Michigan bishop bars two priests named in abuse report from celebrating Mass

St. Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Gaylord, Michigan St. Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Gaylord, Michigan. | Credit: rossograph, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A U.S. bishop in the state of Michigan this week announced that two priests would be forbidden from saying public Masses following the publication earlier this month of an abuse report from the state attorney general. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office announced on Jan. 8 the release of the second government report on alleged Church abuse in the state. The report focused on “allegations of abuse that took place in the Diocese of Gaylord,” the office said at the time. 

The abuse allegations, many of them decades old, highlighted claims against nearly 30 priests in that diocese, the majority of whom were “known or presumed” to be dead. Of the 12 living priests, “three are in active ministry” with the diocese, the report said. 

In a statement this week, Gaylord Bishop Jeffrey Walsh said he had discussed the report with the Diocesan Review Board and had “prayerfully discerned outcomes,” leading the bishop to announce restrictions on two of the priests named in the report. 

Walsh said that Father Raymond Cotter and Father James Gardiner would both be “restricted from presiding at any public celebration of Mass effective immediately.” Both will be permitted to celebrate Mass privately, the bishop said, and both can “respond to requests for limited priestly ministry” including reconciliation and anointing of the sick. 

The bishop further relieved Gardiner of his assignment as sacramental minister at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Mackinaw City. Cotter “continues to be a retired priest with no assignment in the Diocese of Gaylord,” the diocese said.

Additionally, Father Donald Geyman “will undergo an assessment,” the diocese said; the priest will continue his current assignment as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Traverse City pending the outcome of the investigation. 

In the attorney general’s report, Cotter was alleged to have “engaged in sexual intercourse with an adult woman” in 1992, resulting in the birth of a child. Gardiner was alleged to have engaged in “unwanted sexual touching” on an adult male in the mid-1990s.

Geyman, meanwhile, was alleged in the report to have inappropriately touched an adult woman’s thigh at a conference in 2012 and to have sent inappropriate text messages to another woman.

In his statement this week, Walsh said he was “fully aware of the weight of the decisions made for each of these three priests, their families, those whom they have served, those who were affected by their moral failings, and the Church at large.”

“While some of the moral failings were in the distant past, I had to ask a pressing question: ‘If these situations occurred today, how would I respond?’ I am painfully aware of the brokenness in our humanity and my own sinfulness,” the bishop continued. 

“No one is perfect,” he added. “God’s mercy is always in the mix, as is God’s justice. Given the circumstances, these decisions reflect my best effort to apply both mercy and justice in these three cases. Moving forward, let us be confident that all will be sustained by God’s grace and live under God’s providence.”

The Michigan attorney general is conducting investigations of abuse allegations in each of the seven Catholic dioceses in the state. 

In October 2022, Nessel’s office released the first report compiling allegations of sexual abuse committed by priests in the Diocese of Marquette, stretching back to the 1940s. 

That report named 44 priests who ministered in Marquette who have been accused of abuse or grooming behavior. As with the Gaylord report, most of the priests in the Marquette report were known or presumed to be deceased.

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