Five Catholic priests charged with criminal sexual conduct in Michigan sex abuse investigation

Carol Thompson
Five Catholic priests charged with criminal sexual conduct in Michigan sex abuse investigation

LANSING, Mich. — Law enforcement with the Michigan Attorney General's office on Thursday charged five men with 21 counts of criminal sexual conduct as part of its ongoing investigation into sex abuse at Catholic churches in the state.

The charges are based on disturbing evidence of abuse investigators said they found in records seized from Michigan dioceses, authorities said Friday, and just the first in what will be a long investigation of clergy abuse in Michigan.

"Some of those clergy who preyed on young children and vulnerable adults, unfortunately those clergy were hiding in plain sight," Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday. "[They were] reporting to comfort their parishioners, hearing confessions, taking advantage of positions of faith and authority. Today we begin holding those clergy accountable."

Don't send a 'bishop to the crime scene': Church sex abuse survivors blast Pope Francis' new law on reporting

List: New York Archdiocese releases names of 120 priests accused of child sexual abuse

The suspects charged Thursday were priests in the Lansing Diocese, Archdiocese of Detroit and Kalamazoo Diocese when they preyed on children and vulnerable adults, Nessel said. Investigators identified one victim in each case ranging from 5 to 26 years old.

An administrative complaint is filed against a sixth Michigan priest, whose counseling license was suspended by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says Friday. May 254, 2019, during a presser in Lansing, after announcing five former Michigan priests have been charged with a total of 21 counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The criminal suspects face a range of possible prison time, from life to 15-year sentences, depending on their convictions.

The following men were charged: 

  • Timothy Michael Crowley, 69, Lansing Diocese. Crowley was a priest at various parishes, including St. Thomas Rectory in Ann Arbor. He is charged with four counts of first-degree and four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 15th District Court in Washtenaw County. He was arrested Thursday in Tempe, Arizona.
  • Neil Kalina, 63, Archdiocese of Detroit. Kalina was a priest at St. Kiernan Catholic Church in Shelby Township. He is charged with four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 41 A1 District Court in Macomb County. He was arrested Thursday in Littlerock, California.
  • Vincent DeLorenzo, 80, Lansing Diocese. DeLorenzo was a priest at Holy Redeemer Church in Burton. He is charged with three counts of first-degree and three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 67th District Court in Genessee County. He was arrested Thursday in Marion County, Florida.
  • Patrick Casey, 55, Archdiocese of Detroit. Casey was a priest at St. Theodore of Canterbury Parish in Westland. He is charged with one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 18th District Court in Wayne County. He was arrested Thursday in Oak Park.
  • Jacob Vellian, 84, Kalamazoo Diocese. Vellian was a priest at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Benton Harbor. He is charged with two counts of rape in 5th District Court in Berrien County. He lives in Kerala, India and has not yet been arrested but awaits extradition.

The AG’s investigation has been grueling and heartbreaking, Deputy Solicitor General Ann Sherman said during a Friday press conference. Sherman described herself as a devout Catholic.

She said documents obtained through search warrants executed at the dioceses in October revealed deeply disturbing cases of sexual abuse and evidence of attitudes that victims should carry equal blame for their sexual assault.

Sherman illustrated those attitudes with an analogy one priest wrote about a fellow priest’s abusive conduct: "If someone drops an apple and the apple gets bruised, there are two sins; the first one belonging to the person who dropped the apple, and the second to the apple for getting bruised."

Catholic Church scandal: 395 Illinois priests, deacons accused of sexual misconduct

Some dioceses have been uncooperative with investigators, Nessel said. Some also have violated their 2002 promise to forward all allegations of sexual assault to law enforcement. She said documents show church leaders discussing moving priests after uncovering abuse instead of alerting police.

"We’ve seen that over and over and over again," she said. "We’ve also seen it since 2002, by the way, when the church had made certain that conduct wasn’t happening anymore. That has not been our experience. I read the non-disclosure agreements myself, personally. To say they don’t exist – we confiscated those."

Nessel: More charges, arrests expected

Nessel estimated investigators have reviewed less than 10% of the documents they collected through search warrants at the dioceses in October and the 450 calls they have received to the tip line.

Investigators also uncovered cases outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges, that involved priests who have died since their alleged crimes or involve victims who aren’t ready to come forward.

"There were many other cases," Nessel said. "These are the only ones we were able to charge."

West Virginia sues diocese: Attorney general sues Catholic diocese, says pedophile priests knowingly hired

She said she anticipated "many more charges and arrests" to follow those announced Friday.

Andrew Russell came forward years ago as a victim of Rev. James Francis Rapp, who was convicted of sexual assault in 2016. Russell spoke at the news conference, saying he felt too intimidated and threatened to talk about the abuse he experienced as a teen at the time it occurred. He thanked the state investigators for their work.

"We’re talking about fixing a problem that’s been going on for 100 years," he said. "We’re talking about the people who have the courage and the guts to face an uncomfortable situation."

Anyone with information about clergy sexual assault can call the Attorney General’s Office at 844-324-3374, email aginvestigations@michigan.gov or visit mi.gov/clergyabuse.

Follow Carol Thompson on Twitter @thompsoncarolk.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Five Catholic priests charged with criminal sexual conduct in Michigan sex abuse investigation