Grand Rapids Diocese Suspends Priest Following Abuse Allegation

Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 7, 2002

A Catholic priest has been suspended while the Diocese of Grand Rapids investigates an allegation that he sexually abused a minor.

The Rev. Dennis Wagner, who in 1983 was sentenced in Muskegon County for assault and battery involving a 13-year-old boy, has been suspended, The Grand Rapids Press and The Muskegon Chronicle reported Tuesday.

The alleged abuse "may have occurred in the early 1980s," according to a diocesan statement. Wagner is the third priest to leave his duties in the diocese following an abuse allegation.

Officials also said the diocese has substantiated four other allegations of abuse of minors by Wagner during the 1980s. The diocese didn't learn of the allegations until many years later, officials said.

Bishop Robert Rose "felt it was prudent to relieve Father Wagner of all duties while the investigation is conducted," diocesan spokeswoman Mary Haarman said in a prepared statement.

Wagner, 53, was not working as a parish priest but was a canon lawyer in the Diocesan Tribunal Office processing marriage annulment applications, Haarman said. She said he has not had any parish assignments since 1983.

Including Wagner, at least 12 Catholic priests in Michigan have been removed or have left their parishes since Jan. 1 amid abuse allegations. At least seven of the cases involved a minor.

Wagner was charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1983 for allegedly fondling a 13-year-old boy. At the time, Wagner was a pastor at St. Michael's parish in Coopersville but took a leave of absence after his arrest.

He pleaded to lesser charge of assault and battery and was placed on probation for two years. As a condition of the sentencing, Wagner was to report regularly to then-Bishop Joseph Breitenbeck.

Since then, Wagner has undergone "extensive evaluation and counseling," according to the diocese statement. That has included a residential treatment plan, several outpatient programs and "years of monitoring and follow-up treatment."


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