Priest Suspended for Failure to Report Alleged Sexual Assault

By Arthur Weinreb
Digital Journal
February 13, 2012

Mount Clemens - The Michigan pastor was suspended for failing to report an allegation that a 14-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in the basement of a Mount Clemens, Michigan church.

The announcement of the suspension was made yesterday by Bishop Michael Brynes of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Byrnes' statement was read at all Sunday Masses conducted in the parish.

The alleged sexual assault took place in December in the basement of St. Peter Parish church. In his statement, the bishop expressed regret and apologized to the 14-year-old girl. He also reached out the the girl and her family.

Bishop Byrnes said that he holds the priest, Fr. Michael Cooney, 63, accountable for his actions in not providing a "safe environment for children and young people on parish property."

While under suspension, Fr. Cooney cannot offer Masses or sacraments. Nor can he do anything or wear anything in public that would indicate he is a priest.

Although the alleged sexual assault took place in December, a criminal charge was just laid on Friday after an investigation by the Macomb County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff, Anthony Wickersham, told WXYZ that the 14-year-old had been in a relationship with a 19-year-old man and the relationship had turned violent.

Michael Lentini, 19, was charged with one count of 3rd degree sexual assault. According to the Detroit Free Press, Lentini was released on Friday after posting a personal $20,000 bond. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

The girl had told a councillor at school about what happened to her and the school contacted her mother. It was her mother who went to police and not the Fr. Cooney or anyone else at the church.

The archdiocese waited until the criminal investigation was complete before looking into the matter of Fr. Cooney's conduct. Bishop Byrnes wrote,

Now that there has been an arrest, the archdiocese can and will conduct a full review.
The bishop added,
...the archdiocese knows enough to question why Fr. Cooney, having been informed of the alleged conduct, failed in his response to 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.
The parish priest is not alleged to have committed any abuse.

Fr. Cooney was ordained in 1975 and has been the pastor at St. Peter Parish since 1990. It is not certain how long the priest will remain suspended.


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