Update Regarding Allegation of Misconduct - 05/12/2021
An Allegation Brought Forward - 02/08/2021
Charter Compliance and Diocesan Review Board 11/20/2020
Statement regarding Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service (CBAR) Implementation - 03/17/2020
Statement regarding Recent Allegations - 03/29/2019
Statement following Press Conference by Attorney General Dana Nessel - 02/21/2019
Statement regarding Fr. Matthew Cowan - 02/06/2019
A note to the Faithful from Bishop Raica regarding Mundelein Retreat -1/01/2019
Diocese of Gaylord's List of Clergy Credibly Accused of Abuse - 11/15/2018
Statement regarding search warrant from the Attorney General's office executed at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Gaylord - 10/03/2018.
Statement regarding Attorney General's Investigation - 09/21/2018
Homily of Bishop Steven J Raica - 09/2/2018
Letter from Bishop Raica regarding Pennsylvania Grand Jury report - 05/15/2018
Video of Bishop Raica's Homily from Mass for Pardon and Reconciliation - 03/18/2018
Statement Regarding Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka -07/20/2017
Statement Regarding Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka - 03/17/2017
Statement Regarding Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka - 02/21/2017
Charter Compliance and Diocesan Review Board
An annual audit is performed each year to review the compliance of the Diocese with the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Stonebridge Business Partners audits the compliance of all dioceses throughout the United States. Two auditors were here in late October for an on-site visit to examine the records of the compliance of the Diocese of Gaylord with the Charter. We have been advised that “based on the results of our recently performed on-site audit of the Diocese of Gaylord, the Diocese has been found compliant with all the articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in the 2019/2020 audit period. The conclusions reached as to the
compliance of your Diocese are based on inquiry, observations and the review of specifically requested documentation furnished to Stonebridge Business Partners during the course of this audit.” (See attached letter.) We are grateful to the parishes, their staff and membership for their cooperation and commitment in creating and maintaining a safe environment for children and our people.
Diocesan Review Board
I have recently appointed three new members to the Diocesan Review Board whose role is to assist the bishop in determining the credibility of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and other parish personnel brought forward in the Diocese. The Board also plays a role in reviewing the policies and practices of the Diocese and making recommendations to the bishop. The board is currently working on a
revision and update of our current policies. The newly appointed members of the Board are:
Michael Buell lives in Traverse City and is married to his wife, Mindy. They have three children. Mike has been the superintendent of the Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools (GTACS) since 1999. He also has served as part-time and interim superintendent for the Diocese of Gaylord office of Catholic Schools over a 3 year period in the past. Mike is currently working on his PhD through the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
Honorable Thomas J. LaCross
Tom has been married to Mary Ann since 1981, and they have three sons and twelve grandchildren. Tom is the Alpena County Probate Court judge and the 88th District Court judge for Alpena, graduating from Madonna College (now university), and Wayne State University Law School in 1984. Tom was the eastern regional director of Catholic Human Services, and on the Diocesan Pastoral Council for Bishop Patrick Cooney. He is a life-long member of St. Bernard Parish (now All Saints Parish) in Alpena.
Deacon Michael P. Roy
Michael is married to Diane and they have 3 children. They currently reside in Presque Isle. Deacon Roy is a former Alpena police officer and has taught criminal justice courses for 26 years. Michael and Diane owned and operated the Royal Knight Theater in Alpena. Michael was ordained a Deacon on October 17, 2020.
These new members join those who have been serving on the board for some time:
Born and raised Catholic, Betsy has been a member of the Diocese of Gaylord since birth. She attended Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools for 12 years and received all of her sacraments at St. Francis Catholic Church in Traverse City, Michigan. Betsy is an active member at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Traverse City. As a Registered Nurse, she deeply values health and wellness in a spiritual context and has practiced in the area of Maternal Child Nursing for 20 years. She and her husband Tom have five children, Olivia, Julia, Thomas, Andrew and Sophia.
Dave resides in Traverse City with his wife Helen. They have four grown children, of which two are married, and they have five grandchildren. He retired from Catholic Human Services in June of 2016 where he served as the CEO for 18 years as well as serving an additional 21 years as the regional administrator, program manager and caseworker. Dave and his wife both serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at St. Francis in Traverse City and he serves on the Pastoral Council. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Central Michigan University.
Rev. Joseph Muszkiewicz
Fr. Joe was ordained at 53 years of age. He attended Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. Prior to his ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Joe worked as a respiratory therapist for 16 years and 6 years in Polysomnography (sleep study) in Grand Rapids. He is the
father of three adult children. Fr. Joe is currently the Pastor of a cluster of churches as well as the Catholic school in Alpena, Michigan.
Mary is married, a mother of four grown children, and lives in Frankfort. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Work, Master of Arts in Early Childhood Development and a Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies. She is the Executive Director of Overlook Resources, Inc. Mary is an
experienced behavioral health therapist and private practice clinician. She is a former Sister of Saint Joseph of Nazareth, having taught at Catholic schools in both the Diocese of Lansing and the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Carl is married and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Bellaire, where he is the president of the ushers. He and his wife relocated from Troy, Michigan. They have three grown children. Carl holds a degree in economics and is currently employed as a real estate broker.
