Nessel reports on abuse allegations; bishop responds
MARQUETTE — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday the release of a 154-page report detailing allegations of sexual abuse within the Marquette Catholic Diocese.
The report is the first of a series of seven reports that will be released detailing alleged abuses in each of the state’s six diocese and the Archdiocese in Detroit.
The Marquette report draws from a number of sources, ranging from the Department of the Attorney General’s clergy abuse tip line and victim interviews to documents seized from the diocese and reports of allegations disclosed by the diocese itself.
“The willingness of the Diocese to provide information was instrumental in the compilation of the report,” Nessel said in a video announcing the document’s release. “The report was shared with the Diocese of Marquette in advance of being released to the public to ensure accuracy and completeness.”
For Marquette, the investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the Michigan State Police yielded 52 tips, 16 of which were provided directly by the Diocese of Marquette. In addition, approximately 74,000 paper documents and 861,686 electronic documents were seized and reviewed related to the Marquette Diocese as a result of a search warrant executed on Oct. 3, 2018.
The report includes the names of 44 priests for whom there were allegations of sexual misconduct against either children or adults since Jan. 1, 1950. The priests were identified either as a result of the search warrant or through the tip line operated by the Attorney General’s Office since 2018.
Of the 44 priests, 38 were employed or incardinated by the Marquette diocese.
The vast majority of the reported allegations of sexual assault or other sexual misconduct, which includes grooming, were against minor-age children, many of whom were under 16. Five of the allegations reviewed during the investigation were against adults.
Prior to 2001, first degree criminal sexual conduct had a statute of limitations of six-years or the victim’s 18th birthday. That limitation has since been eliminated, however many of the incidents described in the report happened prior to the elimination of the statute of limitations. In addition, of the 44 named priests, 32 are known or presumed to be dead and cannot be charged.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the information is being released to the public as an acknowledgment to the victims of the alleged crimes and as a public accounting of the resources allocated to the Department of Attorney General for investigating and prosecuting clergy abuse.
“We must break down the walls of silence that so often surround sexual assault and abuse,” said Nessel. “In the end, we hope this investigation provides a voice to those who have suffered in silence for so long and shines a light on those alleged offenders who have escaped punishment for their crimes by hiding in shadows.”
The Diocese of Marquette itself identified six priests who had “substantiated claims against them of child sexual abuse” — Rev. Aaron Nowicki, Rev. Joseph D. Carne, Rev. Richard Craig, Rev. James Menapace, Fr. Terrence Healy, and Gary A. Jacobs.
Three of the 44 priests were convicted for their conduct. Fr. Terrence Healy was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct against a minor in 1987 for his conduct that occurred while operating as a priest in the Diocese of Lansing; Fr. Norbert LaCosse was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct in 1991 against a minor; and Fr. Gary Jacobs was convicted of five counts of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2022 against five victims for crimes he committed in the 1980s.
Other priests included on the list have charges pending against them.
Fr. Roy Joseph faces first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges, which were filed against him in 2019. The Attorney General’s Office is currently seeking to extradite him from India.
A fifth priest, Fr. Aaron Nowicki, was charged by the Chippewa County prosecutor with four felony counts for events that allegedly occurred in 2021, two years after the Diocese removed him from ministry for having an “improper relationship with a vulnerable adult.”
In the vast majority of cases, the allegations against the accused priests were brought to diocesan officials after the stature of limitations had run out or after the priest had died, according to the report.
Two of the living priests on the list are retired but remain in active ministry, one for the Diocese of Marquette and another for the Byzantine Eparchy of Pittsburgh. The allegations against the two priests involved complainants who were 16 years old.
During a press conference live-streamed by the diocese Thursday afternoon, Diocese of Marquette Bishop John F. Doerfler criticized the inclusion of the retired priest still serving in the diocese.
“As the Office of the Attorney General noted in the summary, the report is a listing of all the allegations without a determination to their credibility. An allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor was made against (the priest), who is a senior priest active in ministry. It is not a credible allegation,” said Doerfler.
According to the report, the alleged incident took place at a hotel in the late 1980s, when the priest was still in seminary and the victim was in high school. The priest was accused of watching the Playboy Channel while sharing a room with the boy and making unwanted physical contact with him while they were both clothed on the bed. No allegations were made that the priest had touched or attempted to touch the boy’s genitals and the victim told an interviewer he could not “definitively state (the priest) was awake during the episode.”
Doerfler said the diocese used an investigator with a law enforcement background to investigate the complaint. That investigator and an independent review board composed of laity both determined the allegation was not credible and that the priest was not a threat to minors.
Doerfler did not comment on any of the other specific accounts given in the reports, which are sometimes graphic. Cases range from the rape of a seven-year-old girl attending Sacred Heart Church in L’anse in 1965 to two brothers who were allegedly abused by a priest while living in the Holy Family Orphanage in Marquette mid-1940’s and ’50s.
One of the priests on the list, who was removed from ministry in the early 2000s and is now deceased, allegedly sexually abused a boy between the ages of 11 and 13 while serving as an associate pastor at St. Anne’s Church in Escanaba in the late 1970s. A second local victim was allegedly sexually abused by a different priest while attending a Holy Name School retreat at Mary Grove Retreat Center in 1971.
“No priest or deacon in the Diocese of Marquette with a substantiated allegation of abuse of a minor is in active ministry. In fact, the last alleged incident known to the diocese of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in active ministry was 25 years ago,” said Doerfler.
The only priest included on the list who sexually assaulted a minor in 1997 was removed from public ministry in 2002. One of his victims, who was allegedly abused when he was 11, completed suicide in 2010. His suicide note referenced the abuse.
According to the report, after allegations were made against the priest he was sent to St. Lukes Institute, a Catholic in-patient treatment center for clergy in 2000. Upon his release in 2001, the priest returned to limited ministry away from minors before he was ultimately removed from all public ministry a year later.
The diocese repeatedly approached the victims and their family, indicating it “would like to cooperate with the civil authorities,” but the victims declined to pursue the matter. That changed in 2014, and, with the victims’ permission, a lawyer for the diocese wrote a letter to Schoolcraft County Prosecutor Tim Nobel about the abuse.
By that point, the statute of limitations had expired.
“I just want to say to anyone who has been hurt by clergy sexual abuse, please come forward. We want to walk with you in that healing journey,” said Doerfler, who described the sexual abuse of minors as a “deep scourge on our society” and abusive priests as “bad shepherds who hurt the flock.”
The Michigan Sexual Assault Hotline, where many of the allegations in the report originated, can be reached at 844-324-3374. It is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and has generated 1,015 tips since its launch.