Saginaw Bishop Appoints Independent Delegate Amid Sex Abuse Probe

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 13, 2018   

Bp. Joseph Cistone also states he will not resign in the midst of criticism of his handling of investigation

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SAGINAW, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishop of Saginaw, Michigan is announcing an independent delegate in the criminal investigation of the diocese over alleged sex abuse cover-up. He also made clear he would not be resigning.

"I must conclude that, to date, our diocesan efforts to address these matters are not perceived as being adequate," said Bp. Joseph Cistone in a press conference Friday. "For that reason, I believe we need what I will call a fresh start, a reboot."

Cistone went on to announce the temporary appointment of Chief Judge Michael Talbot of the Michigan Appeals Court as independent delegate, "a highly qualified individual to oversee our procedures and responses to the sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct issues involving clergy and other diocesan representatives."

Talbot's duties will include establishing "specific roles and responsibilities for diocesan representatives, including communications to the general public, as well as specific responses to media inquiries, and will take the lead on any and all interaction with civil authority." He made clear he would be receiving no salary.


 

The Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office responded disagreeing with the appointment. "The Diocese cannot and should not be used as a clearing house for the reporting of crimes by victims," its official statement declared. "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."

"While it would appear to be a positive thing that the Diocese is involving Judge Talbot to assist them in dealing with the situation they find themselves in," the statement continued, "we fully expect Judge Talbot and the Diocese to turn over to law enforcement any information they receive."

Talbot has been a state judge since 1978, and is retiring April 25 after 40 years on the bench. He has chaired the review board for sex abuse claims for the archdiocese of Detroit since 2002. 

"I did have a caveat when the bishop called me about a week or so ago," Talbot said at the press conference. "I had to make it very clear that I was going to be independent. I think that that is the threshold that has to take place so that there is confidence that anything that I do and everything I say is not coming from someone who is under the employ of the diocese or has any sort of relationship other than the delegation."

"That's the sum total of our tie, is the delegation that's been given to me," he added. He announced he'd be meeting with prosecutors to help establish a formal agreement as to process during the criminal probe — something the Saginaw diocese does not yet have.

He also stated the diocese would be publishing the names of sex-abusing clergy.

Read Our Complete Saginaw Coverage

"By the end of today, all of the priests that have been removed because of sexual misconduct who are still alive, and one who is now deceased — those names will be posted on the website," Talbot stated. A total of five priests will be named, four who have been laicized. Father Robert DeLand, arrested a second time last week over charges of sexual assault, and Fr. Ronald Dombrowski, suspended over claims of sex abuse, are not included in the list, as they are currently under investigation.

In response to the prosecutor's recent denunciation of witness intimidation, Cistone said, "I absolutely and positively denounce" such intimidation.

The April 6 statement, issued from the office of Saginaw Prosecuting Attorney John McColgan, Jr., said, "The recent verbal attacks on the victims in these cases are unfounded. The charges are based, in part, on audio/visual police recordings. Any attempts to discourage other victims to come forward by letting them know that they too will be publicly attacked will also be addressed."

Asked by a reporter how Cistone has felt during the criminal investigation — which included the unprecedented raid of the bishop's residence, chancery and cathedral — Cistone answered, "It's been very distressing. ... The people have a mistrust, they start to lose trust. They don't know who to listen to, who to believe."

Taking a jab at the media, he went on, "And people can say anything they want in terms of what truths are out there or not out there."

"I'm a shepherd at heart," he continued. "My concern has been for the people and how they've been having to deal with the situation. My heart also goes out to my brother priests, because we have good priests."

Cistone made clear he would not be stepping down, in spite of a number of calls questioning his leadership ability. "I have no intention of resigning," he insisted.

David O'Reilly, 35-year veteran reporter of the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently spoke with Michigan Radio of Cistone's involvement in sex abuse cover-up when he was a chancery official in the Philadelphia archdiocese. In addition to standing by as documents with names of suspected sex abusers were shredded, Cistone also helped silence a nun who reported on priestly sexual misconduct.

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Fr. Edward M. DePaoli

Sister Joan Scary, a religious instructor at St. Gabriel parish in Philadelphia in 1995, discovered child porn being mailed to priest-in-residence Fr. Edward DePaoli. After approaching the pastor with the evidence, she was told to keep quiet. Scary then sent along the evidence to Cdl. Anthony Bevilacqua, asking whether DePaoli should be allowed to remain at St. Gabriel.

"That's when it appeared that Bp. Cistone began to maneuver for her ouster," O'Reilly commented. "There seems to back-and-forth conversations with the pastor, who was protecting him [DePaoli], and instead of sending DePaoli away, Sr. Joan was ordered to leave her role as religious director. She was basically fired."

All of this is documented in the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report, which details the sex abuse of more than 60 clergy. The document cites Cistone's name at least 20 times with reference to his involvement in protecting abusive priests, including helping to ensure that a known sex abuser be made Bevilacqua's speechwriter, and agreeing to keep multiple abusive priests at their parish assignments, including one known for whipping and pricking boys with pins until they bled. The priests were eventually removed for sex abuse.

A victim of abuse has also claimed that Cistone ignored his repeated requests for a face-to-face meeting. 

As a result of the criminal probe, the diocese has canceled its Bishop's Ball, an annual fundraiser, claiming that a "celebration during this time would not be in keeping with the heartache felt in the local Church community."

 

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