Judge to Help Michigan Diocese Deal With Sex Abuse Claims

April 18, 2018

A Roman Catholic bishop on Friday announced the appointment of a prominent judge to handle complaints of sexual abuse by priests in central Michigan, but police responded by urging victims to contact investigators instead.

Michael Talbot will help the Saginaw Catholic Diocese after he retires from the Michigan appeals court on April 25. The diocese has been under scrutiny since the Rev. Robert DeLand was charged in February with sex crimes against two males. Another priest, the Rev. Ron Dombrowski, has been suspended but not charged.

Bishop Joseph Cistone said Talbot will be independent and have “full authority” in all matters of alleged sexual abuse of minors.

“I need to hear from victims. … I especially have to hear from people who have been hesitant to come forward,” Talbot told reporters.

He promised to share information with police when necessary. But in response, a Saginaw-area police team that’s continuing to investigate DeLand and the diocese said the public should contact authorities with allegations of sexual abuse, not church representatives.

“We respectfully disagree with the procedure” announced by Cistone, investigators said in a statement released by the Saginaw County prosecutor. “The diocese cannot and should not be used as a clearinghouse for the reporting of crimes by victims. That is the function of law enforcement.”

Police recently seized records from church properties, including Cistone’s home.

Cistone, who is being treated for cancer, said he appointed Talbot because the 11-county diocese needs a “fresh start” during a “very distressing time.”

Hours after Cistone’s announcement, the diocese posted the names of four former priests and a former deacon who were removed from religious duties years ago due to “credible allegations” of sexual abuse of children.

They are Stanislaus Bur, John Hammer, Richard Howard, Jack Leipert and Leonard Wilkuski, according to the diocese.

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