SPECIAL REPORT AT 4:30 PM ET
DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Michigan attorney general's office conducted raids on the chanceries of the state's seven Catholic dioceses.
Sources in Saginaw confirmed that officials appeared at the chancery in the morning, told staff to leave, and proceeded to search the building. This is the second surprise raid on Saginaw diocesan property this year, the first one conducted in March by the local prosecutor, which turned up, among other things, bags of shredded documents.
Mark Frost, principal of Nouvel High School next door, sent an email to staff and parents this morning alerting them to the raid:
Good morning. I would like to convey that there is a law enforcement presence related to the Attorney General investigation at the Diocesan Offices this morning. This activity is not related to any matter at the high school, nor is there any concern relative to the health and safety of our students and staff. Please also be aware that there has not been any disruption, related to the normal operations of the high school, due to activities at the Diocesan Offices.
The Saginaw diocese has since issued a press release stating it was cooperating fully with the state attorney general.
"As part of this ongoing investigation, a search warrant was served this morning, Oct. 3, at approximately 9 a.m. at the diocesan center, 5800 Weiss St., in Saginaw," the statement said. "Some diocesan staff members remained onsite throughout the day to assist investigators in locating the files they were seeking."
The Detroit archdiocese is also confirming that the attorney general conducted a search of its property. A source within Sacred Heart Major Seminary forwarded Church Militant an email sent by the vice rector, Fr. Stephen Burr, to faculty and seminarians:
I wanted to inform you about some activity in the diocese earlier today. Around 9 a.m. this morning, several law enforcement officials entered the Chancery and executed a search warrant, as part of the Attorney General investigation which was announced previously. A search of buildings and files is a normal part of these types of investigations. The Archdiocese of Detroit is fully cooperating with authorities. The officials arrived at Sacred Heart Major Seminary around 10:45 a.m. to gather additional records at the diocese Archives on the seminary property, and will later go to the St. Joan of Arc office of Monsignor Michael Bugarin, the Archbishop’s Delegate for Clergy Misconduct.
A clerical source confirmed that similar raids were conducted in Lansing and other chanceries across the state.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette confirmed Sept. 21 that his office had launched a criminal probe into all seven Catholic dioceses in the state in August. The dioceses include Detroit, Saginaw, Gaylord, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Marquette and Kalamazoo. Schuette is also including claims of abuse by priests who belong to religious orders.
"This investigation is and will continue to be independent, thorough, transparent, and prompt," he said in a statement at the time. "My department and this investigation will find out who knew what and when."
Church Militant has reported extensively on the criminal probe in Saginaw, which has resulted in the arrest of Fr. Robert DeLand, judicial vicar for the diocese. DeLand pleaded in early September to multiple felony counts of sexual assault against three young men, but withdrew his plea Friday after the judge made clear he would impose a longer sentence than the original one-year sentence that was part of the plea deal.
Earlier this year, Schuette sent cease and desist letters to Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a Catholic non-profit that was soliciting money for DeLand's legal expenses. Schuette accused the charity of violating Michigan's Nonprofit Corporation Act and Charitable Solicitations Act, which was trying to raise $75,000 for the accused priest.
Although the Detroit archdiocese published a statement Sept. 21 saying it welcomed the attorney general's investigation, evidence exists that the archdiocese actively concealed information about known pederast Fr. Gerald Shirilla, who abused both male adults and minors for decades. In spite of receiving multiple complaints about Shirilla's sexual predation, the Detroit archdiocese kept him in active ministry, only placing him on administrative leave in 1993.
Church Militant contacted the Michigan attorney general's office for comment on the surprise raids, but received no response as of press time.