Freeland Priest in Sexual Abuse Probe Was Once Concerned about "Rumors"
By Michael Kransz
March 9, 2018
The Diocese of Saginaw now says the Freeland priest accused of sexually assaulting a teen and a man was once concerned about "rumors" and had been investigated on suspicions of sexual abuse.
The announcement March 8 comes a week after diocese officials previously stated that, "to the best of their knowledge," 71-year-old Rev. Robert DeLand Jr. was not investigated nor accused before of "priestly misconduct."
In the statement, diocese officials say DeLand was investigated in 2005 after a woman asked whether her brother, who committed suicide in 1993, was sexually abused by DeLand in the 1970s.
The sexual abuse probe was handled by an "independent professional investigator," and the suspicions were later deemed unfounded by the Rev. Robert Carlson, who was bishop of Saginaw at the time, the Diocesan Review Board and the family of the man, according to the statement.
The "clarification" that DeLand was once investigated for misconduct allegations comes after Bishop Joseph Cistone ordered a thorough review of his file, according to the statement.
The examination of DeLand's file turned up no "evidence" of previous allegations made by a victim or "someone with direct knowledge of sexual abuse of a minor," according the diocese statement.
Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner characterized the statement as "confusing."
"On the one hand, you're saying there hasn't been any allegations of prior bad acts, but then in the same breath you're saying there had been an investigation," Gaertner said.
DeLand, a longtime area priest, was charged Monday, Feb. 26, with three felonies on accusations he sexually assaulted a 21-year-old man and 17-year-old boy in his Saginaw Township condominium.
Since his arrest, nearly half a dozen more people have told investigators stories of alleged sexual abuse, attempted or otherwise, at the hands of DeLand, Tittabawassee Township Police Detective Brian Berg previously said. Some of the allegations date back to the 1970s.
DeLand was once concerned about "rumors" he said were damaging to his reputation, according to the diocese statement.
In 1992, he wrote the Bishop of Saginaw at the time, saying he takes issues with certain "rumors" and denies wrongdoing, the diocese stated.
The letter was contained in his file, according to the diocese. The diocese did not return calls for comment to clarify the substance of the rumors.
Allegations involving church officials
Among the tips pouring into the Tittabawassee Police Department are allegations of sexual abuse by other area clergymen, Berg previously said. If the allegations are verified, an official investigation will launch, the detective said.
The Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office announced Thursday the formation of a special investigative team to coordinate and investigate allegations of abuse involving officials within the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw. The diocese includes the counties of Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Clare, Gladwin, Isabella, Midland, Gratiot, Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac
Gaertner said the investigation will not dwell on rumors.
"We are going to follow the evidence and go where it leads us," he said.
Members of the team, which involves multiple local, state and federal agencies, have not yet reached out to the church for information.
"They have pledged to be cooperative with law enforcement," Gaertner said. "We fully expect them to honor their word."
A key point in forming the team, Gaertner said, was to centralize the tip-gathering process and ensure an organized process in conducting follow-ups.
Those with information on alleged abuse occurring in Saginaw Township can call Detective Scott Jackson at 989-791-7226, while those with information on alleged abuse occurring in Tittabawassee Township can call Detective Brian Berg at 989-695-9623.
Anyone with information on alleged abuse occurring in other areas of Saginaw County or in surrounding counties can call Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Chris Siegert at 989-495-5555.
Tips also can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gaertner encouraged the public to share tips, no matter how insignificant they might seem.
"The vast majority of major drug busts start from the smallest tips," he said, as an example.
The Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office has victim advocates available who can help people through the process and share with them their rights as a victim.
"We don't want silent victims to feel that there's nowhere to turn to," Gaertner said.
DeLand's next court appearance is March 12 for a pre-examination conference.
After DeLand was charged, the diocese placed him on administrative leave and forbade him from working or posing as a priest until the criminal case concludes.
He remains released from custody on GPS tether. Because he's court-ordered to have no contact with anyone under 21, he is prohibited from going on school properties and attending church functions.