Diocese responds to attorney general’s abuse report

The Mining Journal [Marquette MI]

October 28, 2022

By Christie Mastric

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Thursday announced the release of a report from her department concerning allegations of abuse that took place in the Catholic Diocese of Marquette.

The report was released in the interest of the public and to acknowledge the reports of alleged abuse from victims, the attorney general’s office said. The document is a compilation of the information obtained from the Department of Attorney General tip line, victim interviews, police investigations, open-source media, paper documents seized from the diocese and electronic documents found on the diocesan computers, and reports of allegations disclosed by the diocese.

The list of priests for which there were allegations of sexual misconduct against either children or adults since Jan. 1, 1950, is derived from information gleaned from a search warrant that was executed against the Diocese of Marquette on Oct. 3, 2018. There are 44 priests on this list; 38 were employed or incardinated by the Marquette Diocese.

“The Department of Attorney General is committed to ensuring that every case of sexual abuse and assault is thoroughly reviewed and that whenever we are able to pursue justice we do so relentlessly and aggressively,” Nessel said in a statement. “I specifically want to thank the survivors who have shared their stories, sometimes after decades of silence. Their willingness to come forward helped bring attention to an issue that has affected so many in our state and our country, including children.”

The Diocese of Marquette worked in partnership with the Department of Attorney General to pass along reports of allegations, the attorney general’s office said. Victims often reach out to their faith leaders to share stories of alleged abuse, it said, and the willingness of the diocese to provide information was instrumental in the compilation of the report.

The report contains detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, including grooming and misuse of authority, against minors and adults. The possible criminal prosecution of many of these allegations is barred by the statute of limitations, or because the accused priest is deceased.

“We must break down the walls of silence that so often surround sexual assault and abuse,” Nessel said in a statement. “In the end, we hope this investigation provides a voice to those who have suffered in silence for so long and shines a light on those alleged offenders who have escaped punishment for their crimes by hiding in shadows.”

In October 2018, 42 Michigan State Police troopers, five officers from other law enforcement agencies and 15 special agents from the Department of Attorney General executed search warrants at Michigan’s seven dioceses. In that effort, they seized 220 boxes of paper documents and more than 3.5 million digital documents.

To date, the department has:

≤ completed the paper document review of more than 1.5 million documents;

≤ completed the electronic document review of the Gaylord, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saginaw, Lansing and Marquette dioceses, leaving only approximately 135,882 digital documents from the Archdiocese of Detroit;

≤ hired and trained a full-time victim advocate to support the hundreds of victims identified during the investigation;

≤ continued to refer the completed criminal investigations back to the respective dioceses; and

≤ followed up with victims who have not been interviewed by a trauma-informed interviewer.

Bishop John Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette addressed the allegations in a Thursday news conference.

“I offer a sincere apology to anyone who has been abused by clergy in the Catholic Church,” Doerfler said. “You are and should have been our priority. There is no excuse for what happened to you.”

He also renewed his pledge to remove from the ministry any priest or deacon against whom there is a substantial allegation of abuse.

However, Doerfler added, “The attorney general’s report lists allegations without making any determinination whether the allegations are credible or substantiated. However, you should know that no priest or deacon in the Diocese of Marquette with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is in active ministry. In fact, the last alleged incident known to the diocese of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in active ministry was 25 years ago.”

Doerfler said the diocese has and will continue to cooperate with the investigation.

Nessel credited law enforcement and her staff for their assistance.

“I want to commend the Michigan State Police and my staff for their unwavering commitment to seeing justice served in these tremendously difficult cases,” Nessel said. “By using a victim-centered, trauma-informed focus in the investigation and prosecution, these teams were able to secure convictions based on the victim’s memories of events that occurred many years ago, most from when they were children. Despite a lack of DNA evidence linking suspects to these crimes, prosecutors were able to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m very proud of the work on behalf of victims.”

The department said it has issued criminal charges in 11 cases from throughout the entire state and secured convictions in seven cases, delivering justice for 38 survivors. Of the 11 cases, two of the cases were related to priests ministering in the Diocese of Marquette, one of which resulted in a conviction while the other is pending. The Marquette cases are:

≤ People v. Gary Jacobs. Jacobs, formerly of the Diocese of Marquette, pled guilty to one count in each of his four Ontonagon County cases, with a total of three counts of criminal sexual conduct-first degree and one count of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree in April 2021. He was sentenced in these cases to 8 to 15 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections, along with lifetime sex offender registration and counseling.

In Dickinson County, in May 2021, Jacobs pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in the second degree. He was sentenced in July 2021 to 8-15 years in prison, with lifetime sex offender registration to be served concurrently.

≤ People v. Roy Joseph. In January 2020, Joseph, who was ministering in the Diocese of Marquette, was charged with one count of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. He is awaiting extradition from India.

Doerfler addressed a matter in the report pertaining to an allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor that was made against Father Mark McQuesten, who is a senior priest active in the ministry. The allegation, he said, was reported to the diocese in 2018 regarding abuse that was alleged to have occurred in 1986 or 1987, over 30 years before the report of the allegation.

He said an investigator determined that the allegation was not credible. An independent review board composed primarily of lay persons also advised that the allegation was not credible. The investigation also pointed to alleged boundary violations on the part of McQuesten that are said to have taken place in the 1980s. The information was shared with the independent review board to help Doerfler assess McQuesten’s suitability for ministry.

“Furthermore, we have no evidence that McQuesten is a danger to minors,” Doerfler said.

The report also includes information concerning an ex-convict, referred to as ERS, that McQuesten allowed to stay on the parish premises, Doerfler said.

“This is not an allegation of sexual misconduct on the part of Father McQuesten,” Doerfler said. “Rather, the presence of this individual was causing disruption in the parish, and measures had to be taken to evict him from the premises.”

Doerfler said the diocese has initiated a Safe Environment program to keep children safe, and includes criminal background checks and safe environment awareness training to teach people how to recognize signs of abuse, grooming behaviors and boundary violations.

The Department of Attorney General said that in addition to the paper and digital documents seized from the dioceses, information is also received through the attorney general’s clergy abuse tip line. Information can be shared via the investigation hotline at 844-324-3374 or by email to aginvestigations@michigan.gov.

Victims of sexual abuse and/or assault in need of additional resources should contact 855-VOICES4.

For more details, visit www.dioceseofmarquette.org/agreport. On the website, the diocese has provided an overview of the attorney general’s report. It noted that the report lists two convictions of priests from the Marquette diocese prior to the investigation, and one in conjunction with it.

“In 1987, Fr. Terrence Healy was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct against a minor,” the diocese reported. “In 2022, former priest Gary Jacobs was convicted of five counts of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct against four victims in the 1980s. First-degree criminal sexual conduct charges filed in 2019 against Fr. Roy Joseph for alleged misconduct with an adult are pending.”

Regarding why there are not more convictions, the diocese indicated that according to the report summary, in most of the cases either the statute of limitations had run out, or the priest had died before the start of the Department of Attorney General’s investigation.

Also, few of the allegations were examined by law enforcement officials during the time in which the statute of limitations would have allowed for a charge if warranted.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.