Sex Abuse Victim: Saginaw Bishop Ignored My Requests

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 28, 2018   

Brad Sylvester asked for multiple meetings with Bp. Joseph Cistone, which went ignored

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SAGINAW (ChurchMilitant.com) - A victim of sex abuse claims Bp. Joseph Cistone of Saginaw, Michigan refused to talk or meet with him after multiple requests.

Brad Sylvester, a Saginaw local, hand-delivered a letter to the diocese in 2012 detailing his abuse at the hands of Fr. Stanislaus Bur when he was a child, and requested a face-to-face meeting with Bp. Cistone. It was one among multiple letters he had sent to the diocese that went ignored by the bishop.

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Sr. Janet Fulgenzi

Because the abuse took place nearly three decades earlier, it was beyond the statute of limitations. 

Instead, the diocese sent Sr. Janet Fulgenzi, victim assistance coordinator for the diocese's Office of Child and Youth Protection. "She was just sitting in, listening to my sessions, like a bystander," Sylvester told Church Militant of his meetings with his social worker, where Fulgenzi was present on several occasions. According to the victim, Fulgenzi asked no questions and offered no helpful advice.

As a high-ranking official in the Philadelphia archdiocese in the 1990s, Cistone discouraged Cdl. Anthony Bevilacqua from meeting one-on-one with sex abuse victims, claiming doing so would be "setting a precedent."

Sylvester's abuse began as a child at St. Valentine's parish during his First Confession, where he alleges Fr. Bur asked him graphic sexual questions in the confessional. Other boys also experienced detailed sexual questioning by the priest in the confessional, where he would ask the boys if they had ever seen a girl naked, whether they had looked at pornographic magazines, how they reacted, or questions about their genitalia.

During the questioning, the boys would hear the priest "moaning and groaning," Sylvester said. "It never made sense to us until we got older." 

The situation caused Sylvester to lose his faith. "One of our most intimate parts of our life as Catholics ... just ripped out from us," he said, referring to the confessions. 

Bur also took boys on trips to a tree farm in Cheboygan, where they would spend their time trimming Christmas trees. "That seemed to be a place where he could get us away from the area," Slyvester said, "and that's the place where a lot of things would happen." According to Sylvester, multiple boys were abused there.

Bur had a history of sex abuse in the Grand Rapids diocese, where he worked before coming to Saginaw. After credible allegations of abuse by William McAlary, who claims when he was a boy he had been awakened by Bur with his hand down the boy's underwear, the priest was forced into early retirement in the 1990s. Bur admitted to the press that he had touched boys' genitals to teach them about their bodies, but denied abusing them. 

In spite of the Saginaw diocese's knowledge of the molestation, it honored him in the year 2000 for 50 years of priesthood.

Sylvester currently volunteers as lead representative of the Saginaw chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). In the wake of the criminal probe of Bp. Cistone and the diocese, Sylvester's organization has seen a noticeable increase in calls from other victims.

"90 percent are from Saginaw, and one in 10 are from other areas of Michigan," he told Church Militant.

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Sr. Janet Fulgenzi outside the chancery during the raid

In spite of Sylvester's multiple letters requesting a short, face-to-face meeting with Bp. Cistone, he never received a response, whether by email, phone or letter.

The diocese itself has remained tightlipped about the criminal investigation it's undergoing, even after the bishop's home, chancery and cathedral rectory were raided by law enforcement Thursday. Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner said on the day of the raids, "Contrary to statements of the diocese and the bishop that they would fully cooperate with law enforcement, they have not."

The diocese claimed in a statement issued 24 hours later, "The Diocese has made a sincere effort to cooperate with law enforcement to date and will continue to do so moving forward."

Police seized files, documents, and electronic equipment, including computers and cell phones. The investigation itself was prompted by the arrest of Fr. Robert DeLand, judicial vicar for the diocese of Saginaw, who is being charged for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old and 21-year-old male. 

Fulgenzi is the contact for victims claiming clerical abuse. It remains unclear, however, how such claims are processed and who decides whether the claims are credible. According to mandatory reporting laws, members of clergy or medical professionals are required by law to report any claims of abuse against minors. As the bishop's delegate, she acts in his name and on his behalf with regard to sex abuse claims.

As of press time, Fulgenzi has not responded to Church Militant's request for comment.

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*This article was updated on 3/30/2018

 

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