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Michigan diocese ‘stonewalls’ prosecutors in sex abuse case

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

February 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) -- A county prosecutor in Michigan said officials at the Diocese of Saginaw did not cooperate with requests to speak to specific individuals during an investigation into alleged sex abuse by a priest.

Saginaw County assistant prosecutor Mark J. Gaertner told MLive that since early 2018, despite now-deceased Bishop Joseph Cistone’s “sincere desire for justice” and a commitment to cooperate, the Diocese of Saginaw has allegedly failed to surrender documents requested by investigators.

“We’d ask for specific things and for a specific person to talk to us. We would get a person we did not ask for and they would basically read from a script,” Gaertner told MLive.

Gaertner is preparing to prosecute Rev. Robert J. DeLand Jr., 71, who is accused of sexual assault.

Interim Bishop Walter A. Hurley agreed that the diocese was a “bit slow” in responding to investigators.

DeLand led as many as nine parishes for decades in the Saginaw diocese, which covers the middle of Michigan’s lower peninsula. He was popular enough that a local road in Freeland, Michigan, was named after him. Another side of the priest was suggested when a 21-year-old man accused “Father Bob” in August 2017 of sexually assaulting him at Deland’s Saginaw Township residence. Later, two teen males -- ages 17 and 18 -- alleged that he had sexually abused them. The 17-year-old was asked by police to wear a recording device in DeLand’s condominium to gain evidence, which led to his arrest.

Despite promises by the diocese to cooperate with investigators, according to MLive, diocesan authorities balked at providing documents they requested.

“Each and every time, the police were stonewalled,” Gaertner said.

So police raided Bishop Cistone’s residence and diocesan chancery offices on March 22, 2018 and seized church records.

Less than one month later, the ailing Cistone -- who died October 16, 2018 -- engaged former Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael J. Talbot to oversee diocesan procedures and responses to the clerical sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct. According to Cistone, Talbot was to “take the lead on any and all interaction with civil authorities.”

Gaertner insisted that Talbot’s involvement was “inappropriate.” Talbot’s background included a stint as chair of the Board of Review on clerical sexual abuse complaints in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

At the time of his appointment, Talbot said “I hope now that folks will … call the diocese, because we can offer them counseling and an extra dimension of the spiritual dimension. If there’s a hesitation, call the prosecutor or your local law enforcement agency,” according to MLive.

In May 2018, Bishop Cistone and Talbot met with Gaertner and Saginaw County Prosecutor John McColgan. Talbot asked prosecutors about potential allegations against other, still-active priests, Gaertner told MLive. No answers have emerged from that meeting, and Gaertner has had no further contact with Talbot.

Talbot agreed that communications with civil authorities did not go well. Bishop Hurley brought in Talbot because Bishop Cistone was too sick to handle the investigation. Once Cistone died, Talbot left the position because his assistance was no longer needed.

Bishop Cistone came to Saginaw with a history dating to his time in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1996. According to 2005 grand jury report, Cistone was allegedly given updates about efforts to cover up allegations that there was a diocesan priest who had a "predilection for naked children." The report noted that Cistone wrote a memo to then-Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua citing concern that accusations against the priest were “becoming a PR concern." While the priest resigned, he went on to other posts within the church.

In 2012, a lawyer for Msgr. William Lynn accused Cistone of witnessing the shredding of documents in 1994 that contained the names of priests suspected of child molestation. Lynn was later jailed for the cover-up. Cistone denied wrongdoing and did not face criminal charges.

Since February 2018, the Saginaw diocese received 12 complaints from adults who alleged they were abused by a priest when they were minors. Those complains, according to the diocese, have been turned over to police. All of the accused priests are deceased or were removed from ministry years ago. The diocese said it turned over all complaints to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which is conducting its own investigation of Catholic dioceses in Michigan dating to the 1950s.

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