Former Ann Arbor priest arrested for sexual assault

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 5:07pm

A former priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, was arrested on May 23 in Tempe, AZ.

A former priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, was arrested on May 23 in Tempe, AZ. Buy this photo
Kartikeya Sundaram/Daily

Timothy M. Crowley, a former priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, was arrested on May 23 in Tempe, AZ, according to Maricopa County jail records. The next day, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Crowley was one of five Michigan Catholic priests her office charged with criminal sexual misconduct.

Crowley, 69, was charged in Washtenaw County with four felony counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, with a maximum sentence of life in prison, and four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. He is accused of assaulting a minor boy for about eight years, including for three years while at St. Thomas from 1987 to 1990.

The charges come after months of investigation into sexual abuse by Michigan clergy inside the Catholic Church. The investigation was started in August 2018 by Nessel’s predecessor, former Attorney General Bill Schuette, following a report exposing widespread sexual abuse in the Pennsylvania Catholic Church.

All charges against Crowley fall within the statute of limitations because he has not been a Michigan resident since 1995. Prosecutors will move ahead with proceedings.

According to Nessel, all five cases began as tips from the Attorney General’s sexual abuse hotline, which she said has received more than 450 tips. The tips were then corroborated by interviews with victims and information found in the hundreds of thousands of documents seized from Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses last October.

“Although we have charged these men with very serious crimes, I want to remind everyone that they are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law,” Nessel said in her announcement.

In a statement on the Attorney General Office’s website, Nessel emphasized the importance of holding large institutions accountable. Nessel was quoted in the statement saying she estimates her office has worked through only 5 to 10 percent of the documents, meaning the investigation could take more than two years to complete.

“This is about taking on large-scale institutions that turn a blind eye to victims and making certain we hold all of them accountable — that includes unapologetically pursuing any and all individuals who abuse their power by victimizing our residents,” the statement read.

The Attorney General’s Office asks anyone with information relevant to the clergy sexual abuse investigation to call the investigation hotline at 844-324-3374 or email aginvestigations@michigan.gov.

In a statement released by the Diocese of Lansing following the Attorney General’s announcement, Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea expressed support for the charges and investigation.

“I welcome today’s action so that the truth can come out and justice may be served,” Boyea wrote. “Any priest who commits reprehensible acts against children does grave harm to victims. He betrays the priesthood and the entire Church. I pray that Christ brings healing to all involved.”

According to the affidavit filed in the Attorney General’s case against Crowley, the abuse began when the child was approximately 10 years old at St. Mary Parish in Jackson, where Crowley was a chaplain and the victim was an altar boy. From 1982 to 1990, as Crowley moved from St. Mary to St. Anthony in Hillsdale and then to St. Thomas in Ann Arbor, the boy attended these churches at the same time as well.

Crowley is accused of multiple illegal acts with a minor, including forcing oral sex and masturbation, watching pornography and providing alcohol or cigarettes. He allegedly threatened to kill the boy if he told the nun or his parents about the abuse.

In an email to The Daily, current St. Thomas Pastor William Ashbaugh, who joined St. Thomas after Crowley left in 1994, expressed the need for continued healing.

“I want to be sensitive to that healing that has occurred over 26 years since the incident,” Ashbaugh wrote. “Justice is welcomed and needs to occur for healing to come and peace to be restored. We continue to pray and support all victims of abuse who have suffered such a grave betrayal of the priesthood and the Christian faith.”

Following Crowley’s departure, Ashbaugh wrote changes were made in priests' living situations and windows were installed onto doors. “A greater care and awareness” was also placed on making sure children were not alone with an adult unless parents were nearby, Ashbaugh wrote.

Ashbaugh also wrote that background checks were in use and continue to be important. In line with the Diocese of Lansing’s clergy sexual abuse policies, Ashbaugh wrote anyone who works with children must go through Virtus Training, a child abuse awareness program.

According to 2003 coverage of Crowley’s abuse by the Anchorage Daily News, the victim’s partner first alerted authorities in the Catholic Church of the abuse in 1993. After meeting with Bishop Kenneth Povish in Lansing in August 1993, the Diocese of Lansing says Crowley was removed from St. Thomas, while Crowley’s case file says Crowley resigned.