Kristy served as the K-12 School Counselor at St. Mary Cathedral School. She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Social Science from the University of Michigan, Flint and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Western Michigan University. She has completed post
Master’s studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, is a Certified Solution-Focused Counseling practitioner and a National Certified Counselor. Kristy is married to Nick and they have two children, Nick and Anna. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, running, yoga, kayaking and watching her kids play sports.
Kim is married and a mother of four. She is a member of St. Francis Parish in Traverse City. Kim is a Scheduling Manager for Hospitalist Medicine Physicians and has worked as Scheduling Consultant for Emergency Medicine Physicians for 10 years. She is trained as a cosmetologist and in the past, has donated several years as a Girl Scout leader. I am grateful for the willingness of these members who bring experience and competence to addressing these important matters.
Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service
March 17, 2020
Dear Brother Priests, Deacons, Pastoral Administrators, Religious and Faithful: In a world that is darkened by the pain of sin — particularly the devastating effects of sexual sin — we are reminded that, through our relationship with Jesus Christ, light can still break into the darkest valleys of our lives. This beautiful truth is expressed in Jesus’ calling to each of us in the Gospel of Matthew: “You are the light of the world,” or “Vos estis lux mundi.” Pope Francis has reminded us to respond to this call of Jesus, and to shine forth by remaining relentless in our rejection of sin, our accountability, and bringing healing and hope to those who are suffering. This week, the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter, Vos estis lux mundi (VELM), becomes operational and online. VELM establishes the Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting service “CBAR,” allowing any individual to relay to Church authorities abuse perpetrated by any U.S. Catholic bishop (or Eastern Rite eparch). As I have affirmed in the past, we share a collective mission to prevent all abuse and defend the dignity of the human person, to respond with compassion to victims when abuse occurs, and to ensure offenders are properly prosecuted. The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting service is a continued step to stamp out the evil of sexual sin. VELM strengthens the mission of the church to urge one to pursue holiness of life. In the opening lines of this Letter, Pope Francis noted: “Our Lord Jesus Christ calls every believer to be a shining example of virtue, integrity and holiness. All of us, in fact, are called to give concrete witness of faith in Christ in our lives and, in particular, in our relationship with others.” How true it is for Christians to be the people they say they are. This is even more true for a priest and a bishop. The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting service is another tool that allows victims to pursue a remedy within the Church, while underscoring the critical role that law enforcement authorities have in addressing the potential criminal aspects for the sake of the common good. All victims, and the accused, deserve our best effort in bringing justice, hope, and reconciliation, and I welcome this next step. It strengthens our mission as Christians and provides a practical vehicle for victims to address wrongs. Please see the attached resources for more information, and be encouraged: “Vos estis lux mundi.”
Most Reverend Steven J Raica Bishop of Gaylord
Click here for Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service Resources
Statement Regarding Recent Investigations View Archives
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.
Protecting God's Children | Diocese of Gaylord
Statement from the Diocese of Gaylord following Press Conference by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel
Today Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel held a press conference updating the status of three investigations: The Flint Water Crisis; MSU/Nassar; and Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church. Since the Attorney General’s investigation of clergy abuse was undertaken, Bishop Steven Raica has repeatedly welcomed the effort and pledged the full cooperation of the Diocese of Gaylord. “I remain steadfast and resolute in that commitment,” Bishop Raica reiterated today. “We were surprised by some of the statements made this morning,” said Candace Neff, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Gaylord. “We continue to cooperate and assist the Attorney General’s investigation in any way we can. We are very grateful for the assistance of the Attorney General in this process. The investigators we have worked with have been very professional, respectful and helpful,” Neff noted. “We look forward to the final report because we ultimately share the same goals – 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,” Neff said. Sixteen years ago the Diocese of Gaylord voluntarily reported all known allegations of sexual abuse of minors involving clergy of our diocese that had occurred since our establishment in 1971 to the appropriate prosecutor in each of our 21 counties. It then became, and remains, our protocol to report any allegations of sexual abuse of a minor involving clergy to civil authorities promptly, regardless of when the incident was alleged to have occurred or whether the accused is living or dead. The Diocese of Gaylord also reports allegations regarding sexual abuse involving adults. “We further encourage victims of abuse to report to law enforcement themselves,” Neff said. “We have not received a request by the Attorney General’s office to cease all internal review processes,” Neff said. “We hope to receive clarification on this request soon.” To report allegations of sexual abuse minor or others – even if it is in the distant past – the diocese strongly encourages individuals to contact local law enforcement, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services at 855.444.3911 (answered 24 hours a day) or the Michigan Department of Attorney General at 844.324.3374. If the allegation involves a member of the Catholic clergy or someone working for the church, individuals are invited to also contact the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010. Previous statements from Bishop Steven J. Raica and the Diocese of Gaylord, as well as additional information regarding the diocese’s child protection efforts can be found by clicking here.
