Statement on Assault Arrest Involving St. Peter Parish

By Ned McGrath
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit
February 12, 2012

[with pdf]

Following the arrest on Friday of an individual accused of sexual assaulting a minor on the property of St. Peter Parish in Mount Clemens, Bishop Michael Byrnes, auxiliary bishop for the Northeast Region of the Archdiocese of Detroit, read a statement at all four weekend Masses. Speaking on behalf of Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the bishop stated "the archdiocese is appalled this could happen." He expressed regret— and an apology— to the young woman who brought this complaint forward and pledged that the archdiocese will reach out to her and her family to offer help and promote healing.

While there is no allegation of abuse— none— against the pastor, Fr. Michael Cooney, Bp. Byrnes said the archdiocese does hold him accountable for his response in this case and in providing a "safe environment for children and young people on parish property." For these reasons, the bishop said, Fr. Cooney, 63, has been temporarily suspended from active ministry. Under this restriction, he is not to perform any public ministry, e.g., offering Masses, sacraments, etc., and is not to present himself publicly as a priest, i.e., wearing clerical garb.

An archdiocesan investigation will now commence. As part of that review, an exhaustive, on-site audit will be conducted of the parish's adherence to the archdiocesan safe environment policies and practices, with a redoubled focus on building security and retraining of personnel.

Bp. Byrnes has been appointed administrator of St. Peter Parish. His remarks to churchgoers follow:

"I come with some sad and sobering news. In December, your pastor, Fr. Cooney, shared with the Archdiocese of Detroit that Macomb County authorities were conducting an investigation of alleged criminal sexual conduct occurring on St. Peter Parish property. That investigation has resulted in the arrest, this past Friday, of a St. Peter's parishioner. The victim is identified as a minor. She is not a student at St. Mary's School or enrolled in the parish's religious education program. The archdiocese is appalled this could happen and expresses regret — and an apology — to the young woman who brought this complaint forward and pledges to reach out to her and her family to offer help and promote healing.

"Because there was an active criminal investigation underway, the Detroit archdiocese did not take any actions or pursue any on-site investigations on behalf of the Church until civil authorities were completely done.

"Now that there has been an arrest, the archdiocese can and will conduct a full review. That said, the archdiocese has learned enough at this point to question why Fr. Cooney, having been informed of this alleged conduct, failed in his response to protect the victim, in promptly reporting what he knew to law enforcement authorities, and to provide a safe environment for children and young people on parish property.

"There is no allegation of abuse against Fr. Cooney. None. But, the archdiocese does hold him accountable. It is for these reasons he has been temporarily suspended from active ministry until the archdiocesan investigation is completed. Fr. Cooney's suspension does not mean that he has been cut off from any benefits— health, financial, etc.— those provided to his brother priests. And, it does not mean he has been permanently restricted or removed from priestly ministry. It does mean he will remain on suspension until the archdiocese concludes a full and thorough review of this matter. That is troubling, I'm sure, to all of you, but you need to know that Fr. Cooney is aware of what I'm telling you and has been cooperating with the archdiocese.

"What can you do as a parish community? Such a circumstance, no doubt, is immeasurably difficult to imagine in this, St. Peter's loving and tight-knit faith community. It is not something easy to live with, and it is natural that this elicits lots of emotions, lots of questions, and lots of uncertainty.

"I have been appointed the temporary administrator of the parish. So, from this point forward, we are in this together. We will have to deal with things together, as a faith community. When this case is resolved in the courts, and the archdiocese has concluded its investigation, I think a parish meeting would be in order to clarify any questions or concerns you may have, to discuss how we can move forward as a faith community, and to outline what steps we need to take to secure a more effective safe environment on our parish campus.

"On behalf of Archbishop Vigneron I ask, foremost, that we pray for God's grace to bring us healing – most especially for everyone directly involved in this matter."



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