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(Photo: Clarence Tabb Jr, Detroit News)
Police seized clergy misconduct records from all of Michigan’s Catholic dioceses after serving several search warrants across the state within an hour of each other Wednesday morning.
Diocesan officials in Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Marquette, Kalamazoo and Gaylord confirmed the searches took place Wednesday as part of the Attorney General’s Office investigation into the dioceses’ handling of clergy sexual abuse of minors. The dioceses said they cooperated fully with authorities.
A warrant was served at around 9 a.m. to the Archdiocese of Detroit for clergy files, according to a statement from the Archdiocese. Law enforcement officials accessed clergy misconduct files at the chancery; the St. Joan of Arc Parish office of Monsignor Michael Bugarin, who is the Archbishop’s Delegate for Clergy Misconduct; and the Cardinal Mooney Building, an Archdiocesan facility at Sacred Heart Major Seminary campus in Detroit.
The search warrant was expected as part of the Attorney General’s investigation, the archdiocese said in a statement, and officials welcome the “investigation as part of our continuing commitment to transparency and healing.”
Attorney General Bill Schuette in August began an investigation into all allegations of sexual abuse and assault by Catholic diocesan and religious order priests as well as any attempts to cover up those actions dating back to the 1950s in Michigan.
Michigan’s bishops have welcomed the investigation and said they will cooperate fully with authorities.
“We have worked closely with authorities from all six counties within our archdiocese since 2002, when we shared past case files involving clergy misconduct and committed to turning over all new allegations regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred,” read a statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit.
“We remain committed to protecting everyone — especially children and vulnerable adults — and therefore look forward to working closely with officials to determine if there is more we can do to accomplish this goal.”
Michigan’s investigation was launched in the wake of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that revealed hundreds of abuser priests who molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.
Andrea Bitely, a Schuette spokeswoman, declined to comment on the search warrants Wednesday because of the ongoing investigation.
The seizing of diocesan records is long overdue and should help to reveal the truth, said David Clohessy, former national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“We hope every single person in Michigan who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes and cover-ups will contact police and prosecutors immediately,” Clohessy said in a statement. “We especially hope that church whistleblowers — current and former church staffers who know of or suspect abuse — will find the courage to speak up now.”
In other dioceses outside of Detroit, police searched diocesan offices, pastoral centers and archives.
“We are thankful for the professionalism with which the warrant was executed, today, as well as the acknowledgment by the attorney general’s office of our desire to cooperate,” the Diocese of Saginaw said in a statement.
Many of the dioceses have had agreements to share clergy misconduct files in place with local prosecutors since 2002. Several have independent review boards that investigate new allegations after law enforcement have reviewed the case. They’ve also implemented training, background checks and sexual abuse reporting procedures for more than 15 years.
But the Pennsylvania report that shook the Catholic Church in the U.S. led Michigan bishops to address the issue again in letters to Catholic parishioners, reiterate policies put in place after the 2002 revelations of child sex abuse cases in the Boston archdiocese and, in some cases, announce plans for a new outside review of the diocese’s handling of clergy misconduct.