Statement regarding Fr. Matthew Cowan
Diocese of Gaylord
Statement regarding Fr. Matthew Cowan
The Diocese of Gaylord has become aware of a group that describes itself as an activist group of Catholics which held a press conference today and circulated materials regarding a personnel issue involving two diocesan priests That group did not notify the Diocese about the press conference, nor did it send the Diocese the news release. In response to media inquiries, the Diocese of Gaylord released the following statement:
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. The allegations did NOT involve a minor. 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.
Following the independent investigation, the Diocesan Review Board (which is also 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 he thought supported his complaint. The investigation was reopened and that investigation is ongoing. The Review Board will meet to evaluate the additional information.
On January 7, 2019, Bishop Steven Raica placed Fr. Cowan on Administrative Leave and his permission for public ministry was withdrawn. Bishop Raica’s decision was NOT based on Fr. Cowan’s allegations. The bishop’s administrative decision involves what should be a private and confidential issue between a bishop and one of his priests. Bishop Raica makes any such decisions only after prayerful consideration of all of the information or concerns he may have (which may include both public and confidential information) in accordance with Church Law.
Fr. Cowan had been serving as Parochial Vicar for the parishes of St. Stephen in Lake City, St. Theresa in Manton, St. Ann in Cadillac and St. Edward in Harrietta.
Fr. Michael Janowski remains as Pastor of the four parishes. Bishop Raica has appointed Msgr. Frank Murphy, a senior priest of the diocese (former Pastor to all four parishes there and previous Vicar General of the Diocese of Gaylord) to assist Fr. Janowski in providing pastoral and sacramental care. Msgr. Murphy is well known in the community having served there for many years prior to his retirement in 2017.
Fr. Dennis Stilwell is currently Pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Petoskey. The diocese does not intend to make any further comment about this matter at this time.
Bishop Raica and the Diocese of Gaylord remain committed to continuing our efforts to prevent sexual abuse of any person 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 and information about how to make a report, visit www.dioceseofgaylord.org/protecting-gods-children
A note to the Faithful from Bishop Raica
Diocese of Gaylord
To the people of the Diocese of Gaylord,
As we embark on a New Year 2019, I wish you my very best wishes for a peaceful New Year!
As some of you may know, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has asked the Bishops of the United States to be on a common retreat together as we reflect on the next steps that need to be taken with regard to the sexual abuse crisis.
Therefore, I will be on retreat at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago from January 2 – 8, 2019. The retreat master will be Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, the Papal Preacher. He is a dynamic and incisive speaker. I am taking advantage of this moment to examine my own heart and spiritual life during this grace-filled moment. He will address us based on the writing from the Gospel of Mark 3:14: The Mission of the Apostles and Their Successors: “He Appointed the Twelve, to be with Him and to Send out to Preach.”
May this moment with the Lord inspire us bishops to be with the Lord always and to become fearless preachers of the Gospel of Christ!
Please know that I will be remembering each parish and institution in the Diocese of Gaylord along with the priests, deacons, religious and pastoral administrators. May I ask you to pray for me during this time.
With every best wish, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Steven J. Raica
Most Reverend Steven J. Raica
Bishop of Gaylord
Diocese of Gaylord's List of Clergy Credibly Accused of Abuse
Diocese of Gaylord
In 2002, the Diocese of Gaylord completed a review of all of our priests’ files dating back to the establishment of the diocese in 1971. The results of that effort were then reported to the prosecutors in each of our 21 counties. At that time, we pledged to report any future allegations of sexual abuse of a minor involving clergy of our diocese to them, regardless of when the incident was alleged to have occurred, or whether the accused was living or dead. This has been, and will remain, our practice.
Over the past 16 years, we have worked diligently to learn from the past, to compassionately assist victims on a path to healing, and to do all we can to prevent any child from being abused in the future. The Diocese of Gaylord has fully implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and Essential Norms established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and updated in 2005 and again in 2018. The Charter and Norms contain a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy along with preventive measures designed to help keep minors safe from harm. Among them are mandatory background checks for employees and volunteers who work with minors as well as training for adults and children to help identify warning signs, maintain appropriate boundaries and what to do should abuse be suspected. Also included are guidelines for reconciliation and healing for victim-survivors and for accountability. An independent annual audit is completed each year which specifically evaluates the diocese’s compliance with the Charter and Norms. The Diocese of Gaylord has been found in compliance every year since the Charter was established in 2002.
Though we have publicly released information regarding allegations of sexual abuse of minors involving clergy of our diocese previously, we understand that it may be helpful to the healing process for victim-survivors, and to our continued efforts for increased transparency, to publish and maintain a list of those clergy who are known to have had credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor made against them in the Diocese of Gaylord.
For purposes of this list, a “credible and substantiated allegation” against a priest or deacon who has served in the Diocese of Gaylord is an accusation that, after an investigation and review of available information, appears more likely true than not and has been accepted as credible by the bishop. The most recent credible incident of sexual abuse of a minor involving clergy in the Diocese of Gaylord is alleged to have occurred three decades ago.
