Sex Abuser David Haas’ Deep Ties to Saginaw Diocese

News: US News
by Christine Niles  •  •  October 8, 2020   

Close friendships with predator, cover-up clergy

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SAGINAW, Mich. ( - (Warning: graphic content) Catholic composer David Haas, accused of raping and abusing numerous victims over the course of four decades, had numerous links to predator clergy in the diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. Saginaw has been the center of a major criminal investigation of multiple accused clergy, including convicted pedophile Fr. Robert DeLand.

David Haas

The 22-page report details Haas' 40-year track record of abuse, which included minors and adults:

From 1979 to 1982, David Haas' reported behavior included masturbation onto bodies and clothing, coerced ongoing sexual relationships and rape of teenage children between the ages of 13 to 17.

In the accounts from 1979 to 1982, David Haas targeted children who were physically alone — removed from groups of children in his care as a music minister. He approached them and used language like, "I couldn't help but notice you," "God has shown you to me," "I've never felt like this about anyone" and "I am overwhelmed by desire for you," before suddenly and aggressively sexually attacking the children.

Haas' Catholic musical career is well known, his modern hymns sung for decades at parishes across the country, including popular songs "You Are Mine" and "Blest Are They." In 2004, he was named Pastoral Musician of the Year by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Catholic composer Peter Kwasniewski has said of his influence, "It's no exaggeration to say that he helped shape the post-Vatican II musical landscape in the U.S.A."

David Haas targeted children who were physically alone.

When news first broke this summer of Haas' alleged abuse, several dioceses banned his music from their liturgies. GIA Publications and OCP, which publish the hymnals that have carried his music, dropped him from representation.

Haas initially denied the claims as "false, reckless and offensive," only to backtrack and post an apology on his since-deleted website.

Excerpt from David Haas sex abuse report

The earliest known case of abuse took place in 1979 and involved rape of a 13-year-old girl in Minnesota during a confirmation retreat, where Haas served as music minister. According to the report, Abp. John Roach of St. Paul-Minneapolis was made aware of the rape, and was "instrumental in covering up widespread child sexual abuse" in his archdiocese.

Another bishop, Robert Carlson, who would go on to head the Saginaw diocese, would also be part of the cover-up.

Ties to Saginaw Diocese

In addition to reporting the rape to Roach, Abp. Robert Carlson — then in Minneapolis — was also made aware. The report accuses both clergymen of being "chillingly experienced in the work of silencing survivors and protecting abusers." Carlson recently retired as archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, but previously oversaw the Saginaw diocese from 2004–2009.

Bp. Joseph Cistone

His successor was the late Bp. Joseph Cistone, who died abruptly in October 2018 when he was the center of a criminal probe for sex abuse cover-up. While the diocese passed off his death as the result of his long struggle with cancer, Cistone had been well enough that week to keep regular appointments at various parishes, including hosting eucharistic adoration. He was found naked, collapsed on his bathroom floor, and his body rushed to burial without an autopsy.

Cistone himself was implicated in sex abuse cover-up when he was a chancery official in Philadelphia, including silencing a nun who tried to report priestly abuse, recommending a known sex abuser to be Cdl. Anthony Bevilacqua's speechwriter, and agreeing to keep multiple sex-abusing priests at their parish assignments, including one known for sadistic behavior, including whipping and pricking boys with pins until they bled.

Serving under both Carlson and Cistone was Fr. Robert DeLand, a popular, high-ranking priest who was vocations director, judicial vicar and judge on the marriage tribunal, and would eventually be convicted and sentenced for sex abuse. DeLand reportedly knew about the 1979 rape allegation against Haas.

Fr. Robert DeLand

Mug shot and prison biographical information for Fr. Robert DeLand

Not only did DeLand develop something of a cult following in Saginaw, he was also a successful fundraiser, often assigned to struggling parishes, where his charismatic personality persuaded local Catholics to give generously to the church.

DeLand was arrested in Feb. 2018, after a four-month sting operation led by local detective Brian Berg, which resulted in many hours of damning audio showing the priest sexually grooming a troubled 17-year-old male by offering him cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. His conversations revolved obsessively around homosexuality, the priest repeatedly encouraging the boy to experiment in gay sex.

DeLand was convicted in 2019 for sexual assault and sentenced to 2–16 years in prison. He is currently serving out his time in the Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan.

