Detroit Archdiocese: Priests and Policy

By Ned McGrath
Director of Communications
November 2002

"The Archdiocese of Detroit implemented its Policy on the Sexual of Abuse of Minors by Clergy in 1988; it has been revised three times, taking into consideration:

• current events and experiences

• the document enacted in June by the bishops of the United States, The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People

• the reconciled canonical (Church law) provisions, or norms, approved by the U.S. bishops at their mid-November meeting "

As written, the provision of the so-called 'Dallas Charter' to permanently remove a priest from ministry is to be utilized when the sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, certified either through an admission from the priest himself or by a determination that can be proven to a canonical standard. (See CanonLawBackgrounder.PDF) "To date, the situations of the following Detroit archdiocesan priests have been reviewed in light of the Dallas Charter: Frs. Gary Bueche, Tony Conti, Michael Daly, Robert Haener and Walter Lezuchowski. While it is true they will no longer be able to minister publicly in the Church, their future plans are theirs to determine. As are all priests, they, too, have been called to prayer and penance. Any final resolution on the question of laicization has yet to be determined. Ongoing contact and communication with these priests is coordinated by the cardinal archbishop's delegate, Msgr. Walter Hurley, with assistance from Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Britt and Msgr. Michael Lefevre.

"Currently, the following priests are having their situations reviewed to determine what degree the provisions of the Dallas Charter apply: Frs. Robert Burkholder, Joseph Femminineo, Lawrence Nawrocki, Ralph Quane, Gerald Shirilla, Joseph Sito, and Peter Van der Linden. They are restricted from any public ministry, and, in some cases, have had additional restrictions placed upon them.

"Finally, the following priests are currently on an administrative leave of absence, pending the resolution of serious and substantive allegations brought forward against them: Frs. Edmund Borcyz, Dennis Duggan, Jude Ellinghausen, Dennis Laesch, Alfred Miller, Ron Williams and Robert Wyzgoski. In such cases, as has been stated in the past, a substantive allegation is not— in and of itself— a determination of guilt. These priests have been temporarily restricted from any public ministry.

"Ongoing contact and communications with the above priests is also coordinated by Msgr. Hurley, with assistance from Bp. Britt and Msgr. Lefevre. The archdiocese intends to be as fair and as careful as possible in resolving these cases, taking whatever time is necessary to do so.

"Harry Benjamin and Dennis Martell were ordained for the archdiocese but were laicized. Gerald Vesnaugh, whose case was processed years before the establishment of the archdiocesan policy, has left the priesthood. The USCCB backgrounder on the 'Loss of the Clerical State' offers more detail on what it means for the priest— and his former resident diocese— when he is dispensed from his sacramental obligations and returned to the status of a layman. (See USCCBbackgrounder.PFF) "Frs. Gary Berthiaume and Edward Olszewski were ordained for the Detroit archdiocese, but incardinated/transferred to other arch/dioceses—Berthiaume to Cleveland, Olszewski to Miami. Jason Sigler, ordained by the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, has left the priesthood but served in the Detroit archdiocese (and Lansing diocese) briefly as a visiting priest.

"As for the religious order priests who have served in the archdiocese, Frs. Neil Emon Bruce Maxwell, Jim Moeglein, and Thomas O'Brien are Crosier Fathers (OSC); Fr. Thomas Johnston is a Dominican priest (OP). Their respective provincials would have the latest information on their status.

"In describing the current status of the archdiocesan priests, perhaps examples can be found in how the media describes a lawyer who has been disbarred, a doctor who has had his license revoked, or a police officer who has been suspended. And to clarify the role of the archdiocese in these situations, it can be said that while the Church is responsible for these priests' ministerial assignments, they themselves, as private citizens, are responsible for their personal behavior, and society rightly holds them accountable.

"Additionally, the names of these priests have been made public by the archdiocese and shared with civil authorities. Their stories have been reported in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Michigan Catholic, in the major daily newspapers, and on radio and television. In most of these cases, the priests have been offered and accepted professional counseling or treatment protocols. These individuals, who are not in public ministry, may not want to share their addresses and/or current living arrangements with reporters or the public. That is their choice to make; the archdiocese will not try to influence that decision.

"As it would with any and all of its workers, the archdiocese would respectfully decline to discuss specific details of the current 'personnel arrangements' with these priests, such as their support or medical benefits. Under Canon Law, a bishop must provide some level of support for his diocesan priests, regardless of their status.

"A draft of the third revision of the misconduct policy was presented in September; it is currently being reviewed by consultative bodies in the archdiocese composed of both clergy and lay people. Also in September, the newly constituted Board of Review was introduced; it is led by a lay chairman, and its members include a psychologist, a prosecutor, a retired judge, a health care executive, and a canon lawyer. Four of the board members are parents.

"Following the actions and approval vote of the U.S. bishops at their annual meeting in Washington, D.C, and expecting approval from the Vatican by the end of the year, the archdiocese expects to proceed with the provisions of the Dallas Charter and its accompanying norms. (See Q&A from USCCB.rtf)"


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.