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Lansing Diocese: Accusations that ex-bishop sexually abused two boys are 'credible'

James Sullivan
Posted at 11:15 AM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 22:28:55-04

LANSING, Mich. — The Diocese of Lansing has determined that two allegations of sexual abuse against former Bishop James Sullivan are credible.

Both victims were boys who were "subject to sexual grooming and inappropriate contact by Sullivan" in the mid-1960s when Sullivan was living at the Church of the Resurrection Parish in Lansing, according to a statement released by the diocese on Friday.

James Sullivan
Bishop James Sullivan

Sullivan, who died in 2006, was auxiliary bishop of the diocese from 1972 to 1985 before becoming Bishop of Fargo in North Dakota from 1985 to 2002.

“Bishop Sullivan’s actions were gravely immoral, deeply scandalous and betrayed both the trust of the Catholic community within the Diocese of Lansing and, more significantly, the faith placed in him by the victims and their families to whom we say: 'This should not have happened to you and we are profoundly sorry that it ever did,’" said David Kerr, spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing.

The Diocese launched an investigation in July 2020 after receiving an allegation of abuse against Sullivan from the Michigan Department of Attorney General. A second allegation against Sullivan emerged during the course of that investigation.

The first victim was about 12 years old in 1964 when then Sullivan "subjected him to inappropriate touching and uninvited sexualized conversations," the diocese said, a pattern of behavior that continued over the next two years.

The second victim was 11 to 12 years old in 1966 when Sullivan "inappropriately touched him." All incidents occurred at the where Bishop Sullivan resided at the time.

“We are grateful to Bishop Sullivan’s victims for coming forward and sharing their stories," said William Bloomfield, general counsel of the diocese, in a statement. They have displayed great courage and dignity throughout the entire process. they have our gratitude, admiration, and prayers.”

A Lansing man named Bill Kinney also said Sullivan sexually abused him in 1966 and also accused one of his teachers at a Catholic high school in Lansing of abuse. In the mid-1990s, the diocese agreed to pay $10,000 toward psychiatric treatment for Kinney, according to a 2002 report from the Lansing State Journal.

Okemos psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg wrote in a 1995 evaluation that Kinney "was severely abused and damaged by agents of the Catholic Church," according to the Journal's report.

Ochberg declined to comment on his case specifically. But, he did give his expert opinion on the link between sex abuse and post-traumatic stress.

Okemos psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg

“The PTS injury is more complex and it’s more long-lasting if it’s delivered repeatedly or if it’s been delivered during the time we’re forming our personality when we’re young. Or, if it’s been delivered by an agent of the state or an agent of a religious denomination,” Ochberg said.

According to a Texas A&M study from 2019, about 30 percent of sexual abuse cases cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Diocese of Lansing General Counsel William Bloomfield says if more evidence comes to light in Kinney's case they will re-assess.

Diocese of Lansing General Counsel William Bloomfield says if more evidence comes to light in Kinney's case they will re-assess.

“I can’t reveal anything with ongoing investigations," Bloomfield said. "This one we obviously revealed and anything involving Bishop Sullivan. If there’s any more allegations that come in we will follow up and find further information, share it with the review board and there could be further decisions made.”

Even though Sullivan cannot be prosecuted he will be added to the list of clergy accused of sexual abuse against minors.

Even though Sullivan cannot be prosecuted he will be added to the list of clergy accused of sexual abuse against minors.

"That's really the last thing we can do," Bloomfield said.

Information released by the Diocese of Lansing in 2019 showed 17 priests had credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor since its establishment in 1937 which amounts to nearly three percent of all clergy who have served there.

Information released by the Diocese of Lansing in 2019 showed 17 priests had credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor since its establishment in 1937 which amounts to nearly three percent of all clergy who have served there.

“Any time a priest is accused of this it’s a great betrayal against the people he was supposed to protect. And in this instance, 12-year-old boys. No, it’s a terrible crime and it’s outrageous and it’s a scandal to the faithful. This is the opposite of what a priest should be let alone a priest who would later go on to be a bishop," Bloomfield said.

Between 1950 and 2002, the diocese paid $473,533 to sexual abuse victims and their families, according to a 2004 statement from then-Bishop Carl F. Mengeling.

According to the Diocese of Lansing, all priests credibly accused are either dead or no longer in active ministry. The alleged victims include 66 boys, four girls and three others whose sex was not reported.

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Erica Murphy

Erica Murphy

1:21 PM, Mar 03, 2021

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Erica Murphy

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