Michigan Catholic Priest Abused Children For Five Decades

The Rev. Robert DeLand


“Authorities are setting up a special review board to investigate dozens of sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Robert DeLand dating back four decades.

Saginaw County Prosecutor John McColgan Jr. announced the formation of a special investigative team on Thursday to coordinate and investigate allegations of abuse involving officials within the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.

Police have received dozens of additional reports of sexual abuse allegedly committed by DeLand dating back to the 1970s through this year. The team will coordinate efforts to investigate those.

DeLand was arrested on Feb. 25 on second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges related to his alleged behavior with males age 17 and 22 from August through February.

DeLand was pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Freeland and a volunteer and Freeland High School when he was arrested. The diocese has removed him from all pastoral duties while the school district has banned him from its property since his arrest.

In a statement released Thursday by the Diocese of Saginaw, church officials said records show rumors swirled about DeLand dating back to the 1970s. Church investigative teams looked into the those claims and decided there was not enough evidence to take action.

The diocese says nobody came forward with specific allegations of sexual abuse by DeLand.

DeLand wrote a letter in 1992 to Bishop Kenneth Untener, who oversaw the Diocese of Saginaw at the time, refuting rumors that had been swirling about DeLand’s reputation. DeLand wrote that he took issue with the rumors and denied any wrongdoing.

Thirteen years later in 2005, a family member called the diocese with suspicions about her brother’s suicide back in 1993. She wondered whether he had been molested by DeLand back in the 1970s.

However, the diocese says the woman had no firsthand knowledge of sexual abuse by DeLand and did not lodge a specific complaint against him.

Still, the diocese brought in an independent professional investigator to complete an assessment of the woman’s claims into DeLand’s alleged conduct.

The review board was established in 2003 to act as a confidential body to advise the bishop as he assessed sexual abuse allegations against church officials. Very few members of the board have ties to the Diocese of Saginaw.

The investigator, an independent Diocesan Review Board, former Bishop Robert Carlson and the family agreed there was no evidence to substantiate allegations of sexual abuse against DeLand.

The Saginaw Township and Tittabawassee Township police departments, Michigan State Police and other state and federal agencies will be represented on the team investigating all claims against DeLand.

“The investigation is not going to dwell on rumors,” said Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner. “We are going to follow the evidence and go where it leads us.”

Police still are encouraging anyone with claims against DeLand to step forward and report them.

Claims from Saginaw Township can be reported to Det. Scott Jackson at 989-791-7226 while claims from Tittabawasee Township can be reported to Det. Brian Berg at 989-695-9623.

Claims from outside those areas can be reported to Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Chris Siegert at 989-495-5555.

A special email address to accept reports of abuse has been established at abusetips@saginawcounty.com.

“We continue to encourage people to come forward,” Gaertner said. “We want to hear from you. Your tip is important. It is worth the effort, regardless of whether it is anonymous. It is your choice, and we respect that.””

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