Diocese of Lansing MI
October 13, 2022
Father Shaun Lowery was ordained as a priest for the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales in 2009. While serving with the order, he held various positions in the States of Ohio and Michigan including within the Diocese of Lansing. In 2018, Father Lowery received dispensation from his vows with the Oblates and was incardinated into the Diocese of Lansing. In 2019, he was appointed as Pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen parish in Brighton.
In March 2021, a high school student reported to the Diocese of Lansing that the person’s friend, a 16-year-old male, had engaged in sexual activity with Father Lowery. The encounter, the person claimed, had been organized using the mobile app Grindr. The person said that the friend recognized Father Lowery as a priest. The person was rightly concerned by these events and reported it to the Diocese while also concealing the friend’s identity.
The Diocese of Lansing immediately forwarded the information received to the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Michigan who began an investigation. Meanwhile, Bishop Earl Boyea placed Father Lowery on administrative leave as Pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen in Brighton and removed his priestly faculties. Thus, Father Lowery could not operate publicly as a priest.
Under interview, Father Lowery confirmed to law enforcement that the alleged sexual encounter had taken place but claimed to have been unaware that the young person in question was a 16-year-old and presumed he was an adult. It was also confirmed that the encounter had been arranged through Grindr, a mobile application that requests age verification on the part of all subscribers to affirm they are over 18 years of age.
In May 2021, the Attorney General informed the Diocese of Lansing that they would not be pursuing any prosecution against Father Lowery. The AG said that what Father Lowery stood accused of was not a crime because the State of Michigan’s statutory rape law requires the victim to be under 16. Likewise, they said, since there was no allegation that the sexual contact was non-consensual, there was no crime under Michigan law.
The conclusion of the Attorney General’s investigation allowed the Diocese of Lansing to proceed with its own investigation under the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which defines a minor as a person under the age of 18. Thus, the case was referred to the diocesan Review Board for the Sexual Abuse of Minors. The Review Board found that, while Fr. Lowery denied knowing that the sexual encounter was with a minor, the encounter was, indeed, with a minor. The Bishop agreed and, as is required by Canon Law, forwarded his findings to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome.
After reviewing the details of the case, the CDF informed the Diocese of Lansing that, in their judgement, the delict (violation of the law) of sexual abuse of a minor was not imputable against Fr. Lowery because he had committed the delict before the new Norms Regarding Delicts Reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had been promulgated and came into force on December 8, 2021.
These new norms state that “ignorance or error on the part of the cleric regarding the age of the minor does not constitute an extenuating or exonerating circumstance.” Prior to December 8, 2021, the status of such cases was unclear. Thus, the CDF explained that Father Lowery could not be held to the new norms since his conduct occurred prior to December 8, 2021.
The Diocese of Lansing has asked for clarification on certain aspects of this ruling and is currently awaiting a response from the CDF. Once that response is received, the Diocese will determine the next steps to be taken in this case.
Meanwhile, Father Lowery resigned as Pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen as of April 2022 and is now seeking dispensation from the clerical state, i.e. laicization. A spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing, David Kerr, said:
“Father Lowery engaged in immoral sexual acts, grievously violated his vow of celibacy, and gave scandal to the young persons involved in this case as well as to the wider Church.”
“We offer prayer and penance for all who have been adversely affected by Father Lowery, especially the young person with whom he engaged in immoral sexual acts.”
“We also pray for Father Lowery that this may be a moment of repentance for him, leading him to recommit to both personal sanctity and holy purity in the assurance that therein lies the path to authentic happiness.”
“Finally, we are deeply grateful to the third party who had both the moral clarity and the personal courage to bring the allegation to the Diocese of Lansing in the first place.”
“Our desire had been to issue an all-encompassing statement at the conclusion of the canonical process involving Father Lowery but, unfortunately, the prolonged nature of those proceedings meant that information relating to the case was emerging into the public domain in a piecemeal and, thus, potentially inaccurate fashion.”
“Hence, while the Diocese of Lansing is still seeking clarity from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding its conclusions, it seemed like the appropriate moment to provide a fulsome and accurate explanation of events to the people of Saint Mary Magdalen in Brighton and all other relevant parties.”
The Diocese of Lansing expects that all diocesan employees, clergy, and volunteers will exemplify the moral teachings of Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church in their personal and professional life. See Diocesan Code of Conduct. Anyone wishing to report misconduct may do so here.
If anyone has reason to suspect physical, sexual or emotional abuse of any person of any age, please contact Protective Services or the police, as appropriate. If abuse by anyone connected to the Church is suspected, please also contact our Victim Assistance Coordinator at (888) 308-6252 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone reporting clergy abuse can do so directly to the Michigan Attorney General here or by calling the investigation hotline at 844-324-3374.