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Prosecutors: Catholic priest 'no contest' pleas to abuse charges give victims closure

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Prosecutors and police say a Catholic priest’s ‘no contest’ pleas to sexual abuse charges this week will give his victims closure.

Father Robert Deland was scheduled to face the first of three trials this week. The charges related to incidents involving three young men, between the ages of 17 and 21. But before jury selection could begin, Deland entered 'no contest' pleas to six felony and one misdemeanor charge. 

Deland is expected to be sentenced to one year in the county jail when he appears before a judge later this fall. He remains free on bond. The church removed him from ministry eariler this year. Prosecutors say Deland will likely face a relatively short sentence due to his otherwise clean record.

Detective Brian Berg is with the Tittabawassee Township Police Department. He says Deland has a great deal of support among many older Catholics. Berg admits he was concerned some potential Catholic jurors might have hesitated to convict a priest.

"If we had one juror on there that had that philosophy of protecting the Mother Church no matter what, then we’d get a hung jury or something of that nature then we revictimize the victims again," says Berg.

Prosecutors say the victims accept that Deland will not face trial.

But while this part of the case is coming to close, prosecutors say the investigation continues, with or without the assistance of church leaders.

Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner says Catholic Church leaders continue to not cooperate in the investigation. Problems getting information from the diocese led to police raiding church buildings earlier this year.   

"We can not rely on them for information," says Gaertner, "The police agencies have to gather it on their own."

The Saginaw Diocese is facing a civil lawsuit related to the Deland case.

In April, the diocese launched its own internal investigation into allegations of sexual abuse. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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