The list is below. Under each name is the individual’s current clerical status. This list will be updated if additional information comes forward or if there are future determinations of credible allegations.
Diocese of Gaylord ordained or incardinated priests against whom credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor in the diocese have been made:
Permanently removed from public ministry 2002
Permanently removed from public ministry 2002
Removed from ministry 1986
Permanently removed from public ministry 2002
Removed from ministry 1981
Permanently removed from public ministry 2006
Left priesthood 1985
Robert Gordon Smith
Priests from Religious Orders against whom credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been made while they served in the Diocese of Gaylord:
Laurus Rhode, OFM
Removed from diocese and returned to Religious Order 1993
Leo Olschaysken, O. Praem
Removed from diocese and returned to Religious Order 1974
The Diocese of Gaylord is committed to continuing our efforts to work in partnership with local agencies to prevent any child from being abused or neglected and to bring about healing where abuse has occurred.
To report allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy -- even if it is in the past -- individuals are encouraged to contact the Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010. The Diocese of Gaylord also strongly encourages anyone who has reason to suspect a child is being abused or neglected in any way by any person to report the matter to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services at 855.444.3911. That phone line is answered 24 hours a day.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office has also set up special phone line for people to share information that may be of help in their investigation. That number is 844.324.3374.
*Correction Notice: A clerical error has been addressed in this press release, adjusting the incorrect year of "1990" with the correct year of "1980." This correction was made on October 28, 2020, by Mackenzie Ritchie, Director of Communications.
Statement regarding search warrant from the Attorney General's office executed at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Gaylord
Diocese of Gaylord
Officers from the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office arrived at our Pastoral Center at approximately 9:00 this morning to execute a search warrant relating to the Michigan Department of Attorney General’s investigation of past sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church.
Sixteen years ago the Diocese of Gaylord voluntarily reported all known allegations of sexual abuse of minors involving clergy of our diocese that had occurred since our establishment in 1971 to the appropriate prosecutor in each of our 21 counties. It then became, and remains, our protocol to report any allegations of sexual abuse of a minor involving clergy to civil authorities promptly, regardless of when the incident was alleged to have occurred or whether the accused is living or dead.
Over the years, we have strived to implement and improve our policies and procedures to best protect children and to compassionately respond to victim survivors. We remain committed to work with any agency or organization that shares our desire to do all we can to ensure no child is abused or neglected in the future and to help bring about healing for those who have been harmed in the past. We look forward to the final report of the Attorney General and are open to learning if there are additional measures we should adopt in our diocese for the protection of children or as to how we respond if an allegation surfaces. It is our deep hope that this investigation will also help in the healing process for victim survivors.
Previous statements from Bishop Steven J. Raica and additional information regarding the Diocese of Gaylord’s child protection efforts can be found at www.dioceseofgaylord.org. To report allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy -- even if it is in the past -- individuals are encouraged to contact the Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010. The Diocese of Gaylord also strongly encourages anyone who has reason to suspect a child is being abused or neglected in any way by any person to report the matter to the Michigan Department of Human Services at 855.444.3911. That phone line is answered 24 hours a day.
The Attorney General’s office has also set up special phone line for people to share information that may be of help in their investigation. That number is 844.324.3374.
The Diocese of Gaylord was established by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on July 20, 1971. The territory encompasses 11,171 square miles and includes the 21 most northern counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The region is home to more than 505,000 residents, of which more than 50,000 are Catholic, and is served by 75 parishes, 17 Catholic schools and several closely-related institutions.
Statement regarding Attorney General's Investigation
Diocese of Gaylord
Statement by Bishop Steven J. Raica
Regarding the Announcement of an investigation
by Michigan's Attorney General
The Michigan Department of Attorney General announced this morning that it has opened an investigation related to the sexual abuse of children by priests to include all seven dioceses of the Catholic Church in Michigan, including the Diocese of Gaylord.
In 2002, the Diocese of Gaylord completed a review of all of our priest’s files dating back to the establishment of the diocese in 1971. The results of that effort were then reported to the prosecutors in each of our 21 counties. We pledged then to report any future allegations of sexual abuse of a minor involving clergy of our diocese to them, regardless of when the incident was alleged to have occurred. This has been, and will remain, our practice.
Since the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report over a month ago, we have been preparing for a thorough external audit-review of all of our clergy files. This was to be conducted by independent, highly qualified individuals to determine if there is anything more we should know about and respond to. Once the study was complete, I intended to publish on our website a complete list of names of clergy who had credible and substantiated allegations of abuse of minors against them. I had reviewed this plan with the priests of the diocese, our independent Review Board, and our Diocesan Pastoral Council. All of their responses were favorable and encouraging.
Over the past 16 years, we have worked diligently to learn from the mistakes of the past, to compassionately assist victims on a path to healing, and to do all we can to prevent any child from being abused in the future. I welcome this step by the Attorney General and pledge my full cooperation and that of the Diocese of Gaylord. We look forward to sharing what we have already put into place and to receiving any other suggestions for improvement from the Attorney General.
