Five men who have worked as Catholic priests in Michigan now face charges for sex crimes, state Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Friday.
Nessel has conducted one of the most aggressive probes of the Catholic Church as attorneys general in numerous states across the country investigate alleged sexual abuse by priests. She said that the charges announced Friday resulted from tips called in to the state’s hotline for abuse victims, as well as documents that state investigators seized from the state’s seven Catholic dioceses.
Four of the men, ranging in age from 55 to 80, were charged with criminal sexual conduct and arrested on Thursday in their current locations — Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan. A suspect who faces the most serious charges, two counts of rape, has not yet been arrested, according to the attorney general’s office. That suspect, Jacob Vellian, lives in Kerala, India, according to the attorney general’s office, which said it will seek his extradition.
Vellian was previously a priest in Benton Harbor, Mich. Victoria Cessna, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Kalamazoo, said he was a visiting priest from India for one year.
One former parishioner from Benton Harbor has sought for many years to draw public attention to his alleged conduct, claiming in posts online and at an in-person protest of the Diocese of Kalamazoo that Vellian molested her when she was a minor in the 1970s and that the abuse has affected her ever since.
Cessna said she could not say whether Vellian, 84, is still a priest, but she believes he remains in ministry. He is listed as one of the priests at St. Mary’s Knanaya Catholic Forane Church in San Jose, although the website of the church says he retired in 2010.
The San Jose church is part of an Eastern Catholic denomination, not the Roman Catholic Church.
Two of the other suspects, who both served in the Diocese of Lansing, were removed from ministry due to allegations of abuse long before their arrests on Thursday. The Lansing diocese said in a statement that an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor involving the Rev. Vincent DeLorenzo was reported in 2002, and the church reported it to law enforcement at that time. Since the diocese reported DeLorenzo’s alleged misconduct and asked victims to come forward, seven more complaints of alleged misconduct during his 37 years in the priesthood emerged, the diocese said. The most recent victims reported alleged abuse in 2018 and 2019.
The diocese said that DeLorenzo, now 80, was removed from ministry in 2002 but has not been laicized — officially removed from the priesthood — although the diocese has requested that the Vatican take that action. He faces six charges of criminal sexual conduct.
The other priest from Lansing, Timothy Crowley, has been defrocked. The diocese said he was removed from ministry in 1993 when a victim reported his alleged actions. But he was then assigned a role in the Archdiocese of Anchorage even though the Lansing diocese says it told Anchorage church leaders about the allegation against him. In 2002, after the U.S. bishops instituted new zero-tolerance policies for abusive priests following the Boston Globe’s reporting on the abuse crisis, the Anchorage archdiocese removed him from ministry.
The Lansing diocese says it reported Crowley to authorities in 2002, but he was not charged at the time. He now faces eight counts of criminal sexual conduct.
The other two suspects arrested Thursday — Patrick Casey, 55, and Neil Kalina, 63 — also were no longer in ministry, according to the Archdiocese of Detroit, where both worked. Casey was removed from ministry after a victim reported alleged abuse in 2015, the archdiocese said.
His attorney, Stephen Rabaut, declined to comment. None of the other four men have attorneys listed in Michigan court case online records.
Kalina voluntarily left ministry in 1993, according to the archdiocese, which said it learned of an abuse allegation against him in 2017.
Kalina pleaded guilty in another criminal case in 1986, according to a news article at the time. He allegedly distributed alcohol and cocaine to at least 15 teenagers, before their parents went to the police. The priest “wanted to get closer to the kids,” a police official said to UPI at the time. “I guess this was his way of getting closer to the kids.”
In 2017, a man named Neil Kalina who listed his location as the same small California town, Littlerock, where Kalina was arrested on Thursday, created a GoFundMe fundraiser that raised more than $2,500 for a program he said assisted runaway, homeless and at-risk youths. The man referred to himself as “Father Neil.”
Michigan is one of many states that opened investigations into the Catholic Church after Pennsylvania’s attorney general released a massive grand jury report in August. The Pennsylvania probe, which documented alleged abuse by more than 300 priests over a span of 70 years, led to new charges against two men; most others were deceased or their cases were beyond the statute of limitations.
The state investigators inspired by Pennsylvania have varied in their approaches and their limitations under state laws. Michigan has been perhaps the most aggressive, seizing documents from the seven dioceses in the state rather than asking for churches to cooperate and hand over files. Nessel’s office said that 44 attorneys, special agents and state police troopers have all worked on the inquiry, including reading hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that were seized and running down tips from the abuse hotline.
Nessel hinted on Friday that there may be more charges to come. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she 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."