Michigan Finally Launches Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Investigation In States’ Catholic Dioceses

Clergy abuse peaked in the late 1970’s. Since then, incidents appear to have dropped, particularly after reforms were undertaken to quickly identify and remove credibly accused abusers from the church. However, victims of past abuse continue to come forward, year after year. It is long past time that the abusers and those that engage in covering up their despicable acts start being held accountable.

On October 5, the Dioceses of Lansing announced that it officially removed Rev. Robert Gerl from public ministry due to a credible allegation of sexual assault of an adult male which occurred decades ago. Gerl served in the state from 1986 to 2009. The action regarding Fr. Gerl comes about a month after another Michigan priest was placed on leave after a sexual harassment complaint was filed against him, and in the midst of a statewide investigation by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office (AG).

The investigation makes Michigan the latest state to launch an official inquiry into Catholic dioceses’ handling of sexual abuse, following the grand jury report in Pennsylvania that uncovered claims against more than 300 priests dating back over 70 years in six dioceses in that state. However, this investigation is long overdue. It is sad that it took a run for governor to get our sitting AG to open this investigation. This is not a surprise because this AG is famous for putting politics and business interests ahead of people. Still, if the AG’s office is serious about dealing with the issue and the investigation continues under the new AG, I will welcome it with open arms. Hopefully, hundreds of victims previously shut out of the civil justice process will finally get the justice they deserve.

Long before Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning movie, I faced the most challenging case of my legal career, a Catholic priest child molestation case from the 1970s. At the time, there was almost no publicity and these cases were vastly under-reported in the media. Significant roadblocks were thrown in front of our pursuit of justice by local and national dioceses and by attorneys retained to defend the predator priest and the Church. I was forced to travel to several states uncovering witnesses, abuse victims, and a tangled web of abuse and cover-up. I fought a vast conspiracy of silence within a Church organization and hierarchy intent upon depriving seriously abused children of basic rights to compensation and treatment.

The case was ultimately resolved, publicly, without any confidentiality agreement. However, the experience stayed with me, ultimately leading me to write about the effects such a conspiracy has on those who dare to challenge a strong organization like the Catholic Church. The result is my first novel, Betrayal of Faith. A Readers’ Favorite award winner, Betrayal of Faith has proven itself a must-read novel for attorneys and non-attorneys alike. For those who enjoy a good legal thriller, it provides the twist, turns, and insights not found in most legal stories. Click here to read more.

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