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Judge to oversee sexual abuse allegations within Catholic Diocese of Saginaw

By Jessica Royce

Saginaw, MI (WNEM) -- A Michigan judge will be overseeing allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.

Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, announced Friday he is appointing Judge Michael J. Talbot of the Michigan State Appeals Court as a special independent delegate to assume full authority within the Diocese of Saginaw with regards to all matters involving the alleged sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct by clergy and diocesan representatives.

"We need what I will call a fresh start, a reboot," Cistone said.

The announcement comes after Rev. Robert DeLand was charged with sexual misconduct involving three males. The diocese also suspended a priest, Father Ronald Dombrowski, after sexual assault allegations were made against him.

“It is my sincere hope that this step will bring renewed courage to victims — and their families — to come forward with a fuller expectation of fairness, justice, and healing,” Cistone said in a press release.

Cistone said he hopes this shows an effort towards a fresh beginning and create greater trust in the Catholic community.

“It has become increasingly apparent to me that sexual abuse and misconduct issues have produced deep distress and serious doubt for the people of the Diocese of Saginaw, priests and parishioners alike, as well as the broader community,” Cistone said. "I want to assure our people and the community at large that we're really prepared to do what is necessary."

Cistone said Talbot will oversee procedures and responses to the sexual abuse of minors — and sexual misconduct issues — involving clergy and other diocesan representatives.

“He will establish specific roles and responsibilities for diocesan representatives including communications to the general public, as well as official responses to media inquiries, and will take the lead on any and all interaction with civil authorities,” Cistone said.

Talbot has been a judge since 1978 and, since 1998, a member of the State Appeals Court. In 2013, he was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to overhaul Detroit’s 36th District Court. In 2015, he was named Chief Judge of Michigan’s Appeals Court.

Talbot’s current term runs until Jan. 1, 2021, but he has announced his plans to retire on April 25 of this year.

Talbot said he plans to get to work right away.

“I’m confident I can help the Diocese of Saginaw work towards the ‘fresh start’ needed,” he said.

Talbot also said he will bring a new level of transparency to the diocese.

"Anything that I do and everything I say is not coming from someone under the employee of the diocese. Or has any sort of relationship other than the delegation. That's the sum total of our tie, is the delegation that's been given to me," Talbot said.

He said is not being paid for the position and is not considered an employee of the diocese.

Talbot said his first order of business is to dive head first into the investigation.

"I need to hear from victims and I need to hear from those who have been involved in the process," Talbot said.

Police recently raided three of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw’s properties following arrest of DeLand.

The searches were conducted at the diocesan offices, the home of Bishop Cistone, and the Rectory at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw.

The Saginaw County Prosecuting Attorney's Office issued a statement from the Special Investigative Team that is investigating allegations against Father Deland and the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.

"We respectfully disagree with the procedure of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, announced by Bishop Cistone during today’s press conference, regarding the handling of allegations of abuse by Diocese officials and employees. The Diocese cannot and should not be used as a clearing house for the reporting of crimes by victims. That is the function of law enforcement. Any victims of abuse or other crimes should report their allegations directly to law enforcement as opposed to the Diocese or Judge Talbot, its independent delegate. While it would appear to be a positive thing that the Diocese is involving Judge Talbot to assist them in dealing with the situation they find themselves in, we fully expect Judge Talbot and the Diocese to turn over to law enforcement any information they receive."

Earlier this month, authorities claimed some alleged victims who have come forward were publicly attacked.

"I absolutely and positively denounce that. I don't know where it's coming from. I don't know where it's centered in, but I would absolutely denounce that," Cistone said.

Cistone said this step will bring a fuller expectation of fairness, justice and healing for the alleged victims.

"So, I can't speak for how it will be perceived by others, I can only say it's our true hope that this will open up lines of communication," Cistone said.

Diocese publishes names of clergy removed from ministry due to sexual abuse of minors

On Friday, April 13, the diocese released the names of former clerics removed from ministry in relation to sexual abuse of minors. They are as follows:

Stanislaus A. Bur (former priest – deceased)

John E. Hammer (former priest)

Richard L Howard (former deacon)

Jack E. Leipert (former priest)

Leonard F. Wilkuski (former priest)

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