More than two weeks after Crowley left St. Thomas, Povish told the congregation Crowley had committed “grievous misconduct of a sexual nature” with a victim who did not attend St. Thomas. Povish also told Ann Arbor News the abuse was a “one-time thing.”

That same month, the victim gave the Diocese of Lansing a signed affidavit detailing the abuse and signed a nondisclosure agreement. In exchange for releasing all claims against Crowley, the Diocese of Lansing paid the victim $200,000.

The Anchorage Daily News obtained this signed affidavit, in which the victim alleged Crowley held him on his birthday down for a “birthday spanking” as another priest tried to rape the child, though this incident was not listed in the Attorney General’s charges.

After leaving St. Thomas and spending two years in a treatment program for abusive priests, Crowley asked Archbishop Francis T. Hurley of the Archdiocese of Anchorage if he could serve in Alaska. The Diocese of Lansing said it warned the Archdiocese of Anchorage of Crowley’s history of sexual abuse, but Hurley decided to accept Crowley after receiving “a very positive report on his ability to control his life” from the rehabilitation center.

According to 2002 news coverage, Hurley required Crowley to get a psychiatric evaluation and consulted with the Anchorage Archdiocese’s Sexual Abuse Oversight Committee before appointing Crowley to serve as chancellor. Hurley said he accepted Crowley “without probing those questions” about Crowley’s past abuses. Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Hurley’s successor, told Anchorage Daily News the victim’s statements in the 1993 affidavit were not in Crowley’s personnel file.

While serving in Alaska, Crowley could not visit homes with children or work with any youth ministry, and he had to report regularly a probation officer and to Hurley when he wanted to travel. According to Schwietz, “there’s never been any hint” of wrongdoing from Crowley during his time in Alaska.

In 2002, after explosive reports of sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, the Catholic Church adopted a zero tolerance policy toward sexual abuse, which threatened to bar and possibly remove priests who have abused a minor from active ministry. At the time, Hurley told the Anchorage Daily News at the time the Archdiocese of Anchorage wanted to keep Crowley “very much” because he “rehabilitated his life.”

Crowley was also used as an example by opponents of the Church’s zero-tolerance policy in the National Catholic Register, which wrote that Schwietz faced an “agonizing situation” if Crowley lost his Anchorage post. In the National Catholic Register article, Steven Moore, then-vicar general for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, defended Crowley and claimed the zero-tolerance policy would do more harm than good.

“He may be left with no livelihood, no community and no restrictions on his conduct whatsoever,” Moore said at the time. “If we're really worried about the safety of children, the last thing we want to do is take away the structure, and the limitations and the community that a known offender answers to. … This is a man who has turned everything around and is in a situation in which he's of no threat to anyone. This zero tolerance, punitive approach is … a political, public relations, civil law approach that has nothing to do with Church values.”

Later that year, the Diocese of Lansing, which still had jurisdiction over Crowley, banned him from acting as a priest or doing anything related to ministry. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Crowley continued to work at the Archdiocese of Anchorage on assignments unrelated to congregants or liturgy until his retirement in 2003. Crowley was defrocked in 2015 according to MLive, meaning he lost his clerical status. Crowley was living in an Arizona retirement community at the time of his arrest, MLive wrote.

The 2002 policy also required churches to turn over allegations of clergy sexual abuse to law enforcement. In line with the policy, the Diocese of Lansing gave the Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney’s office information about Crowley’s abuse in 2002, according to the Diocese of Lansing. However, the victim did not want to press charges at the time.

Seventeen years after the office and the general public were first made aware of Crowley’s alleged abuses, and almost three decades after the alleged abuse occurred, Crowley has been charged by the State of Michigan and will be tried.

The Michigan Daily stands with survivors of sexual misconduct. Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center offers free and confidential resources for University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff. Call 734-764-7771 to schedule an appointment with an advocate or 734-936-3333 to reach a 24-hour crisis line.

The Daily has created a new tip line for survivors’ stories: tipline@michigandaily.com. If you are a survivor on campus, if you faced challenges during your Office of Institutional Equity investigation or if you have faced barriers to reporting at all, please consider sending us your story.  This is a private tip line, viewable by a small team of reporters committed to this work.