Saginaw Loses Nearly Half Its Catholics Over 13 Years

by Church Militant  •  •  November 28, 2018   

Michigan diocese has suffered from poor catechesis, sex abuse scandals

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SAGINAW, Mich. ( - The number of Catholics in Saginaw has plummeted to nearly half in just 13 years.

A survey shows that in 2005, there were 50,328 Catholics in the Michigan diocese, that number dropping to only 27,599 today.

The general population in the Saginaw diocese has dropped since 2010, showing an approximate 8,000-person decline from 199,851 to 191,934.

On Nov. 21, the Office of the Apostolic Administrator sent a letter to pastors and parish administrators admitting that overall Mass attendance over a 5-year period is down by 17.87 percent, with a 23.69 percent drop since 2013.


Bishop Walter Hurley, apostolic administrator in Saginaw, asks in his letter:

  • Do you know who is no longer attending, and why?
  • What initiatives have you taken to reach people within their boundaries?
  • Have you taken steps in your planning process to welcome people into the parish?
  • If your count has increased, to what do you attribute it?

The numbers come a month after the sudden death of Saginaw Bp. Joseph Cistone, found collapsed on his bathroom floor October 16. The coronor, Dr. Rusell Bush, told Church Militant he believes the death was caused by heart failure owing to medication he was taking to deal with his lung cancer. Bush's decision not to conduct an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death raised eyebrows, considering Cistone was at the center of a criminal investigation for alleged sex abuse cover-up. Sources also claim he had just signed his last will and testament two days earlier.


Downward trajectory of the Catholic population in Saginaw

Hurley being named as replacement has caused outcry, considering his history of protecting accused pederast priest Fr. Gerald Shirilla when Hurley was in Detroit. Jay McNally, former editor-in-chief of the Detroit archdiocesan paper The Michigan Catholic, said of Hurley:

If you ever wondered how and why the Catholic Church kept known pedophile priests in action even after victims complained that these priests sodomized them dozens of times annually for years, let me introduce you to Bishop Walter Hurley, one of the most disgusting men I had the misfortune of ever meeting.

Hurley's appointment to the Saginaw diocese following Bp. Cistone's death comes in the middle of a scandal involving Fr. Robert DeLand, a priest who faced multiple arrests this year on sexual assault charges of young men.

His arrest was followed by a March 22 raid on the home of Bp. Cistone, as well as the chancery and cathedral rectory.

Saginaw Prosecutor Mark Gaertner told Church Militant in a statement at the time, "Contrary to statements of the diocese and the bishop that they would fully cooperate with law enforcement, they have not. Therefore, it was necessary for law enforcement officials to utilize other investigative means and execute search warrants."

Church Militant has reported extensively on the unfolding developments involving the sex abuse scandal in Saginaw.

The spiritual wreckage in the diocese can be traced back to Bp. Kenneth Untener, who, as administrator of St. John's Provincial Seminary in the archdiocese of Detroit, caused scandal by airing pornography to seminarians as part of a course on morality. Untener was made bishop of Saginaw in 1980, where he remained till his death in 2004.


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