Saginaw Diocese Accused of Sex Assault Cover-Up

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 19, 2018   

Fr. James Bessert allegedly hid the crime and lied to protect the diocese

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SAGINAW, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - In the midst of a widening sex abuse probe and a federal lawsuit, the Saginaw diocese is now suspected of covering up sexual assault from 2009.

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Fr. James W. Bessert with school children

According to reliable sources, Fr. James Bessert, director of liturgy for the diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, helped orchestrate a cover-up after Troy Yaklin, a maintenance man, reported he was sexually assaulted at Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in July 2009. Bessert was rector of the cathedral at the time.

According to the victim, he was sexually assaulted by Deacon Juan Ignacio Velasquez, a candidate for the priesthood and someone who lived in the rectory with Bessert. In a 2010 ABC12 report, Yaklin claimed that "on July 3, he was sat on, groped and kissed by a Deacon in the rectory."

Yaklin confirmed with Church Militant that the deacon straddled him and "tried to shove his tongue down my throat." Yaklin rebuffed the deacon's advances and reported the assault to the diocese.

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Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Saginaw, MI

Two weeks later, he received a call from Bessert. "About 11:30 p.m. at night, Father Jim Bessert called me and asked me what is going on, and I laid it out for him," Yaklin told ABC12.

The next day, Yaklin was suspended without pay. The diocese launched an investigation, but according to inside sources, instead of looking into the deacon's behavior, it investigated Yaklin. The deacon had changed the story around, claiming it was Yaklin who committed the assault.

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Rectory of Saginaw Cathedral

"He was lying," Yaklin said. After Bessert backed the deacon's claims, Yaklin ended up losing his job as well as his reputation.

"They humiliated me and shamed me," Yaklin told Church Militant. "I lost my job, I lost my friends, I lost everything I had; I almost lost my faith." Yaklin admits he has not been back to church since the 2009 incident.

Mysteriously, the diocese sent the deacon away to South America soon after, where he went on to be ordained a priest in 2011 for the Messengers of Peace, a religious community founded by Abp. Robert Carlson of St. Louis, Missouri, previously bishop of Saginaw.

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Fr. Robert DeLand,

Saginaw priest arrested in February

for sexually assaulting a minor

Bessert also abruptly resigned as rector of the cathedral in fall 2009. Multiple sources confirm Bessert's resignation was occasioned by another scandal at the cathedral: a drug-fueled homosexual orgy thrown by Bessert in the cathedral rectory.

When Bp. Cistone (installed in June of that year) learned about it, Bessert was forced to step down as rector. The matter was kept quiet, the public only being told he was leaving for reasons of "personal health."

"Father Bessert asked to meet with me and requested that he be relieved of his position as Rector of the Cathedral," reads a November 2009 newsletter issued by Cistone. "Also, at his request, I have granted Father Bessert a period of time for personal health leave."

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St. John Vianney Treatment Center, Downington, PA

Inside sources confirm Bessert spent six months at the St. John Vianney Center in Downington, Pennsylvania, a treatment center for clergy. In spite of the scandal at the cathedral and the alleged cover-up of sexual assault, Bessert was allowed to return to Saginaw and was named chaplain for the St. Francis Nursing Home.

Since that time he has held various positions, including his current high-ranking position as Director of Liturgy for the diocese. He also serves as diocesan chaplain to the Knights of Columbus and as sacramental minister at St. John Paul II Parish. (The immediate predecessor of St. John Paul II Parish was Fr. Ronald J. Dombrowksi, suspended from priestly ministry Saturday over claims of sexual abuse of a minor.)

Inside sources confirm Bessert is in a longtime homosexual relationship with Deacon Jerome Green at St. Vincent de Paul parish, who is slated to be ordained a priest by Bp. Cistone this year.

Church Militant contacted Bessert for comment, but as of press time received no response.

Bishop Cistone and the Saginaw diocese are currently under investigation by police for allegedly covering up sex abuse of multiple clergy. Cistone and the diocese have also been sued in federal court by the 17-year-old male victim of Fr. Robert DeLand, recently arrested for sexual assault and charged with criminal sexual misconduct and gross indecency. DeLand is currently awaiting trial.

A 2005 grand jury report found that Cistone was actively involved in covering up priestly abuse in Philadelphia when he worked as a chancery official under Cdl. Anthony J. Bevilacqua. The statutes of limitations had run out on the accused priests, and thus Cistone was never criminally charged for helping in the cover-up.

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