently declined to publicly detail the amount or nature of all sexual abuse complaints against priests in Metro Detroit.

"The archdiocese has been reviewing various components of our policies and procedures," spokesman Ned McGrath said in response to the prosecutors' comments. "It's too soon to know, one way or the other, if any changes will be made."

Catholics have plenty of advice on how Cardinal Adam Maida should handle the issue locally.

Members of the prominent St. Hugo of the Hills Church in Bloomfield Hills plan to discuss the issue of pedophilia in an annual town hall meeting this month.

"We must deal clearly with the pedophile priest," the Rev. Anthony Tocco said in a letter to St. Hugo parishioners. "In prayerful discussion, we will offer, from our perspective, clear recommendations to Cardinal Maida."

Prosecutor Marlinga, a practicing Catholic, suggested Cardinal Maida should appeal to Catholics via videotape -- as he sometimes does when raising money -- "to deliver the message to come forward" with all sexual abuse allegations.

"I don't think there is a whole bunch of victims who haven't yet come forward," Marlinga said. "But I'd like to see church leaders even more vigorous in their efforts to get people to come forward. I don't think, as a Catholic, I've heard enough of that message. This is a great opportunity for forceful, spiritual leadership to really purge the cloud from the church."

Marlinga and Gorcyca also urged the Archdiocese of Detroit to end the practice of handling sex abuse allegations through an internal review committee.

"It's an ill-advised policy," said Gorcyca, who also is a practicing Catholic. "If they'd handled this issue correctly years ago, they wouldn't have this dilemma today."

Not required to report

In Michigan and 21 other states, clergy are not required to report allegations of child sexual abuse. In 16 other states, clergy are exempted from reporting such cases if they learned of the abuse during counseling, such as the Catholic confessional.

State Sen. William Van Regenmorter, R-Hudsonville, is drafting legislation to add clergy to a wide list of professionals against whom allegations of sex abuse must be reported to legal authorities.

The Michigan Catholic Conference, which serves as the official voice of the Catholic Church on matters of public policy in the state, opposes the idea because it could threaten the confidentiality of confessions and other private clerical communication.

"My answer back would be that, as a condition of absolution, the person hearing a confession would require the penitent to make a full disclosure to civil authorities," Marlinga said.

Some other religious leaders are warming to the idea of changing the state law.

"To me, it seems like a good idea," said the Rev. Richard Singleton, executive director of the Metropolitan Christian Council, an ecumenical agency serving some 2,000 churches. "If there's been a criminal infraction of some kind it needs to be investigated (by legal authorities). It seems to me to be the only proper thing to do."

Only investigation

Duggan is the only area prosecutor currently investigating a sex abuse case involving a priest. Wayne County prosecutors questioned Bishop Kevin Britt, the archdiocesan official in charge of sex abuse investigations, for two hours Thursday in a probe of a sexual misconduct allegation by a woman in her 40s against an unidentified priest. Duggan's staff declined to elaborate.

Michigan priests who've stepped down in recent weeks amid sex abuse allegations include: * The Rev. Gerald Shirilla, 63, resigned from an Alpena parish last month, years after he admitted in a sex abuse lawsuit that he'd massaged a young boy's chest and legs.

* The Rev. Vincent DeLorenzo, 63, resigned from a parish near Flint in January and told parishioners in a letter last month that he'd had "inappropriate sexual contact with a minor."

* The Rev. Dennis D. Duggan, 54, stepped down from two Detroit parishes last week, the same day the archdiocese received a sexual abuse allegation against him.

* The Rev. Gary Bueche, 57, resigned from a Washington Township parish this week because of a decades-old sexual misconduct allegation.

A Michigan author and activist said he raised questions two years ago against Bueche and another Michigan priest who still leads a parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Kevin Cox, 39, claimed two years ago in a self-published book that, as an 11-year-old, he was abused by a Harper Woods parochial school basketball coach. The coach, Roger Joseph, resigned during an Archdiocese of Detroit investigation was instigated by Cox's book. The archdiocese said last year it was "unable to draw any conclusion" from the investigation.

Cox said he discussed Joseph, Bueche, and another Detroit-area priest in two conversations with Bishop Britt in 2000. Cox said he had not been abused by Bueche and the other priest but claimed to know schoolmates who had made such allegations. After two initial conversations with Cox, Britt declined to speak further, Cox said.

Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman McGrath declined to respond to Cox's description of events.

"Our normal procedure is to look into a complaint, take necessary action, and offer assistance where appropriate," McGrath said. "Out of respect for the privacy of all those involved, we do not discuss our findings publicly. We would encourage those who might have complaints to contact us directly."

 
 

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