Saginaw diocesan employee alleges retaliation after reporting abuse

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An employee of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan is suing the diocese, alleging that his fellow employees retaliated against him after he reported that a Saginaw priest sexually abused his son.

Gabriel Villarreal, who had worked as a maintenance man for the diocese for over two decades, in March filed a lawsuit against the diocese alleging that Father Robert DeLand had molested his son during February 2018, which Villarreal reported.

The lawsuit alleges that after Villarreal reported the abuse, diocesan employees began to harass him, referring to him as "the mole [spy,]" cutting his hours and benefits, and taking away his master key.

That same month DeLand, former judicial vicar for the diocese and pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Freeland, was charged with one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of gross indecency between male persons, and one count of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct/personal injury.

Two months later, DeLand was charged with two additional counts of felony sexual misconduct against a minor, as well as one count of possessing a controlled substance and one misdemeanor count of furnishing alcohol for a minor, according to local media. He was convicted in Sept. 2018.

Villarreal alleges that diocesan employees blamed him for former Bishop Joseph Cistone's death- he died of cancer in October 2018- saying: "the bishop would still be alive if it wasn't for your son."

He also alleges that diocesan employees would mock him by pretending to pick up the phone and talk to Father DeLand, even though DeLand was in prison at the time.

The lawsuit is dated March 16, 2020. The Diocese of Saginaw did not respond by press time to CNA's request for comment.

In March 2018, the diocese released a statement clarifying that further review of records determined that the diocese had been informed of rumors about DeLand in 1992, and that in 2005 a woman contacted the diocese about the possibility that DeLand might have sexually abused her brother, who had since died, in the 1970s.

The diocese said it had contracted an investigator to assess the matter, and that "the independent Diocesan Review Board, Bishop Robert Carlson, who was Bishop of Saginaw at the time, as well as the family agreed that the suspicion against Father DeLand was unfounded."

Later in March 2018, Saginaw police raided the home of then-Bishop Cistone, as well as the diocesan chancery and its cathedral rectory, citing a lack of cooperation on the part of the diocese in the ongoing clerical sex abuse investigation.

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