Record-Eagle [Traverse City MI]
December 23, 2021
By Grace George
The Diocese of Gaylord confirmed that Father Bryan Medlin is the priest at the center of an investigation by the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Attorney General.
In a Dec. 22 press release, the Diocese of Gaylord confirmed that Medlin is the priest under investigation by the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Attorney General after he was accused of sending inappropriate text messages to high school students. The diocese also confirmed that Medlin is not engaging in parish, diocesan or ministerial activities during the investigation.
“The safety and security of our students — and all those within our schools and parishes — could not be more important and we are thankful for the continued work of civil authorities in safeguarding our young people,” said Mackenzie Ritchie, Diocese of Gaylord communications director, in a written statement. “The diocese continues to fully cooperate with law enforcement and civil authorities and follow their direction.”
A complaint that a clergy member within the Diocese of Gaylord sent inappropriate text messages to high school students was sent to the Michigan Attorney General’s office on Dec. 10, Michigan State Police Lt. Derrick Carroll said. State Police investigators do not yet know the number of students who received the text messages, Carroll said, and he would not comment on the nature of the messages beyond saying they were “inappropriate”.
Carroll said the complaint involves students from a school in Leelanau County. Although Carroll could not name the school, he said it is safe to say the school is “somehow affiliated” with the Diocese of Gaylord.
Carroll also previously said the clergy member under investigation was not in the same geographic area as the students who received messages.
In September, Medlin was appointed to be the pastor of the National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods in Indian River in Cheboygan County, according to the press release posted to the diocese’s website. He was also appointed to be the assistant director of vocations for the diocese in August.
Vocation directors play a main role in recruiting teens and young adults to become future members of clergy. Their duties typically include visits to schools and parishes within their diocese to speak to young people.
Medlin will not be participating in any duties related to his pastoral role or his role as assistant director of vocations during the investigation, according to the press release.
Prior to his appointment at the Cross in the Woods, Medlin served as pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Leelanau County.
St. Mary’s Catholic School, a school associated with St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, had a co-operative football team with Suttons Bay High School this year. The two schools frequently combine sports teams.
Suttons Bay Superintendent Casey Petz said he never met Medlin while he was at St. Mary’s, but he thinks the allegations are nonetheless “terrible news”.
Petz said that at this time, he and other administrators and educators at Suttons Bay will continue to offer support to all of their students.
“One individual’s alleged actions doesn’t take away from the huge community of support we have for our kids,” Petz said.
Nadja Tirrell, leader of Michigan’s Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the diocese should also confirm the nature of the accusations made against Medlin.
“To say inappropriate texts doesn’t really tell us a whole lot in a general sense,” Tirrell said. “If the texts were sexual nature, they need to say that. The parents have a right to know.”
By providing more information on the complaint and the clergy member involved, Tirrell said the diocese would make way for more young people to come forward and help parents make the best choices to ensure the safety of their children.
SNAP offers support to survivors of assault by clergy members and they do advocacy work on behalf of survivors. Tirrell said SNAP leaders are mandatory reporters for minors, so if a minor comes to SNAP with accusations of abuse against Medlin, they will report that to the Michigan State Police or the Attorney General.
In a Dec. 15 statement, the Diocese of Gaylord said the complaint at the center of the investigation involves “electronic messages sent to a small number of high school students,” but does not specify how many students or the nature of the messages.
“In order to maintain the integrity of the civil investigation that is underway, the diocese will not make any further comments at this time but continues to direct any questions to Michigan State Police or the Michigan Department of Attorney General,” Ritchie said in the Dec. 22 press release.
Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools sent out a press release regarding the incident on Dec. 10. Although the complaint being investigated involves students at a school in Leelanau County, educators are required by the Michigan Child Protection Law to report suspected abuse or neglect of any minor — whether in their district or not — to the appropriate authorities.
In the GTACS letter, officials said messages violated the diocesan Protocols for Ministry to Minors. The Diocese of Gaylord’s Protocols for Ministry to Minors outlines several rules for communication with minors. According to these protocols, adults are prohibited from being alone with minors unless necessary, making comments of a sexual nature to a minor, communicating one-on-one by electronic means with a minor or supplying minors with alcohol.