Saginaw Bishop Actively Covered Up Gay Sex Abuse

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 7, 2018   

In Philadelphia, Bp. Joseph Cistone was intimately involved in protecting abusive priests

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SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The head of a Michigan diocese wracked with scandal has himself been implicated in sex abuse cover-up. 

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Fr. Robert DeLand

After Fr. Robert DeLand, judicial vicar and a judge on the marriage tribunal, was arrested for gay sex assault in February, Bp. Joseph Cistone told parishioners he was "heartbroken" over the allegations.

"[M]y thoughts, prayers and empathy go out to anyone who may have been victimized," Cistone told a weekend gathering at St. Agnes parish in Freeland, where DeLand was pastor. "We know that the trauma runs deep and long not only for the victims but for their family and loved ones as well. We stand ready to assist them."

Reliable inside sources have told Church Militant, however, that the diocese has been aware of DeLand's behavior for years and did nothing to rein him in. 

Cistone had been aware of DeLand's behavior for years and did nothing to rein him in. 

Father DeLand's "escapades with boys were much more open at Holy Family, Ss. Peter and Paul, and St. Stephen," one source said, who asked to remain anonymous. 

"There was a constant stream of young men and boys coming and going, as well as parties that often left the rectory trashed," said Marlene Bethune, former housekeeper at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in the 1990s, where DeLand was pastor. "On some weekends, he'd have several guys that stayed over."

Bethune told Church Militant she was "shocked" one Monday morning to find a "naked man" sleeping in Fr. DeLand's bed when she went in to clean. Although the information was reported, nothing was ever done.

Saginaw and Tittabawasee Township police are now widening their investigation to include multiple Saginaw clergy implicated in the sex abuse probe, and are asking questions of the diocese itself.

"We want to know at what point was the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, and the Catholic Church as a whole, made aware of these incidents and what did they do when they were made aware of them," Det. Brian Berg of the Tittabawasee Township Police Department remarked.

Bishop Cistone was installed in Saginaw in 2009. Before coming to Michigan, Cistone was auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia, where a grand jury report shows he was intimately involved in helping in the cover-up of sexually abusive priests.

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Cdl. Anthony J. Bevilacqua

The case involved 63 accused priests in the archdiocese of Philadelphia (none of whom could be criminally prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run), with evidence proving that Cdl. Anthony J. Bevilacqua had actively hidden or shuffled around multiple priests who abused hundreds of children.

Cistone, as assistant vicar for administration, was instrumental in the cover-up.

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Msgr. William Lynn, arrested for covering up sex abuse

According to the 2005 grand jury report, an attorney for Msgr. William Lynn, who was eventually arrested for his part in covering up abuse, claimed that in 1994, Cistone watched as documents were shredded containing names of suspected sex abusers, and then Cistone went on to mislead the grand jury about the cover-up.

In 1996, Cistone silenced a nun who tried to report priestly abuse to parishioners:

A nun in Saint Gabriel, Sister Joan Scary, expressed concerns about the safety of children in her parish who were exposed to a priest convicted of possessing child pornography. After she tried to pressure the Archdiocese officials to act and began talking to parents, she was fired as director of religious education. 

Lynn informed Cistone that the nun's religious superiors had ordered her to be silent, after pressure from the archdiocese. "Everything is quiet at Saint Gabriel Parish concerning this situation," Lynn told Cistone. The nun eventually left Philadelphia.

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Fr. John J. Delli Carpini

The grand jury report also confirms that Fr. John J. Delli Carpini, with a known history of molesting boys, was made speech writer for the cardinal on Cistone's recommendation. A March 21, 2000 memo authored by Cistone proposed that the assignment be concealed from the public "for purposes of his 'personal' issues." Carpini was later placed on administrative leave over his abuse.

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Fr. David Sicoli

Cistone justified the continued ministry of another sex-abusing priest, Fr. David Sicoli, the only priest assigned to St. Anthony in South Philadelphia. According to the report, Cistone claimed that being the sole priest "meant that, by necessity, Fr. Sicoli be in charge of any youth programs and altar boys. It also meant there were no assistant priests to observe and report any improper relationships or behavior." Sicoli was eventually removed from ministry after overwhelming evidence of abuse of multiple boys.

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Fr. Thomas J. Smith

In spite of being aware of one priest's sadistic behavior towards boys (Fr. Thomas Smith whipped boys till they bled, pricked them with pins, and was accused on at least one occasion of fondling a boy's genitals), Cistone agreed to keep him at his parish assignment, which included access to boys at the grade school:

The Archdiocese leaders left Fr. Smith in his parish assignment despite reports, found to be credible, of sadistic behavior and manipulative efforts to see boys’ genitals, as well as reports of genital fondling of a victim still too embarrassed to come forward publicly. Instead of ordering meaningful psychological testing that could well indicate otherwise, Cardinal Bevilacqua and his managers apparently chose to accept Fr. Smith’s assertions that the whippings he directed, the pricking of naked boys with pins, and his manipulations to bathe nude with the grade school children in his parishes, served some purpose other than sexual gratification. 

On one occasion, Cistone discouraged Cdl. Bevilacqua from meeting with an abuse victim, claiming such a meeting would be "setting a precedent."

Cistone has never publicly refuted the findings of the grand jury report.

Cistone has never publicly refuted the findings of the grand jury report. Instead, he has said he regretted "any mistakes in judgment," but refused to discuss anything further, as "it would not serve any purpose to revisit the grand jury report and endeavor to recall the rationale for past decisions made in specific cases."

Cistone's behavior led a group of children's rights advocates to press the Saginaw bishop in 2012 to answer questions about his past conduct, but he declined to comment. Cistone was never criminally charged.

Church Militant asked Bp. Cistone and multiple diocesan officials to respond to the current sex abuse probe implicating multiple clergy in the Saginaw diocese, but as of press time has no received no response.

Although Cistone announced that DeLand was "immediately" placed on administrative leave as soon as he was arrested, DeLand is still listed on the Saginaw diocesan directory as judicial vicar, a member of the Priest Personnel Board, and pastor of St. Agnes Parish.​ 

*This article was corrected on 7/29/2018 to clarify that Marlene Bethune worked at Fr. DeLand's parish in the 1990s

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