It is my hope that this investigation will be a further step forward in the healing process for victim-survivors across our state. I also believe the final report will help us in our endeavor to be transparent about our past and resolute in our measures to ensure our churches, schools and institutions are safe environments so that the mission of Christ in His Church can shine forth.
Homily of Bishop Steven J Raica - September 2, 2018
Diocese of Gaylord
My brothers and sisters in Christ:
This weekend, we return to our journey in Mark’s Gospel and pick up where we left off with a very pointed lesson from our Lord. Underneath the surface and behind the façade of our coming to Church, what precisely is our motivation? Why are we here week after week?
We can easily notice the external acts and rituals. This can be a cause of criticism of any person who says they are a Catholic. We guard against equating religion with performing merely external acts and rituals as though there is something superstitious or magical. Religion is something more than going to church, saying prayers, abstaining from meat on Fridays, following the commandments. These things do not guarantee eternal life.
What counts is not what we do – but the love in our hearts that motivates us to do what we do.
In that sense – there is something that comes before, to see what it is we are doing and the reason why. The awakening that happens is one that opens us to what is truly before us.
Our readings point the way and light the path for our understanding of this great gift.
A key word in the first reading from Deuteronomy is the word “Hear”. “Hear” in the sense of open your hearts and minds to the Lord’s teaching “that you may live.” Our humanity cries out for life and wants to live – and that observing these teachings indicates a certain wisdom and intelligence.
In other words, we cannot attribute to ourselves or our human genius that which belongs to God. Some today want to build a world in which only human genius is acknowledged. Acknowledging the role and place of God is something that does not take away anything from our humanity but enlarges it. I think of a compelling image that I saw in visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York a few years ago … just outside the Cathedral across Fifth Avenue are the soaring towers of Rockefeller Center, a tribute to human genius and effort. In the plaza across St Patrick’s visitors are greeting by an enormous statue of Atlas, the Greek god of endurance. He is crouched over revealing all of his muscles as he supports the weight of planet earth with all of his strength. Then inside St Patrick’s back near Our Lady’s chapel is a statue of Mary holding the child Jesus, her Son … and there the child Jesus has the globe of the earth in one hand supporting it effortlessly. It is as if to say: He has the whole world in His hands!
The second reading speaks of the welcome that is necessary for the word that has been planted in each one of us to save our souls. It is a word that is dynamic – “Be doers of the word and not hearers only …” The works of charity that we do because of Christ will give witness to the fact that the Word is within us.
The Gospel illustrates the challenge that Jesus faced when he noticed that more attention was given to external rituals and practices rather than the very heart and soul of why we do what we do. Like a veneer, it looks nice but in reality it is shallow and lacking in depth and value.
We find ourselves today here at this Eucharist – here as Catholics – and one of our great challenges is to keep asking ourselves – why do we do what we do? What is at the very heart of why I am here today? Admittedly, there sure is a lot pulling at us Catholic Christians these days. We didn’t go looking for it! We ask ourselves, and I am among you, that given all we hear and read about on an almost daily basis about the misdeeds and failures of clergy at every level, and I sometimes ask myself – what am I doing here? I want to run away! Every emotion imaginable comes out. Then, I hear the Lord in my prayer saying – to whom do you belong? It was the answer Peter gave last week – “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words that give life!” Where am I going to find the support that sustains me as a Christian in my daily walk to live a life that is full and complete? There are landmines, distractions, anguish and despair over those whose lives are less than exemplary and whose sin defiles the Body of Christ. It is that which tries to pull me away and create doubts.
It is precisely at times like this historically where great and towering saints are raised up. It gives me a certainty that I long for. Yes, every saint has a past – and every sinner a future – drawn into that everlasting relationship with the Lord. While so many are screaming “Look at the evil – the bad things that your disciples do” – we say “Look at the good, the holy, the true and just things that disciples have done”, “Look at Christ”, “Look – here’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s where it all began at the beginning of John’s Gospel to Andrew and John, and they followed Christ in a way that would begin to be a place of hope in the time of despair, a place of love in the time of hate, a place of life when all seemed lost. To whom do I belong?
For me – as painful as this moment is, and I am joining in the call of prayer and abstaining, I remain with Christ. Because I have met Christ!
Oscar Wilde the writer, who reportedly lived a rather ambiguous life and became Catholic at the end, had this line that has touched me as I think of all that we must do going forward: “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”
So many broken hearts, denials and betrayals through history. The brokenness we have is the portal through which the light of Christ can shine and raise us up to a new hope. It just takes a crack, a wound for the light to come in. In that brokenness, we look for something to repair it. Everything we do humanly can help, but at the end of the day it will be insufficient. It takes something well beyond our power to bring about a new hope. Jesus said that some evil is only cast out through prayer and fasting. It will be when we encounter Christ again – meet the One who can lift us up and restore us and give us the strength – not to keep looking back at sin and grave errors, but forward in hope to the wonder of what Christ can do with our brokenness through His loving gaze.
So, for all the angst and anger at the betrayals of vocations and sleepless nights I have been having these days, this is a consolation for me that the Body of Christ – the Church – which has been the ongoing presence of Christ for over 2,000 years – and which continues to proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ over evil and sin – still provides the best chance for me to live in hope and become a saint.
