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AG’s Investigation Into Catholic Church Could Result In Over A Thousand Victims And Take Two Years

Attorney General Dana Nessel
Cheyna Roth

More than 70 police officers, special agents and government officials executed search warrants on each of the seven Catholic dioceses in Michigan simultaneously. Capitol Correspondent Cheyna Roth reported. 

They loaded vehicles with boxes and filing cabinets – everything they could find related to potential sexual abuse by priests who have worked in Michigan from 19-50 until now.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said Michigan is the first state to execute a search warrant on the Church in this way.

“We did not depend on the dioceses to turn over documents which is what primarily happened in other states.”

Nessel said she expects her office’s investigation to last at least two years.

Hundreds of thousands of documents were seized during the raids and an investigative team is reviewing more than 300 tips already received. “

Attorney General Dana Nessel was slim on details about the investigation since it is ongoing. But Michigan State Police Colonel Joe Gasper said not all dioceses are being as cooperative as investigators would like. 

“I think that the level of cooperation…it varies. But what’s important is that from a standpoint of the investigation that the two agencies are undergoing it’s important that that take priority over any parallel investigation.”

When Gasper said “parallel investigation,” he’s talking about the dioceses that have conducted their own reviews into priests suspected of abuse. 

Nessel wanted all the dioceses to stop doing that. And she said if a church official is trying to conduct its own investigation, people should not cooperate.  

“And what I would like to say to the public is this: If an investigator comes to your door and asks to speak with you, please ask to see their badge and not their rosary.”

The Catholic Church has a long history of trying to handle abuse allegations “in house” and victims are often reluctant to come forward. 

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton works with the group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP. He said he was forced to retire from his post as the auxiliary bishop of the Detroit archdiocese after he publicly discussed being sexually abused during his time in seminary as a teenager. Gumbleton said he’s hopeful that things are different now and that the Church will cooperate with Nessel’s investigation. 

“We’re still human beings and so we’re probably not going to be perfect but we have to do the very best we can to come as close to eliminating the problem totally as we can do it.”

But others aren’t so sure.

Jason Negri is the co-founder of the Daniel Coalition. That’s a group of lay Catholics in Lansing. Negri said many predators within the Catholic Church have been rooted out, but not all. And an investigation like Nessel’s is necessary, in part, because some officials within the Catholic Church are still reluctant to expose predators. 

Predatory priests are harming people. Men, women and children. They need to get out now and if the bishops won’t do it voluntarily, they’re going to be made to do it. 

The Catholic Diocese of Lansing said it welcomes Nessel’s review and it said it does not know of any active members who have abused children. 

Other dioceses have issued statements saying they will cooperate with Nessel’s investigation. 

Still, Nessel has a very strong message for predator priests and anyone who attempts to cover up abuse.

“I don’t care how old they are, I don’t care where they live, all I care about is whether or not they committed a crime. And if they did and it’s within the statute of limitations and if we have the evidence to prove it, they’re going to get charged.”

Nessel encouraged anyone who wants to report clergy abuse to contact her office.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County.
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