Featured Image
Fr. Robert DeLandYouTube screenshot

SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, Michigan, March 15, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – In Michigan, Saginaw Township and its neighboring Tittabawassee Township have assembled a team to deal with new tips and information relating to a Catholic priest who was arrested late last month for sexually assaulting a teen boy.

The 17-year-old assault victim, after reporting sexually predatory “grooming” behavior by Fr. Robert DeLand to police, helped officers with an undercover sting that led to the priest’s arrest. He has now filed a lawsuit against DeLand, Bishop Joseph Cistone, and the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.

On March 8, Michigan Public Radio reported:

Saginaw County Prosecutor John McColgan Jr. assigned the investigation of sexual abuse involving officials in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw to a special team that will work with Saginaw and Tittabawassee police and the Michigan State Police, as well as state and federal agencies. The move follows sexual assault charges against Rev. Robert DeLand, Jr. filed last month.

DeLand has been charged with assaulting a 21-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy at his home in Saginaw Township. Since then, the prosecutor's office has received numerous tips related to alleged abuse going back to the 1970s. 

Throughout his priesthood, DeLand, 71, has occupied a variety of high-ranking roles in the Diocese of Saginaw. At one point, which according to the diocese was between 1975 and 1980, DeLand was the diocesan vocations director – the priest in charge of recruiting and screening young men for the priesthood.

At the time of his arrest for attempt to commit criminal sexual conduct in the second degree and gross indecency between males, DeLand was the pastor of St. Agnes in Freeland, Michigan and the judicial vicar for the diocese.

According to the lawsuit, DeLand showed the 17-year-old victim gay pornography and groped him as part of the “grooming” behaviors. The lawsuit, Linden v. Saginaw et al, was filed Monday in Michigan Eastern District Court.

The 17-year-old had been ordered by a court to complete community service under DeLand.

DeLand volunteered at the boy’s school and “took the student out of class to talk,” the Detroit News reported. The court filing indicates that DeLand “bought him an expensive ‘vape’ machine; invited the teen to his home to smoke; and ‘made inappropriate physical contact … during the school day, including back rubs, hugs and groping of the buttocks.’”

“As new tips or information comes in, then the members of the task force look into those complaints,” Saginaw Township Police Chief Donald F. Pussehl, Jr. told LifeSiteNews. “I can only speak to what I know of for Saginaw Township police department, and as of right now, for Saginaw Township, we have not received any further complaints.”

“It’s still being actively investigated, and I was briefed by my detective yesterday,” he said. Pussehl said that in his jurisdiction, there have been no complaints about other Catholic priests. The Saginaw detective and state police detective are meeting with diocesan officials on Thursday, he said.

At a press conference discussing DeLand’s arrest, an unidentified official said police were being “inundated” with complaints about DeLand going back 30 years. (Saginaw Township, Tittabawassee Township, and Saginaw County are all different jurisdictions.)

St. Agnes has previously posted on Facebook many photos of DeLand with children, including one with the caption: “For teenagers, Father Bob DeLand is a lot like Santa Claus. He sees you when you're sleepy. He knows when you're awake...'

Todd Weglarz, the lawyer representing the 17-year-old in his lawsuit against DeLand, Cistone, and the Diocese of Saginaw, did not immediately respond to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

Before his arrest, DeLand was on the board of an anti-child abuse organization. His parish advertises “chair yoga” for its parishioners, encourages them to participate in the Catholic Relief Services’ “Rice Bowl” campaign, and lists a Good Friday “Evening Service at Zion Lutheran Church” on its 2018 Holy Week schedule. According to the latest bulletin from St. Agnes, Sunday Masses there have at least eight lay people distributing Holy Communion.

St. Agnes has previously posted on Facebook many photos of DeLand with children, including one with the caption: “For teenagers, Father Bob DeLand is a lot like Santa Claus. He sees you when you're sleepy. He knows when you're awake. He probably even knows if you've been bad or good.”

Diocese backtracks from original statement

This is not the first time the homosexual priest sex abuse crisis has intersected with Bishop Cistone’s leadership.

As an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, Cistone allegedly oversaw the shredding of documents containing the names of suspected pedophile priests and lied about it to a grand jury, according to court documents.

On March 8, the Diocese of Saginaw released a statement admitting the inaccuracy of their original claim that “to the best of our knowledge, Father DeLand has not been subject to disciplinary action or accusations of priestly misconduct.”

That clarifying statement continued:

While this information was believed to be accurate based on a preliminary review, the Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, considered it imperative to conduct a further, in-depth study of Father DeLand’s files.   Upon thorough examination of these files, the Diocese can find no evidence of a previous accusation against Father DeLand by a victim nor someone with direct knowledge of sexual abuse of a minor. The Diocese provides this additional information from Father DeLand’s files:   A letter written by Father DeLand in 1992 to Bishop Kenneth Untener, who was Bishop of Saginaw at the time, referred to rumors damaging to Father DeLand’s reputation. In the letter, Father DeLand stated he took issue with the rumors and denied wrongdoing.  Also, in 2005, the Diocese was called about a family member’s suspicion [the family member had no personal knowledge nor did she have knowledge of an allegation against Father DeLand]. She wondered whether her brother, who committed suicide in 1993, might have been molested by Father DeLand in the 1970's. In 2005, after an independent professional investigator completed a thorough assessment, the independent Diocesan Review Board, Bishop Robert Carlson, who was Bishop of Saginaw at the time, as well as the family agreed that the suspicion against Father DeLand was unfounded.   The Review Board, established in 2003, acts as a confidential, consultative body advising the bishop in his assessment of allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by priests or deacons, and in his assessment of a cleric's suitability for ministry. The Review Board is comprised of individuals with expertise beneficial to the protection of children, including the treatment of the sexual abuse of minors. The Review Board offers advice on cases, reviews on a regular basis the safe environment policies of the diocese, and recommends to the bishop any modifications, if appropriate. It is primarily comprised of persons who are not employed by the Diocese of Saginaw.

The diocese “seriously struggle[s] with a shortage of priests,” according to Cistone, and “we are doing our best to appoint a parish administrator and sacramental ministry for weekend Masses and other parish liturgies in a timely manner.”

DeLand has twice been the chaplain of All Saint’s High School, once starting in 1984 and once from 2005 to 2011. He was the chaplain of Nouvel Catholic Central High School from 1993 to 2005.

DeLand was at one point a chaplain for the Serra Club of Saginaw. Serra Clubs aims “to foster and promote vocations to the ministerial priesthood in the Catholic Church.”