Michigan diocese brings in retired judge for investigation, recommits to cooperation

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A retired judge who will be overseeing the internal investigation of the sex abuse scandal in the Diocese of Saginaw said he is committed to reporting abuse allegations to the proper authorities.
Earlier this month, Bishop Joseph Cistone of Saginaw announced the appointment of Judge Michael Talbot as an independent delegate appointed to oversee the internal investigation of the diocese, following numerous allegations against priests in the diocese, including one who has been criminally charged.

In March, police raided the home of Bishop Cistone, as well as the chancery and its cathedral rectory, citing a lack of cooperation on the part of the diocese in the ongoing clerical sex abuse investigation.

Talbot said in a statement released by the diocese that he will adhere to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of policies and procedures for handling instances of sexual abuse approved by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.

"As delegate, I intend to comply with the mandatory requirements of The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the Catholic bishops of the United States," he said. "As soon as the Diocese of Saginaw receives such a complaint it will be reported to the county prosecutor where the abuse is alleged to have occurred."

Talbot, a Catholic, currently serves in the Archdiocese of Detroit on the Board of Trustees of Sacred Heart Major Seminary and is the Chair of the Board of Madonna University.

He was also a founding chairperson of the Detroit Archdiocesan Review Board in 2002, and assisted in writing the first Victim’s Rights Law for the State of Michigan, which he was responsible for implementing in Wayne County courts.

“On the occasion a person contacts the Diocese Victim Assistance Coordinator to make a complaint of sexual abuse of minors by clergy or other diocesan representative, that person will be told about the diocesan reporting obligation and also will be encouraged to directly report the allegation to civil authorities,” Talbot said in the statement.

“I also intend to seek formal reporting agreements with the 11 County Prosecutors in the Diocese of Saginaw. Beyond the legalities involved, it has been my experience that communication and full cooperation with local law enforcement serves this process well,” he added.

At a press conference following his appointment, Talbot asked that anyone with accusations of sexual abuse against diocesan authorities to come forward.

However, law enforcement involved in the investigation said afterward in a statement that people should report sexual abuse and misconduct directly to police, and not to the diocese.

According to police involved in the investigation, the diocese "cannot and should not be used as a clearing house for the reporting of crimes by victims."

"That is the function of law enforcement. Any victims of abuse or other crimes should report their allegations directly to law enforcement as opposed to the Diocese or Judge Talbot, its independent delegate."

Two priests have been placed on leave from their duties after a recent wave of accusations of sexual abuse against priests in the Saginaw diocese.

In February, Fr. Robert DeLand, pastor of St. Agnes parish in Freeland, was charged with one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of gross indecency between male persons, and one count of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct/personal injury, following the accusations of a 21-year-old man and a 17-year-old high school student.

In early April, DeLand was charged with two additional counts of felony sexual misconduct against a minor, as well as one count of possessing a controlled substance and one misdemeanor count of furnishing alcohol for a minor, according to local media.

On March 8, the diocese released a statement clarifying that further review of records determined that the diocese had been informed of rumors about DeLand in 1992, and that in 2005 a woman contacted the diocese about the possibility that DeLand might have sexually abused her brother, who since had died, in the 1970s.

The diocese said it had contracted an investigator to assess the matter, and that “the independent Diocesan Review Board, Bishop Robert Carlson, who was Bishop of Saginaw at the time, as well as the family agreed that the suspicion against Father DeLand was unfounded.”

DeLand, who also served as judicial vicar for the Diocese of Saginaw, has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation. He is also banned from school properties and from presenting himself as a priest.

The second priest to be placed on leave in the recent investigation is Father Ronald J. Dombrowski, following an accusation that he sexually assaulted a minor. According to the diocese, the alleged victim first brought the complaint to the diocese, which contacted the authorities.

While Dombrowski has not been criminally charged, he has also been banned from school properties and from presenting himself as a priest during the investigation.

In 2012, Cistone was accused of misleading a grand jury about his compliance in the destruction of documents containing the names of priests suspected of child molestation in 1994, while he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Cistone was not criminally charged in the incident.

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