CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).-
Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel told local news this week that she plans to announce new charges against “a dozen or more” priests in the state, as part of a now two-year long investigation into abuse by Catholic clergy.
Nessel had most recently announced on Sept. 29 charges against a 78-year-old laicized priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Gary Berthiaume, who is accused of abusing a 14-year-old victim.
Nessel announced one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct against Berthiaume, which could lead to a 15-year prison sentence if he’s convicted, the Detroit News reported.
Spurred by the release of a grand jury report out of Pennsylvania in 2018, which documented hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse that took place over several decades in almost every diocese in the state, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the state’s own investigation in August that year.
So far, the state’s investigation has led to charges against 11 people, and Nessel says she hopes to complete the investigation within the next six months, WoodTV reports. Nessel has in the past suggested the investigation could uncover as many as 1,000 sex abuse victims, though she has not discussed how her office estimated that number.
In May 2019, Nessel announced that five priests would be charged with 21 counts of sex abuse for abusing a total of five victims. None of the priests were in active ministry and one had already been removed from the clerical state.
After the announcement of the state’s investigation, Michigan’s dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation. In Oct. 2018, police executed search warrants at all seven of the state’s dioceses.
To date, the Michigan investigation team has reviewed hundreds of tips, as well as 1.5 million paper documents and 3.5 million electronic documents seized the raids. Most of the tips have come through a hotline established specifically for abuse.
Early in 2019, Nessel claimed that the state’s dioceses are “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements to quiet allegations, and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.
In response, the Archdiocese of Detroit reaffirmed its commitment to reporting sex abuse allegations to authorities.
In 2018 Michigan extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years in criminal cases, and 10 in civil. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim’s 28th birthday.
In March of last year, Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the abuse investigation, which is expected to last two years.
Similar clergy sex abuse investigations have been launched in multiple states throughout the country, including in Georgia, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Nebraska.