Updated: Nessel announces sexual assault charges against 5 Catholic priests

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This was a breaking story that has been updated with more details.

Attorney General Dana Nessel on Friday announced criminal sexual assault charges against five Michigan priests, including one who the department is attempting to extradite from India.

Dana Nessel, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

In the span of less than two days, priests originally from Michigan have been arrested in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan, according to the attorney general, who announced the charges in a press conference and said this is likely “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Nessel said a team of investigators, in part hired by her Republican predecessor, former Attorney General Bill Schuette, still have to sort through hundreds of thousands of documents seized from Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses.

The office has received more than 450 tips on its clergy abuse hotline, Nessel said.

“The cost of doing nothing is so enormous to all of us for those who have been victims and for those who have yet to become victims,” Nessel said. “We all pay a price for doing nothing at all.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel at press conference on clergy sexual abuse | Michael Gerstein

Nessel stressed that although five men have been charged with 21 counts of criminal sexual misconduct, “they are innocent until proven guilty” in court.

Timothy Michael Crowley, 69; Neil Kalina, 63; Vincent DeLorenzo, 80; Patrick Casey, 55; and Jacob Vellian, 84, have been charged with multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct. The charges came as a result of reports through the office’s Catholic clergy abuse tip line and were corroborated with documents and interviews.

The survivors included four boys and one girl whose ages ranged from 5 to 26 at the time of the alleged assaults, according to Nessel. The oldest case dates back as far as 1970, while the most recent incident of alleged sexual misconduct stemmed from 2013.

Nessel said there were many more cases discovered in which victims did not want to come forward, the statute of limitations had lapsed or the priest in question had died.

The attorney general’s announcement comes after Republican leaders in the Legislature recently decided to strip money for the investigation from the Department of Attorney General budget during ongoing fiscal year 2020 negotiations.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

No budget has yet been finalized by the Legislature, but Nessel took the opportunity to rail against Republicans over the proposed funding cut.

She said later during the same press conference that the proposal “to drastically reduce our budget and even the money that’s used to pay our sexual assault prosecutors” will result in lost staff.

“This is an investigation that started before I got here under my predecessor, who was a Republican. There is no difference when it comes to investigating and prosecuting sexual predators,” Nessel said. “And whether or not this investigation is funded should have nothing to do with my party affiliation. It should be about helping victims and getting justice for people who so badly need it.”

Other than the lead prosecutor, the Catholic clergy abuse team was hired by prior administrations, she said.

“And I can’t help but express my outrage at the fact that the Legislature would think it’s appropriate for sexual predators to remain on the loose and to create more victims in our state simply because they don’t want to fund an investigation that is being conducted by someone who happens to be of another political party.”

Five priests charged

Crowley, 69, was charged with eight felony counts of criminal sexual misconduct, including four counts of first degree criminal sexual misconduct for sexual penetration of a minor. He could face a lifetime in prison for his alleged crimes.

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Crowley was assigned to the Lansing Diocese, and the alleged crime occurred in the St. Thomas Rectory in Ann Arbor. He was arrested Thursday in Tempe, Ariz.

Kalina, 63, assigned to the Archdiocese of Detroit, was charged in Macomb County with four counts of second degree criminal sexual misconduct and faces 15 years in prison and a lifetime of electronic monitoring. He was a priest at St. Kieran Catholic Church in Shelby Township and was arrested yesterday in Littlerock, Calif.

DeLorenzo, 80, was assigned to the Lansing Diocese and charged in Genesee County with three counts of first degree criminal sexual misconduct that could carry a lifetime in prison. He was a priest at Holy Redeemer Church in Burton when the alleged crimes occurred and was arrested yesterday in Marion County, Fla.

Lansing Diocese spokesman Patrick M. O’Brien said they “received a complaint against Rev. Vincent DeLorenzo of sexual abuse involving a minor” in 2002 and afterward “permanently removed the priest from ministry,” MLive reported. In total, eight victims have come forward with allegations against DeLorenzo.

Patrick Casey

Casey, 55, also was assigned to the Archdiocese of Detroit and charged in Wayne County with one count of third degree felony sexual misconduct. He faces up to 15 years in prison. Casey was a priest at the St. Theodore of Canterbury Parish in Westland, and was arrested Thursday in Oak Park, Mich.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit deeply regrets the pain inflicted upon victim-survivors, and offers continued prayers for their peace, healing and pursuit of justice,” the Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement. “We continue to cooperate fully with all civil authorities, in the hope that these partnerships may pave the way toward a future of greater trust and transparency.

“One sinful, criminal act, especially against God’s most vulnerable and trusting children, is unacceptable and one suffering soul too many. We remain committed to preventing sexual abuse against anyone especially children and vulnerable adults.”

Another Catholic priest alleged to have committed sexual misconduct within the Detroit Archdiocese’s authority, Rev. Lawrence Ventline, was reported to the Archdiocese in 2016. Ventline’s alleged misconduct did not occur within the statute of limitation, Nessel said.

               Lawrence Ventline

The state revoked his counseling license last week, although he has not been assigned full-time to a parish ministry for almost 20 years.

Vellian, 84, was connected to the Kalamazoo Diocese and charged with two counts of rape, which carries a max life sentence. He was a priest at St. John the Evangelist Parish, in Benton Harbor and lives in Kerala, India.

Nessel said her team is still sorting through the legal details of how to extradite Vellian and did not immediately know what level of cooperation would be needed from U.S. and Indian officials to make that happen.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Nessel said in a statement. “This is about taking on large-scale institutions that turn a blind eye to victims and making certain we hold all of them accountable that includes unapologetically pursuing any and all individuals who abuse their power by victimizing our residents.”

Sexual assault survivor Andy Russell spoke at the roughly hour-long press conference on Friday morning.

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Attorney General Dana Nessel and staff at press conference on clergy sexual abuse | Michael Gerstein

Russell, 50, said he was abused by the Rev. James Francis Raap when he was 14, and emotionally thanked the attorney general and her staff for vindicating he and other survivors of clergy abuse.

Russell, who lives in Jackson, said it “means the world to me that I can be part of this.” He said he was too afraid to speak up to law enforcement at the time of the abuse.

“I just can’t express to you the gratitude and the joy I feel … that I can stand in front of you and say finally we’re … talking about fixing a problem that’s gone on for 100 years,” Russell said. “It kills everything you’ve known as a Catholic, but your soul’s not dead. They helped me heal my soul.”

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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