High-Ranking Michigan Priest Arrested for Gay Sex Assault

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 26, 2018   

Fr. Robert DeLand is Judicial Vicar and a judge on the marriage tribunal of the Saginaw diocese

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SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Judicial Vicar for the diocese of Saginaw, Michigan has been arrested for sexual assault of another man.

Father Robert DeLand, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Freeland and a judge on the marriage tribunal, was arrested Monday after a months-long covert operation by local police involving surveillance.

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Fr. Robert DeLand

A press release issued by Det. Brian Berg of the Tittabawassee Township Police Department Sunday announced that the 71-year-old cleric had been under observation since November 2017, three months after he was accused of sexual assault at his home.

On August 8, 2017 a Criminal Sexual Assault complaint was filed by a subject alleging he was sexually assaulted the previous evening by a Catholic Priest at the priest's condominium ... . Between Nov. 2, 2017 and Feb. 25, 2018 five additional Criminal Complaints were filed with the Tittabawassee Township Police against this same Catholic Priest alleging Gross Indecency, furnishing alcohol to a minor, sexual assault, and the illegal purchase/possession of a controlled substance known as the drug Ecstasy.

The Saginaw diocese issued a statement Monday afternoon acknowledging it had first learned of the arrest Monday morning through local media. "The Diocese of Saginaw had no previous knowledge of the police investigation or of these allegations," the statement declared.

"Upon receiving the information from media this morning, the diocese requested a copy of the police report and warrant issued against Father DeLand, which we have not yet received," the note continued.

Inside sources say DeLand has been molesting victims for decades.

Bishop Joseph Cistone, head of the diocese, commented, "I am deeply distressed by this most serious situation. Clearly, the diocese will cooperate fully with law enforcement and their investigation."

DeLand is being placed on administrative leave during the investigation. 

Inside sources say DeLand has been molesting victims for decades, and that victims have privately admitted to abuse at his hands, although none have stepped forward to say so publicly. DeLand has been a priest for the diocese since 1973.

A press conference held Monday afternoon revealed that the age difference between Fr. DeLand and his victim, aged 17, was 54 years. The police also disclosed that, since news of DeLand's arrest, they've been "inundated by a number of calls from individuals alleging similar acts over the last 30 years." 

The police went on to confirm that, in addition to the two victims for which DeLand was arrested, the multiple other potential victims are all male, within the 17–20 age range.

Tittabawassee Township Police Det. Brian Berg remarked, "What I've seen through this last four-month investigation is detestable. And I've been doing this for 35 years. It's detestable."

A Monday email sent by the superintendent of Freeland Community Schools and obtained by Church Militant states that DeLand is barred from entering school property:

Due to concerns that have been brought forward and a criminal investigation that is currently ongoing, I have issued a Criminal Trespass Warning to Father Bob DeLand not to be on Freeland Community School District property or attend any Freeland School event. The Freeland Schools are deeply disturbed by his arrest last night, saddened for our community, and committed to supporting any students that are in need of trusted adults after learning of the many accusations against Father Bob DeLand. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns regarding our response to this horrible situation.

Matthew A. Cairy, Superintendent Freeland Community School District 

What I've seen through this last four-month investigation is detestable. And I've been doing this for 35 years. It's detestable.

DeLand has also been banned from the CAN Council Great Lakes Bay Region properties, where he is a board member. 

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Bp. Joseph Cistone, head of the Saginaw diocese,

was accused of covering up sex abuse

when he worked in Philadelphia.

The diocese of Saginaw is under the leadership of Bp. Joseph Cistone, installed in 2009. Before coming to Michigan, Cistone was auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia, where he was accused of helping in the cover-up of sexually abusive priests. An attorney for one of the accused priests claimed that in 1994, Cistone watched as documents were shredded containing names of suspected sex abusers, and then he misled a grand jury when he failed to mention the documents or their destruction during testimony.

The case involved 35 accused priests in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, and evidence that Cdl. Anthony J. Bevilacqua had ordered the destruction of documents containing their names. Cistone's involvement led a group of children's rights advocates to press the Saginaw bishop in 2012 to answer questions, but he declined to comment. Cistone was never criminally charged.

In Saginaw, from 2011–13 Cistone oversaw an extensive parish restructuring program that resulted in about half of all diocesan parishes shuttered or reorganized: Out of 109 churches, 56 were classified as parish churches, 24 as churches for additional use and 29 as churches for occasional use. The diocese blamed the restructuring on fewer priests and declining numbers of parishioners.

The backlash to the parish closings led the diocese to set up a webpage to help parishioners deal with their anger.

Father DeLand was released on GPS tether, and a preliminary hearing will take place at 2:30 p.m. on March 19 in Judge David Hoffman's courtroom at the Saginaw County District Court.

The Saginaw prosecutor is reviewing police reports to determine whether to file charges. Police are enouraging other victims of the priest to step forward and call the police department.

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