What will it take? I remember helping out with a retreat for collegians some years ago downstate. I recall a coed who approached me and said, “Monsignor, I want to become a saint!” She wasn’t looking back at other’s misdeeds. She wasn’t caught up in the rhetoric for or against religion or church. She merely stated, without provocation, what was her heart’s desire. That just blew me away – because, up to that point, no one had ever said that to me. Most of us try to do what we think is good – or like we often do in class, we say: “what’s the least I can do to get by?” Walking down the path of holiness is a walk down the path in which I become truly myself – genuinely human as the Lord made me – and fulfilling the dream that God has for me. God doesn’t say, “What’s the least I can do for you?” He showed us the depth of his love. I am called to that as well.
What happens is that others meet a humanity that is something more and say, “I don’t know what it is – but you have something that I want”.
It is not merely the externals of what we do – but the very heart of who we are that begins to change me and those around me. If you want to change the course of history, human hearts have to be transformed.
When we hear the words of our readings summoning us to “Hear” God’s Word so that we may live; or be “doers” of the world and not “hearers” only – that somehow living our lives is in obedience to what we have experienced – or not do things without a reason – keeping our hearts closed to the very heart of Christ; I am prompted to ask myself – what is it I truly give my life for? What is it that I hold most dear?
Just before her death, St Joan of Arc wrote, “I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it and then it’s gone. But to surrender what you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying – even more terrible than dying young.”
To walk with you during these unsettling times and receiving your words and prayers of encouragement gives me great hope. In the end, Christ will be victorious, great saints will be raised up, the church of Christ will witness to all that is true and good and just. And the kingdom of God will take root as a beacon of hope to the world. He has the whole world – in his hands!
Letter from Bishop Raica regarding Pennsylvania Grand Jury report
Diocese of Gaylord
Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady
To the priests, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Gaylord,
Like many of you, I have been in a state of shock and dismay over the recent reports of abuse perpetrated by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Similarly, the report of the Grand Jury in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, released on August 14, 2018, has revealed the sordid details of 300 priests over the past 70 years who had sexually abused the young and the vulnerable. I don’t know how many priests (religious, diocesan, extern) there were in the six dioceses over the 70 years or how many Catholic faithful there were during that period of time, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. Even one abuse is one too many. It is a betrayal of our vocation and discipleship with Christ. Indeed, it is a betrayal of the office of priesthood. Despite the valiant efforts made in promoting safe environments in our dioceses and institutions since 2002, these revelations shake us to the core that more must be done. What is becoming clear to me with the passing of each year is that no one in leadership or ministry in our church is excluded from the obligations we have freely accepted – especially those with special or honorific titles.
Over the past decade, I have had a number of occasions to listen personally to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy recount their abuse by a priest. Each time, I returned home to weep at the hurt that occurred. I would beg the Lord to find a way forward that encompasses sorrow, contrition, and a pathway to begin the healing process and repair wounded faith. I prayed that they would not lose their faith in Christ, even though their trust in Church leadership had been wounded – even mortally wounded at times. At the same time, the survivors have taught me so much about their hopes and dreams as believers, and how those dreams can be dashed when clerics abuse their power by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in parishioners. The survivors are sons and daughters of God who deserve our understanding and accompaniment on their faith journey and a path forward toward healing.
I keep asking myself: “What more can we do as bishops?” At the same time, I must ask myself: “What more can I do here in the Diocese of Gaylord to ensure that our clergy are faithful witnesses of the Good News of Jesus Christ and provide appropriate safeguards to prevent occurrences like we have had in the past?” I am also mindful of the deep pain and hurt of survivors and their need to seek a pathway forward for personal healing which includes a desire and expectation that the offenders be removed from ministry. Pope St John Paul II said it well to the Cardinals in April, 2002: “There is no place in ministry in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” We must all live up to that reality if we expect a restored trust in our Church and an end to such grievous harm to our children.
While creating a safe environment for our young takes more time than I would like, nothing should be off the table. Here is a list of what has been done here in our Diocese since my arrival here four years ago:
- All priests, deacons, lay ministers, and volunteers working with minors were required to repeat safe environment training using “Virtus” – the common program of raising awareness of abuse.
- All clergy and seminarians, as well as employees and volunteers working with minors and vulnerable adults, undergo background checks completed by law enforcement agencies. Clergy fingerprint background checks were repeated last year.
- A letter was sent to the prosecutors of our 21 counties to reiterate our commitment that the Diocese of Gaylord would notify them of any letter or allegations of sexual abuse involving minors, regardless of when it occurred or whether or not it is a credible allegation or whether the alleged perpetrator is living or deceased. (Nearly 15 years ago the Diocese of Gaylord initially contacted the prosecutors informing them of any allegations which had been received in the Diocese of Gaylord since its establishment. It has been the diocese’s practice to report any and all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor to civil authorities since that time.)
- We will also forward any allegations involving sexual abuse of adults to the authorities regardless of when it occurred or whether or not it is a credible allegation.
