Lansing Diocese deems abuse allegations against late Bishop as “credible”

WILX - NBC 10 [Lansing MI]

July 2, 2021

By Krystle Holleman

Friday the Diocese of Lansing announced it has deemed two allegations of sexual abuse leveled against the late Bishop James Sullivan as credible. Bishop Sullivan, who died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 76, was Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Lansing from 1972 to 1985. Sullivan then became Bishop of Fargo in North Dakota from 1985 to 2002.

Both accusations stem from the mid-1960′s when then-Father Sullivan was living at a parish in Lansing. Both male victims were subject to sexual grooming and inappropriate contact by Sullivan.

“Following investigation and review, the Diocese of Lansing has found two allegations against the late Bishop James Sullivan to be credible,” said David Kerr, spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing, July 2, 2021.

“Bishop Sullivan’s actions were gravely immoral, deeply scandalous and betrayed both the trust of the Catholic community within the Diocese of Lansing and, more significantly, the faith placed in him by the victims and their families to whom we say: ‘This should not have happened to you and we are profoundly sorry that it ever did’.”

In July 2020, the Diocese of Lansing launched its investigation after receiving an accusation of abuse against Sullivan from the Michigan Department of Attorney General. During the diocesan investigation, which was conducted by a private investigator with law enforcement experience, a second allegation emerged.

Results of these investigations were then sent to the Diocese of Lansing Review Board. The seven-person committee advises the Bishop of Lansing in his assessment of allegations of the sexual abuse of minors.

Membership of the committee is derived from a range of professional backgrounds, such as law enforcement, education, and psychology. It also includes representation from the clergy and victims of abuse.

“The Review Board concluded that these two allegations against the late Bishop Sullivan appear to be true,” explained William Bloomfield, General Counsel of the Diocese of Lansing. “We are grateful to Bishop Sullivan’s victims for coming forward and sharing their stories. They have displayed great courage and dignity throughout the entire process – they have our gratitude, admiration, and prayers.”

The first victim was around 12-years-old when then-Father Sullivan subjected him to inappropriate touching and uninvited sexualized conversations in 1964. The pattern of his behavior continued for the following two years.

The second victim was approximately 11 to 12-years-old when Sullivan inappropriately touched him in 1966. All incidents occurred at the Church of the Resurrection Parish in Lansing where Bishop Sullivan lived at the time.

James Stephen Sullivan, a native of Kalamazoo, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Lansing in 1955. After parish assignments in Flint, Lansing, and St. Joseph, Father Sullivan served as private secretary to Bishop Joseph Albers (1891–1965) and successor, Bishop Alexander Zaleski (1906–1975).

Bishop Sullivan served in the Diocese of Lansing until 1985 when he was appointed as Bishop of Fargo in North Dakota. He died in 2006 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo.

Neither the Diocese of Lansing nor the Diocese of Fargo are aware of any allegations of abuse stemming from Bishop Sullivan’s years spent in North Dakota. Both the Diocese of Fargo and the Diocese of Lansing will now add Bishop Sullivan’s name to their respective lists of clergy with credible accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Originally this article stated that the Diocese of Lansing launched its investigation in July of 2002. It has been updated to reflect the correct date, July of 2020.