ALLEGAN, MI — A former Otsego priest was sentenced to jail and probation Monday, Jan. 27, in Allegan County Circuit Court on one count of attempted unlawful imprisonment of a 17-year-old boy.
Brian Stanley, 57, was arrested Aug. 22 and charged with one count of unlawful imprisonment, a 15-year felony. As part of a plea agreement made at his pretrial hearing in November, that charge was dismissed at sentencing.
Stanley admitted at his pretrial hearing to tying up the boy and taping his eyes and mouth shut in September 2013, while “secretly confining” him for “approximately 30 minutes" in the janitor’s room of St. Margaret’s Church in Otsego. He will spend 60 days in jail, five years on probation and be required to register as a sex offender for a period of 15 years, according to the sentence issued Monday by Allegan County Circuit Judge Margaret Bakker.
Having to register as a sex offender will also force him to move to a new residence, as his home is located near a school, said Stanley’s attorney Michael Hills during the sentencing.
Michigan State Assistant Attorney General Alison Furtaw, while arguing for Stanley’s sentence to exceed sentencing guidelines, pointed out that according to the pre-sentence report, Stanley admitted to engaging in similar conduct on multiple occasions over the prior two decades.
Three other alleged victims have come forward, Furtaw said, one of whom was 13 at the time he was allegedly abused.
“Although (Stanley) reports there was no sexual reason for doing this to the victims, they thought he was masturbating but it was hard for them to tell because their eyes were taped shut,” Furtaw told the court. “This was going on for a long time. These victims were not able to receive justice because this was outside of the statute of limitations.”
Hill, referencing a letter received and follow-up conversations with the victim’s family, argued for a lighter sentence for his client, saying the family does not want Stanley incarcerated. After that communication, Hill said, he encouraged his client to withdraw his plea. Stanley did not withdraw his guilty plea.
“We can only assume he pleaded because he didn’t want (the victim) to have to testify,” Hills said, adding that Stanley told him, "'No, what I did was wrong and I am ready to accept responsibility.'
“He’s 57 years, old, has zero criminal history, and having to register as a sex offender has serious impacts. All he has done over the course of his adult life as work is be a priest, a professor, all of that’s gone,” Hills said.
Stanley, according to Furtaw, was living with the victim when the incidents occurred and the victim’s parents had encouraged the living situation as Stanley was the child’s “spiritual adviser” and the child was in need of help dealing with addiction and other issues.
When offered the opportunity to make a statement or apology to the court prior to his sentencing, Stanley declined.
“I believe good people do bad things,” Bakker said while issuing Stanley’s sentence. “Does the fact that they have done good negate the bad? I don’t think it does.”
The judge, in response to Hills’ statement the victim’s family does not wish to see Stanley receive any jail time, said it is not unusual, particularly in cases involving children, to see a change of heart after a report is made.
"It’s a very typical response because typically the person who abuses a child is also a friend to the child,” Bakker said. “Whether a parent, stepparent, boyfriend of a parent, Cub Scout leader, Girl Scout leader, priest, youth leader, as a prosecutor, I think I’ve prosecuted all those types of people. They are good people but they do bad things.”
The judge said it is also common that those victimized are among the most vulnerable members of society.
“This case is very serious, very concerning and very disturbing and I can’t believe there isn’t going to be a long-term impact on everyone involved,” Bakker said. “I believe the defendant knew what he was doing was wrong.”
The 2013 incident was reported to the Diocese of Kalamazoo shortly after it occurred, prompting Stanley to be placed on administrative leave immediately, according to an August statement from the diocese after Stanley’s arrest.
The diocese stated that it reported the allegation to Child Protective Services, who in turn referred the matter to the Otsego Police Department.
“We promptly placed Father Brian Stanley on administrative leave pending the outcome of the police investigation. According to the Otsego Police Department, ‘the complaint was not criminal and there would be no charges,’” the statement from the diocese said.
Stanley was then reinstated, the attorney general’s office said, and four years later the diocese learned of additional allegations involving Stanley and reported those incidents to the Coldwater Police Department; however, no charges were filed by law enforcement as the witness refused to testify at that time.
Stanley was again placed on administrative leave upon learning of the new allegations, the diocese said, but this time was not reinstated.
“The Diocese of Kalamazoo continues to pray for all survivor-victims as well as all those impacted by this situation, including members of our Catholic faithful whose faith and trust may be shaken," diocese spokeswoman Victoria Cessna said in a statement issued following Monday’s sentencing.
Cessna continued by saying that the diocese remains steadfast in its "commitment to promote greater protection and safeguards of all people, particularly for children and vulnerable adults.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement of its own after the charges were filed against Stanley back in August.
The organization called on church officials throughout the state to make announcements from the pulpit, and to use parish bulletins and church websites to share information about the case “to encourage victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to come forward and make a report to law enforcement.”
“We hope this story inspires others who may be suffering in silence to come forward, make a report to the AG, and start healing," said Zach Hiner, executive director for SNAP, in the statement.
The organization, as well as the attorney general’s office and the Diocese of Kalamazoo, asks anyone who has suspicions about cases of clergy abuse to call 1-844-324-3374 or to use this confidential, online reporting form.
Stanley’s case is one of many that has been, or is being, investigated by Michigan State Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office following a 2018 raid of the seven Catholic dioceses in the state of Michigan, which helped corroborate first-hand accounts of abuse, Nessel said.
“Mr. Stanley took advantage of a vulnerable victim and today he is being held accountable,” Nessel said in a statement issued Monday, Jan. 27. “We continue to review information seized from all seven Michigan dioceses in 2018, and we will thoroughly evaluate accusations and complaints brought forth by victims. For too long, criminal behavior by members of the clergy has gone unnoticed, and that must stop.”
Hundreds of sex-abuse claims were made against Catholic priests, former and current, in the first six months of the investigation, and Nessel said she expected that number to eclipse 1,000 claims in what was anticipated to be a two-year investigation that could last late into 2020.
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