NEW YORK – A new report on clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, found that there are no priests or deacons in active ministry in the diocese facing a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, and that total allegations have plummeted since the U.S. Bishops implemented the Dallas Charter in 2002.
However, there are three priests listed in the report in active ministry in the diocese with sexual misconduct allegations involving adults. Criminal charges have not been filed against any of these priests, and, based on the report, it doesn’t look like any will.
The report, published on Jan. 8 by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, details allegations against 26 priests and two deacons who ministered in the diocese dating back to 1950. In a Jan. 8 statement, Nessel thanked the victims who came forward to tell their stories.
“Our promise to the victims was that every case of sexual abuse and assault would be thoroughly reviewed and that the results of the investigation would be transparent,” Nessel said.
“I especially want to thank the survivors who have shared their stories, sometimes for the first time after decades of silence,” she said. “Their willingness to come forward has helped bring attention to an issue that has affected so many in our state and our country, especially children.”
Speaking at a news conference Jan. 8, Bishop Jeffrey Walsh of Gaylord thanked the “courageous” victim-survivors who shared their stories and also apologized.
“I humbly offer an apology to each victim-survivor who has been violated by anyone affiliated with the Catholic Church,” Walsh said. “Many of you have suffered in darkness for years, and I am truly sorry for that.”
The Michigan attorney general’s office launched the investigation into the Diocese of Gaylord back in 2018. At the time, it was announced that the state would investigate each of the seven Michigan Catholic dioceses, and Nessel said Jan. 8 that reports will be released on all of them.
The report on Gaylord is the second to be released. The first was a report on the Diocese of Marquette that was published in the fall of 2022. To date, Nessel has charged 11 priests with assault, but none of those priests ministered in the Diocese of Gaylord.
As far as the new report on the Diocese of Gaylord, about 85 percent of the alleged incidents of sexual abuse involving minors and adults occurred prior to 2000. All but two of the cases involving minors happened before the year 2000, both involving a priest who is no longer in ministry.
Sixteen of the clergy named in the report are known or presumed to be deceased. Of the remaining 12, there are no priests or deacons in active ministry in the Diocese of Gaylord who has a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. The names of everyone who is included in the report who has a substantiated allegation of abuse of a minor is currently posted on the diocesan website.
On the three active priests named, Walsh said further disciplinary action is possible. The only one of the three priests who isn’t retired is Father Donald Robert Geyman, currently pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Traverse City, Michigan. The other two priests, Father Raymond Charles Cotter and Father James Kemp Gardiner, are both retired but still active.
“The allegations against these priests involve reported sexual conduct with adults. While none of these allegations resulted in criminal charges, I plan to meet with the Diocesan Review Board this month, to discuss the particulars of the report and to determine any further actions,” Walsh said.
The allegation against Geyman, 58, dates back to 2012, when a parishioner alleged she was sexually harassed. After the diocese sponsored an external investigation, then-Gaylord Bishop Bernard Hebda – now the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis – wrote that he “doubted” the claims of the woman, and that she had “denied any inappropriate activity.” The report stated that Hebda asked Geyman “to be particularly attentive to the way he comports himself with women.”
When contacted by Michigan State Police in 2019 as part of the state’s investigation into the diocese that culminated with the new report, the woman said “Geyman touched her thigh, which made her feel ‘uncomfortable’,” but she did not want to pursue criminal charges, according to the attorney general’s report.
Cotter, 72, is listed as a “senior priest” for the diocese. According to the attorney general’s report, in 1992 he allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse with an adult woman on one occasion that resulted in the birth of a child. The woman sued Cotter and the diocese in 1996. The parties ultimately settled on a compensation agreement and the lawsuit was dismissed.
Gardiner, 80, retired from active ministry in 2015 and has continued to serve the diocese as a sacramental minister at St. Anthony of Padua in Mackinaw City, Michigan.
In the report, a man disclosed that he was “a victim of unwanted sexual touching” by Gardiner, when he was pastor of a diocesan church. When questioned by authorities, Gardiner admitted that he had committed the sexual act. According to the report, “Father Gardiner stated it was his impression that this was consenting adults.”
The man, listed as John Doe 1, did not want Gardiner prosecuted for what happened.
Looking ahead, Walsh said the diocese is committed to upholding and strengthening its policies on sexual abuse and misconduct.
“We encourage anyone who suffered clergy abuse that has not yet reached out to share their story with the attorney general’s office, the local authorities, or our victim assistance coordinator,” Walsh said.
“We have and will continue to work closely with law enforcement. We will seek justice for all. We will help those abused to heal in body, mind and spirit,” Walsh continued. “We will uphold our stringent safe environment practices, and find ways to continuously strengthen them. We always strive to prevent clergy sexual abuse from ever happening again in the Diocese of Gaylord.”
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