“Since 2002, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not entered into any non-disclosure agreements, unless specifically requested by a survivor of abuse, as required by the Catholic Church in the United States. In addition, the archdiocese does not enforce any non-disclosure agreements signed prior to 2002. We encourage all abuse survivors to share their stories.”
Other dioceses made similar points, and some said they had not yet been asked to stop internal investigations.
At a Feb. 21 press conference, Nessel gave an update about the Catholic clerical sex abuse investigations in Michigan begun in August 2018 under her predecessor, Bill Schuette. In October 2018 law enforcement conducted simultaneous raids on the offices of the state’s seven Roman Catholic dioceses.
Nessel said these raids involved close to 70 officers and special agents and 14 assistant attorneys general.
“We did not depend on the dioceses to turn over documents, which is what primarily happened in other states,” she said. Investigators are reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, including Church procedures regarding abuse allegations and investigations.
“Unfortunately, the reality is there are predators in the priesthood that are still out there and we feel as though they have to be stopped and we need to ensure this doesn’t happen again and bad actors are consistently held accountable,” she said.
Nessel estimated the investigation will take about two years, suggesting over 1,000 sex abuse victims could be found. She did not discuss how her office estimated that number, the Michigan news site Mlive.com reports.
State authorities have received 300 tips since the launch of the investigation. The attorney general said a report will be released at the end of the investigations. She contended that the Church was currently “self-policing” and said this should stop.
“If an investigator comes to your door and asks to speak with you, please ask to see their badge and not their rosary,” Nessel said. “Victims may believe that they cannot or should not report abuse to us because the Church is going to handle it. That's simply not true.”
She cited reports from victims that they were encouraged to agree to settlements and sign nondisclosure agreements. Those who have signed such agreements have the right to speak to law enforcement, she said. Even if alleged abuse falls beyond the statute of limitations, a report can be useful in other prosecutions.
“We can, and we will, follow the trail of abuse where it’s occurred.”
First-degree criminal sexual conduct has no statute of limitations for criminal prosecution under state law. All other levels of criminal sexual conduct have a limit of 10 years from the time of the crime or from the time the victim turns 21, whichever comes later.
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The attorney general’s update drew different reactions.
“We were surprised by some of the statements made this morning,” said Candace Neff, communications director for the Gaylord diocese, which pledged continued cooperation and assistance for the investigation.
“We are very grateful for the assistance of the attorney general in this process,” Neff said, adding that the diocese has not received a request to cease all internal review processes.
“We hope to receive clarification on this request soon,” she said.
Neff said the diocese looks forward to the attorney general’s final report and shares the goals of intending “to respond with compassion for victim-survivors, to properly prosecute offenders, to prevent anyone from being abused in the future, and to bring about healing for those who have been harmed in the past.”
Col. Joe Gasper, head of the Michigan State Police, said the best agents have been assigned to this “exceptionally complex and complicated” case.