According to Berg, DeLand's abuse spanned decades, and he is reportedly linked to several suicides and multiple male victims. He also served as a close friend and mentor to fellow sexual predator Haas, likely helping instruct him how to select and target his victims.

Haas himself mentions his first meeting with DeLand in a now-deleted blog post from November 2017, where he discusses the genesis of his composition "Mimi's Song": "Its story begins in the summer of 1977 (40 years ago), and I was sitting in the office of the vocation director for the diocese of Saginaw (in Michigan), Fr. Bob DeLand. I was having that first meeting about the possibility of me entering the seminary."

Excerpt from Haas report on "mentor relationship" with Fr. Robert DeLand

Jeanne Cotter, Haas' ex-wife, relates her conversation with a trusted priest: "[H]e did know of David's close mentor relationship with Fr. Robert DeLand, the director of vocations for the diocese of Saginaw during the late 1970s."

"The priest said that it would have been protocol for the archdiocese of St. Paul, upon receiving the 1979 report of Haas raping a 13-year-old girl, to contact Fr. DeLand," she notes. "He also said it is likely that Fr. DeLand shared his 'playbook' with David, instructing him to make certain any sexual exploits were at least 18 years old."

Fr. James Bessert

Father James Bessert, longtime worship director in Saginaw, has been implicated in sex assault cover-up. He has enjoyed a "lifelong friendship" with Haas.


An image from David Haas' now-deleted website

featuring Haas with lifelong friend Fr. James Bessert

As Church Militant reported in 2018, Bessert reportedly 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.

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.

Multiple sources confirm Bessert's resignation was occasioned by a drug-fueled homosexual orgy in the cathedral rectory.

"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.

Fr. James Bessert

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.

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." Inside sources confirm Bessert spent six months at the St. John Vianney Center in Downington, Pennsylvania.

While Bessert was briefly removed from his lead position as director of worship during the 2018 criminal investigation, he has been back in active ministry under Saginaw's current bishop, Robert Gruss.

Haas writes of first meeting Bessert in his 2017 blog post:

After talking a bit and finding out that I was a musician, [Fr. DeLand] got on the phone right then and there and called one of his other seminarians, Jimmy Bessert, and put me on the line with him. After about a five-minute discussion, Jimmy told me that two days later he was going to be driving to Baltimore to attend a national liturgical music workshop, andthat I should go with him. So, without ever meeting him before, here we were in his Chevy Vega on our way to Baltimore. On the drive along the way with my guitar in tow, we talked a lot and got to know each other very quickly; there was a connection that we both felt immediately. We talked about music, about the Church and shared with each other our stories as to how we got tothis point in our lives; and we laughed a lot, harder than I ever I had before! Jimmy has a very quick and clever wit, and this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship that remains to this day.

After discussing the workshop, Haas concludes his post: "After that conference and upon returning home, I started to write a few more songs. Jimmy went on to be ordained a priest soon after and I went on to Minnesota, and well, as they say ..."

Saginaw Diocese Disavows Haas

Bp. Robert Gruss

The Saginaw diocese is trying to distance itself from Haas. In an email obtained by Church Militant dated Oct. 7, sent by Administrative Assistant Mary Piechowiak on behalf of Bp. Gruss, the bishop reiterated the diocese's decision "to cease using Haas' musical compositions at diocesan Masses and other diocesan events."

"Haas may not give presentations at workshops, concerts or similar events hosted by the diocese of Saginaw, parishes, Catholic schools or other Catholics institutions in the diocese," he announced.

Gruss also disclaimed any knowledge of Haas' attendance at a local seminary.

"Several individuals remember Haas, a Bridgeport, Michigan native, as a seminarian of the diocese of Saginaw in the late 70s and/or early 80s," he wrote. "The diocese, however, has not yet located a record to verify the dates he was a seminarian and the circumstances in which he was released as a seminarian."

Gruss made no mention of Haas' friendship with either DeLand or Bessert, or of allegations that one of his predecessor bishops in Saginaw, Carlson, covered up Haas' 1979 rape of the 13-year-old girl.

In a related twist, Gruss' vicar general in Rapid City, South Dakota, Fr. Michel Mulloy, allegedly abused a minor from 1986–1989. Mulloy held multiple leadership positions, including being assigned to lead the diocese after Gruss left for Saginaw. Mulloy was only weeks away from being made a bishop in Duluth, Minnesota when the allegation was made public, leading to his immediate resignation.

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