- Mackenzie Ritchie Manager
News & Press Releases
In an effort to provide those who visit this site with up-to-date information regarding events or stories of interest happening within the diocese, the Secretariat for Communications researches and prepares articles and news releases.
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Statement Regarding Recent Investigations
Conclusions reached by the Diocesan Review Board
Regarding allegations against Fr. Dennis Stilwell
On August 21, 2018, Fr. Matthew Cowan, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, presented an allegation of sexual misconduct against Fr. Dennis Stilwell, another priest of our diocese. The incidents were alleged to have occurred in 2015. Consistent with diocesan practice, Fr. Cowan’s complaint was reported to civil authorities prior to commencement of an independent and methodical investigation of his allegation. Fr. Cowan was also encouraged to contact local law enforcement if he desired.
In December, 2018, the Diocesan Review Board (an independent body composed primarily of laity from throughout the diocese) met and concluded that the allegation did not reach the level of credible and substantiated sexual misconduct. After being informed of the Review Board’s conclusion, Fr. Cowan offered additional information. The investigation was extended and a second investigator was assigned.
The diocese also received a letter from another individual stating that he had remembered two occasions that Fr. Stilwell touched him (patted his facial cheek and touched his abdomen). An investigation of those complaints was also undertaken by the diocese and reported to civil authorities.
These investigations have now been completed. The Diocesan Review Board has concluded that the allegations received against Fr. Dennis Stilwell are not credible or substantiated for sexual misconduct, sexual harassment or grooming. Bishop Steven Raica has accepted their conclusion and the matter is closed.
Regarding complaint involving Bishop Robert Lynch
A complaint was received alleging possible grooming by an adult male of our diocese involving Bishop Robert Lynch during a time he was vacationing in our diocese. Bishop Steven Raica informed Bishop Lynch that he should not perform any ministry in the Diocese of Gaylord until the matter is resolved. This complaint was reported to the Michigan Department of Attorney General and forwarded to the Apostolic Nuncio for the United States. A diocesan investigation was completed and the Diocesan Review Board concluded that although the reports seem to suggest features might be consistent with grooming, the allegation was deemed not credible for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment. This information is being forwarded to the Apostolic Nuncio for review.
While any further diocesan review of these matters is concluded, they may still be reviewed by the Michigan Office of Attorney General.
STATEMENT FROM BISHOP STEVEN J. RAICA
“This has been a very painful time for all of us,” said Bishop Steven Raica. “Some have questioned the length of time that investigations may take. I am committed to following our processes which allow for the prudent use of discretion by the investigators, Review Board, and the bishop. We will take the amount of time necessary to ensure a reasoned understanding of a situation so that we can reach confidence in our conclusions. These matters are very serious and life changing. Both the alleged victim and the accused deserve our best effort.
“There is also an ongoing investigation of all Michigan dioceses’ handling of abuse cases by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office,” Bishop Raica added. “It is critically important to me that we be fully cooperative and not interfere with their work. We are grateful for their assistance and hope to be partners with the Attorney General. I believe we share a mission to prevent the abuse of anyone, to respond with compassion to victims when abuse occurs, and to ensure offenders are properly prosecuted. Over the years, the Diocese of Gaylord has successfully collaborated with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Legislature, local law enforcement and other experts. Together we have endeavored to promote awareness, develop trainings and strengthen laws to do what we can to prevent the scourge of sexual abuse. We will continue to do that to the best of our ability.
“Recently, individuals and organizations critical of my office have emerged with statements and press releases that, in my opinion, do not reflect the reality of the situations we are dealing with or accurately reflect our policies or practices.” Bishop Raica said. “I am open to constructive criticism about how we handle the complaints and grievances that are reported so that we can learn from them. Yet, we know that even if all of the systems we have in place are technically 100% perfect, because God has given us free will, there will always emerge a new issue or problem we have never dealt with before. We will learn from those as well.
“Most importantly, to victim-survivors of sexual abuse by anyone, I am so sorry for what you have endured. Each time I meet with a victim-survivor, I understand more and more about the depth of the anguish and suffering on so many different levels. My pledge to you is that the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Gaylord will continue to do what we can to help heal those wounds and to help ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
HOW TO MAKE A REPORT OF SEXUAL ABUSE
Bishop Steven J. Raica and the Diocese of Gaylord remain committed to continuing our efforts to prevent the sexual abuse of anyone by those representing the Church in our diocese, to report and respond to allegations of sexual misconduct, and to bring about healing where abuse has occurred. For more information about what the diocese is doing to protect children and for helpful resources, go to the diocesan website at www.dioceseofgaylord.org.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office has requested that for the present time all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor or adult by clergy be made directly to them. That number is 844.324.3374.
The laws of the State of Michigan further require that many professionals, including clergy, teachers, doctors, counselors, etc. -- are mandated to immediately report to civil authorities if they suspect a child is being neglected or abused in any way. Individuals should call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services statewide report line at 855.444.3911. The line is answered 24 hours a day. The Diocese of Gaylord further encourages anyone who has reason to suspect a child is being abused or neglected to report the matter to local authorities. Such reports are confidential and may be made anonymously at the number above.
If the allegation involves a member of the Catholic clergy or church representative -- even if it is in the past -- individuals may also contact the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010.