- A Mass of Pardon and Reconciliation was celebrated last March in which I publicly apologized for the hurts and wounds that have been perpetrated by bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders.
- We participate in the annual audit of our adherence to the norms found in the Charter and Essential Norms for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse involving minors. We have been found compliant every year since the audits began in 2003.
- I have spoken to the priests about creating and maintaining safe environments in the parishes and institutions at our annual convocations or other meetings. Other law enforcement officers and speakers have presented at many priest and employee conferences throughout the diocese.
- Faith Magazine arrived at every Catholic home with information on the procedure for victims to follow to come forward with an allegation against a priest, deacon or employee in the Church. This information is published in the magazine annually.
- Victim Assistance has been transferred out of the Diocesan Pastoral Center to Catholic Human Services where trained personnel can coordinate and assist a victim in making a complaint to the local authorities and Diocese, and walk with the person in their initial steps toward counseling and healing.
- Diocesan personnel have worked with the Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan Legislature to strengthen laws to protect children in our state.
Each of these efforts is a small part of a comprehensive plan. Regrettably, they cannot totally prevent abuse from occurring. That is why we must not let down our guard. We must remain vigilant. For that, I ask everyone’s help in making and keeping our parishes, our schools, our institutions safe for our young and safe for all. At the same time, I ask our priests and deacons to be faithful to their calling; speak regularly with spiritual directors / confessors; and to seek help when necessary. I beg our priests, deacons, personnel and volunteers not to become complacent in their own lives. I ask you to dedicate a holy hour weekly to those who are victims and survivors of abuse. During that time, I urge you to lift up survivors to the Lord and pray for the grace to be priestly witnesses after the heart of Christ.
For the faithful – I beg you: Sustain us with your prayers. Call us out when our behaviors or words do not correspond with the heart of Christ; and if you see suspicious activities by priests, religious, lay leaders or volunteers - report them to the competent law enforcement authorities.
Finally, while I was living in Rome back around 2005, I remember meeting a group of journalists one evening for an “off the record” social event. Several of them approached me privately saying: “Monsignor, we need you (priests) to be the people you say you are!” I always remembered that. Our humanity must be mature to know the appropriate boundaries and limits of our relationships. We must be shepherds who protect and guard those entrusted to our care. Our task is to grow in the love of Christ and His Church by truly becoming missionary disciples who witness that love in ever new and attractive ways.
I pray that you will partner with me to help rid the church of this scourge once and for all. It has the Evil One at the base to divide the Body of Christ and sow seeds of doubt and despair. I am asking our priests, religious and staff to double down on their efforts to secure and maintain a safe environment for all as we go forward in faith.
With gratitude for your attention and with assurance of my prayers that we can go forward with the mission of Christ, and invoking the embrace of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, the patroness of our diocese, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Steven J Raica
Bishop of Gaylord
Video Bishop Raica's Homily from Mass for Pardon and Reconciliation
Diocese of Gaylord
Pope Francis, at the suggestion of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors asked the dioceses throughout the world to celebrate a Mass for those affected by clergy sexual abuse.Bishop Steven J. Raica celebrated a Mass for Pardon and Reconciliation on Sunday, March 18, 2018 at St. Mary Cathedral in Gaylord. In his invitation to the people of the Diocese of Gaylord, Bishop Raica said, "It is my desire that we gather as God’s people to acknowledge and pray for the suffering and pain caused by abuses. We also pray for all who have been hurt in other ways by the Church, remembering that we are all in need of Jesus’ healing love. This is a Mass for healing, for acknowledging our sins during the Lenten season of repentance and asking for God’s grace to move us forward as the Body in Christ as we seek to deepen our commitment to discipleship and go forth in love and service to one another."
Here is a video of Bishop Raica's homily from that Mass and the text of the homily may be downloaded using the link.
Statement Regarding Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka
Diocese of Gaylord
Today’s verdict in the matter of the People of the State of Michigan vs. Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka brings to a conclusion the criminal case in the civil courts. Rev. Obwaka was found not guilty of both charges against him by a jury in the 53rd Circuit Court in Rogers City in accordance with our system of justice. We are grateful to civil authorities for their professionalism and dedication in carrying out that process.
When the allegations first came forward, the protocols for dealing with such matters within the Church were initiated and subsequently suspended while the case moved through the civil court. That process will now be resumed in an effort to address any ecclesial issues which may exist. Rev. Obwaka, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, will remain on administrative leave from his priestly assignments while that process continues.
For the immediate future, Rev. Joseph Muszkiewicz will continue as temporary administrator for St. Ignatius parish and, in collaboration with parish staff and leadership, will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish. Rev. James Fitzpatrick will continue serving as Sacramental Minister.
“These past months have been extremely painful and difficult for everyone involved,” said Candace Neff, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Gaylord. “While today’s verdict begins the path toward closure, healing will take time, patience and grace. The diocese will be doing all we can to help facilitate that.”
