SAGINAW (WJRT) (4/13/2018) - A Michigan Court of Appeals judge has been appointed to oversee all internal investigations into possible sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.
Bishop Joseph Cistone, who oversees the diocese, announced the appointment Friday. He gave Judge Michael J. Talbot full authority to investigate all matters pertaining to allegations made against clergy.
“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.
The Rev. Robert DeLand was arrested on Feb. 25 and again earlier this month on charges of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between males, furnishing alcohol to a minor and manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance.
The 71-year-old priest at St. Agnes Parish in Freeland is accused of sexually assaulting three males -- two in the rectory at St. Agnes and one at his condominium on Mallard Cove in Saginaw Township.
The Rev. Ronald Dombrowski, a senior priest at Holy Family Parish in Saginaw, also has been placed on administrative leave while the diocese conducts an investigation into whether he sexually assaulted a boy.
Dombrowski has not been charged criminally in that case.
Cistone pointed out the allegations have "produced deep distress and serious doubt" for Catholics in the Saginaw area. He called Talbot's appointment a "fresh start" and a "reboot."
Cistone hopes Talbot's leadership will rebuild trust among the area Catholic community and with the general public.
Talbot will manage all aspects of the internal investigations, from defining roles for diocesan staff, communications to the public, official responses to media inquiries and interacting with law enforcement agencies.
Police in Saginaw and Tittabawassee townships and the Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office have formed a joint task force with other state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate dozens of sexual assault allegations received since DeLand's initial arrest in February.
Talbot has been a judge since 1978 and is planning to step down on April 25. In 2002, he also was appointed chairman of the Board of Review investigating sexual abuse claims involving clergy in the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit.
“I intend to get to work right away,” Judge Talbot said. “I’m confident I can help the Diocese of Saginaw work towards the ‘fresh start’ needed."