Prosecutor issues no charges against retired UP priest

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office has declined to issue criminal charges against Father Frank M. Lenz, a retired priest of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette who was placed on administrative leave in April, though the church is still independently evaluating his “suitability” as a member of the clergy.

The prosecutor’s decision was based on the statute of limitations.

The diocese placed Lenz on leave as a result of what it called a “recently made credible allegation” of sexual misconduct with a minor dating back to the 1970s.

Lenz was removed from all public priestly ministry and prohibited from presenting himself as a priest in accordance with the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People, the diocese reported in April.

Prosecutor Matt Wiese said he reviewed the case following an investigation by the Chocolay Township Police Department.

The investigation was for a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The main reason the prosecutor’s office decided against issuing charges was that the allegations were beyond the statute of limitations.

“There was no decision made on the merits of the allegations,” Wiese said.

The statute of limitations periods and terms, he noted, have changed over the years. The allegations stemmed from 1973 when the statue of limitations was seven years or until the complainant turned 21, whichever was longer.

Now, there is no statue of limitations for the offense, he said. However, the case had to be handled according to the 1973 terms, meaning the alleged victim had a set time frame within which the complaint had to be made.

Wiese said he wouldn’t use the term “exonerated” regarding the Lenz case, explaining that his office had no legal ability to charge Lenz.

Chocolay Township Police Chief Scott Jennings acknowledged the alleged incident took place in Chocolay Township.

He said an officer began to investigate the case in April and sent paperwork to the prosecutor for review in June.

“The guys did a good investigation in my opinion,” Jennings said.

John Fee, communications director for the Diocese of Marquette, issued a statement regarding Lenz.

“It has come to the attention of the diocese that the civil authorities have concluded their investigation,” Fee said. “While informed by the results of that investigation, the diocese must independently determine the suitability of a priest for ministry. That process is ongoing.”

Lenz, who lives in Powell Township, told The Mining Journal he is unable to comment on the case.

After being ordained in 1969, Lenz became parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Church in Munising that year, and then became parochial vicar of St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette in 1973. He became parochial vicar of St. Frances de Sales Catholic Church in Manistique with a mission in Gulliver in 1975.

In 1978, Lenz was named pastor at St. Andrew Parish in Nahma with missions in Cooks and Isabella. He became pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Goetzville with a mission in Hessels in 1982, with missions in DeTour and on Drummond Island in 1983. In 1985, he underwent graduate studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

In 1988, Lenz became chaplain at Marquette General Hospital, and in 2001, was named pastor at Holy Family Parish in Flat Rock. He retired to senior priest status in 2007.

Senior priests may have no official assignments, but can continue to work in the church’s ministry.

Earlier this year he voluntarily stepped down as president of the Rotary Club of Marquette so the organization’s reputation wouldn’t be damaged, he said.

Lenz’s attorney, Karl Numinen, said they will work with Bishop John Doerfler of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette to clear his client’s name.

“Obviously, we were relieved that we don’t have to go through the ordeal of a criminal trial,” Numinen said. “Father Lenz has maintained all along that he’s absolutely innocent of any of these allegations.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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