“This has indeed been a very sad time in our history,” said Bishop Steven J. Raica. “Yet, even in times of tribulation, we know we do not walk alone. Christ walks with us. I am so thankful for the expressions of support and for the many prayers that have been offered for our priests, parishes and the diocese during this time. I ask for continued prayers for everyone involved as we move forward and, together, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”
The Diocese of Gaylord has protocols in place to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct and encourages anyone who has been a victim of abuse by clergy or church leader, recently or even if it is in the distant past, to report the matter to civil authorities or to the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010.
Statement Regarding Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka March, 17, 2017
Diocese of Gaylord
On March 14, a preliminary examination took place in the 89th District Court in Presque Isle County regarding the case against Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka, who had been serving as Pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Rogers City, Michigan. During that proceeding, the alleged victim was identified as also a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord. Local civil authorities are conducting the investigation and the diocese is continuing to cooperate with them.
“These days have been incredibly difficult,” said Candace Neff, Director of Communications for the 21-county diocese. “We are continuing to do our best to provide care to everyone affected while the civil process moves forward.”
The Diocese of Gaylord has long been steadfastly committed to encouraging and supporting the right of anyone who may be a victim of a crime -- regardless of who they are or their vocation – to report the matter to civil authorities in order for it to be investigated and adjudicated in that arena. We maintain this position regardless of who the alleged perpetrator might be. It takes incredible courage for alleged victims in these kinds of matters to come forward and we will stand with them as they exercise that right.
At the same time, it is very important to remember that in our system of justice, anyone who is accused of a crime -- regardless of who they are or their vocation – is to be presumed innocent unless or until found guilty. We remain committed to that prerequisite of our society as well.
In all situations, it is critical to respect the rights and dignity of both the accuser and accused, as well as everyone else who is affected.
“This has been one of the most heartbreaking situations I have ever had to deal with,” stated Diocese of Gaylord Bishop Steven J. Raica. “There is a great deal of pain and confusion among people. I am very grateful for the assistance we have received from many sources as we strive to address the challenges presented as best we can.
“We are navigating rough waters right now,” the bishop noted. “But we also know that Jesus is in the boat with us and ultimately he will calm the seas. As Catholic Christians, we believe there is more than this moment of turmoil, this suffering. We remain unwavering in our faith with our faces turned toward Christ, knowing that we are walking toward the Resurrection,” Bishop Raica added. “We sincerely appreciate all those who are lifting their prayers with ours during this most difficult time.”
The Diocese of Gaylord encourages anyone who has been a victim of abuse by clergy or church leader, recently or even if it is in the distance past, to report the matter to civil authorities or to the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010.
Statement Regarding Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka 2/21/2017
Diocese of Gaylord
This morning Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka, former Pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Rogers City, Michigan, was arraigned on charges of criminal sexual conduct. This matter does not involve a minor, but is an issue between two individual adults and not against the Diocese of Gaylord. Local civil authorities are conducting the investigation and the diocese has pledged its full cooperation.
Following Rev. Obwaka's arrest on Saturday, Bishop Steven J. Raica placed him on an administrative leave pending resolution of the case. During this time, Rev. Obwaka is also prohibited from exercising any public ministry.
Rev. Obwaka, 44, is a native of Kenya and is a permanent legal resident of the United States. He was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Gaylord in 2004 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2010. Following his ordination he was assigned as Parochial Vicar to the Catholic Community of Manistee (now known as Divine Mercy parish), and in 2013 was appointed Pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Rogers City.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this situation,” stated Candace Neff, diocesan Director of Communications. “There is a great deal of hurt and confusion right now. We are focused on providing pastoral support to all those affected and are working closely with St. Ignatius parishioners as they continue their ministries both within their parish and in the wider community,” she said.
To that end, Bishop Raica and a team from the Diocese of Gaylord met with parish leadership and parishioners on Sunday to pray with them, share information and to listen to concerns in order to begin to chart a path forward. At that time the bishop announced he had appointed Rev. Joseph Muszkiewicz, who also serves as Pastor to All Saints Parish in Alpena and Vicar for the region, as temporary administrator for St. Ignatius parish. Rev. Muszkiewicz, in collaboration with parish staff and leadership, will oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish for the immediate future.
“I am heartbroken over the events that have unfolded in recent days,” Bishop Raica said. “Our faith calls us to ensure the dignity of each human person is upheld in every circumstance. We must respond with compassion when anyone is harmed. We must also remember that in our system of justice, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he noted. “It is very early in this process and while the matter is in the civil courts we will need to wait patiently for the outcome.”
“These are difficult days,” Bishop Raica concluded. “In these moments, we must turn to Christ who always walks with us and accompanies us in our pain. I ask for your prayers for all those affected by this situation.”
In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation and to protect the rights of everyone involved, neither the Diocese of Gaylord nor leadership of St. Ignatius Parish will be making any further comments regarding this case at this time.
The Diocese of Gaylord has policies in place to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct and encourages anyone who has been a victim of abuse by clergy or church leader, recently or even if it is in the distance past, to report the matter to civil authorities or to the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010.
The Diocese of Gaylord encompasses the 21 most northern counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Within its territory are 75 parishes and 18 Catholic schools.