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Former Benton Harbor priest charged with rape

The state of Michigan announced charges against five priests for criminal sexual conduct in their ongoing clergy abuse investigation. One of the men was a priest in Benton Harbor.

Jacob Vellian, 84, has been charged with two counts of rape.

The allegations involve Vellian when he was a priest at St. John the Evangelist Parish, Benton Harbor. The first victim told police in 1973 when she was 15-years-old Vellian's conduct towards her escalated from compliments and gifts to fondling, according to reports.

The victim told police Vellian touched her intimately and said he was "Trying to fill [her] with the Holy Spirit."

The probable cause affidavit says the victim reported the abuse in 2002 to the Diocese of Kalamazoo. She said, "a priest from India [who while] staying and working at St. John's, who was a missionary priest," sexually abused her in 1973.

Reports say the victim also reported the abuse to a deacon at the church and the Benton Harbor Police Department in 2010.

The Diocese of Kalamazoo conducted a review of the matter in 2010 and found the victim's report credible, reports said.

The state plans to extradite Vellian from his home in Kerala, India.

The news conference was held Friday morning in Lansing.

The other four men have been taken into custody:

Timothy Michael Crowley, 69, Lansing Diocese, was charged in Washtenaw County with four felony counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) 1, a maximum sentence of life in prison and a lifetime of electronic monitoring, and four felony counts of CSC 2 – a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Crowley, who was a priest in various parishes, including St. Thomas Rectory in Ann Arbor, was arrested Thursday in Tempe, Arizona.

Neil Kalina, 63, Archdiocese of Detroit, was charged in Macomb County with one felony count of CSC 4, a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a lifetime of electronic monitoring. Kalina, who was a priest at St. Kiernan Catholic Church in Shelby Township, was arrested Thursday in Littlerock, California.

Vincent DeLorenzo, 80, Lansing Diocese, was charged in Genesee County with three felony counts of CSC 1, a maximum sentence of life in prison and a lifetime of electronic monitoring, and three felony counts of CSC 2, a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. DeLorenzo, who was a priest at Holy Redeemer Church in Burton, was arrested Thursday in Marion County, Florida.

Patrick Casey, 55, Archdiocese of Detroit, was charged in Wayne County with one felony count of CSC 3, a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Casey, who was a priest at St. Theodore of Canterbury Parish in Westland, was arrested Thursday in Oak Park, Michigan.

A sixth priest, Lawrence Ventline, is facing an administrative complaint and his license as a counselor has been suspended by the state.

“In the last 30 hours, more than a dozen members of our investigative team have been in courtrooms in Washtenaw, Wayne, Genesee, Macomb and Berrien Counties while other members of our team have been working with local law enforcement in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan – all in a carefully executed plan to take these charged defendants off the streets,” said Nessel.  “Almost all of these charges came as a direct result of calls to our tip line but were then corroborated by files seized from the dioceses last fall, followed by multiple interviews with victims.

“Although we have charged these men with very serious crimes, I want to remind everyone that they are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law,” cautioned Nessel.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Nessel said. “This is about taking on large-scale institutions that turn a blind eye to victims and making certain we hold all of them accountable – that includes unapologetically pursuing any and all individuals who abuse their power by victimizing our residents.”

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