Fr. Pat Egan: An Independent External Review

A newly published independent external review into how the Diocese of Lansing handled two cases of sexual misconduct levelled against an English priest who has resided in the Michigan diocese for much of the past four decades has found that while the Diocese correctly dealt with a recent claim of misconduct, past diocesan officials did not properly handle a prior case dating back to 1990. 

“I repeat publicly now what I have said privately and personally to the victim in question:  I am deeply sorry for the Diocese’s past failure and all should know that the allegation would have been handled differently today,” said Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, 17 October. 

The independent external audit was carried out by the respected law firm, Honigman LLP, and was led by a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and former attorney for the Department of Justice. It can be viewed here. The review focused upon the activities of 82-year-old Father Pat Egan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster in England who, according to official church records, first arrived in the Diocese of Lansing as an extern priest in 1983 and has lived on-and-off in the Ann Arbor area ever since. During his time in the Diocese of Lansing, the Diocese received two allegations of improper sexual conduct relating to Fr. Egan.      

According to the Diocesan files reviewed by Honigman, in February 1990, a 27-year-old male wrote to Fr. Egan alleging sexual abuse by Fr. Egan while taking part in boxing training with the English priest in 1989. Fr. Egan disputed the man's interpretation of events. The Diocese of Lansing was made aware of the allegations. Despite this, the diocesan records do not show an investigation at the time nor any action taken against Fr. Egan by the late Bishop Kenneth Povish (1924 - 2003).

Following the US Conference of Catholic Bishops adoption of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Diocese of Lansing turned the allegation over to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office in 2003; the newly-created Diocesan Review Board also reviewed the matter. But since the Review Board’s jurisdiction is limited to sexual abuse of minors, their investigation was also limited to determining whether the victim was a minor at the time of the alleged events. The Review Board concluded that Fr Egan’s victim was an adult and thus closed their inquiry. Meanwhile, county prosecutors dropped the case due to the statute of limitations.

The Diocese of Lansing became aware of a second allegation against Fr. Egan in August 2014 when a diocesan priest informed curial staff that he had been approached by a man in his early-20s alleging unusual activity by Fr Egan during boxing sessions.  The priest reported that rather than box, Fr. Egan had wanted to be hit in various parts of his body, including his face and genitals and that the man had sensed Fr. Egan was becoming sexually excited when this would happen.  

After receiving the allegation, the representatives of the Diocesan administration promptly investigated and imposed appropriate restrictions on Fr Egan’s activities. By formal letter in September 2014, Fr. Egan was prohibited from participating in any boxing events or ministering to the young in settings other than classrooms or churches.

In April 2017, the Diocese of Lansing received a letter from a relative of the second victim suggesting that Fr Egan was continuing to box. The letter contained no specifics concerning ongoing boxing activities involving Fr. Egan. Upon immediate inquiry, the Diocese was assured via a designated intermediary that Fr. Egan was not continuing to box and was, in fact, in poor health and likely moving into assisted living.

In September 2018, the Diocese became aware from various sources of renewed attempts by Fr. Egan to engage in boxing activities in violation of the prohibition placed upon him in 2014. The Diocese also received new information from the second victim of Fr. Egan providing additional details of Fr Egan’s inappropriate activities while boxing. The Diocese again investigated and, as a result, revoked Fr. Egan’s priestly faculties on September 18, 2018. This meant that Fr. Egan could no longer have any public ministry within the Diocese of Lansing. This also revoked Fr. Egan’s extern status within the Diocese. This decision was communicated both internally and externally by the Diocese of Lansing. A report was also made to law enforcement based on the new information received.

Rooted in a commitment to the highest standards of safeguarding, earlier this year the Diocese of Lansing commissioned the law firm, Honigman LLP, to carry out an independent review how the two cases of sexual misconduct involving Fr. Egan were handled by the Diocese. The attorney that led the review, Patrick J. Hurford, is a former Assistant United States Attorney and former Trial Attorney for the United States Department of Justice.

Honigman found that the apparent failure to investigate the first allegation in either 1990 or 2003 conflicts with current diocesan policy which would have required an investigation into the allegation and imposition of discipline should the allegation have been verified. Earlier this year, in April 2019, following the Diocese’s own internal review, Bishop Earl Boyea—Bishop of Lansing since 2008—himself recognized this failure and apologized to the victim, now in his 50’s, on behalf of the Diocese of Lansing.

Honigman also reviewed the remainder of Fr Egan’s file and found that the Diocese’s actions in responding to the 2014 allegation against Fr. Egan, and leading up to Fr. Egan’s removal of faculties in 2018 were appropriate and in accord with policy. Honigman also confirmed that none of the allegations to the Diocese of sexual misconduct regarding Fr. Egan involved minors. Appropriately, the conclusions of the independent review were first shared with the victims of Fr. Egan.  

“Fr. Pat Egan’s actions disgraced the holy priesthood and betrayed the trust placed in him by the Archdiocese of Westminster, the Diocese of Lansing, the Catholic community in Ann Arbor and, most grievously, those men victimized and harmed by his immoral actions,” said David Kerr, Spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing.

With his extern status revoked, the oversight of Fr. Pat Egan is now the sole responsibility of the Archdiocese of Westminster. Given the difficulty in discharging that duty from afar, the Diocese of Lansing has asked the Archdiocese of Westminster to give serious consideration to recalling Fr. Egan back to his home diocese where safeguarding measures can be more easily applied and monitored.

The publication of Honigman’s external review comes in the wake of Bishop Earl Boyea's decision to create a new lay-led Review Board to assist the diocesan bishop in assessing any allegations against clerics of grave misconduct, including sexual misconduct, in relation to adults within the Diocese of Lansing.

“The independent review carried out by Honigman made clear to us that, while our current procedures and policies are appropriate,” said David Kerr, “they could be improved by a more independent and transparent process overseen by a lay-led Adult Review Board. This new Review Board will help the Diocese better meet the bishop’s insisted goal of continued safety for all within our parishes and schools.”

* The Diocese of Lansing is committed to cooperating with law enforcement and supporting victims of abuse. If anyone has reason to suspect physical, sexual or emotional abuse of any person of any age, please contact Protective Services or the police, as appropriate. If clerical abuse is suspected, contact the office of the Michigan Attorney General Investigation hotline at 844-324-3374. For healing and support, please also contact the Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator at (888) 308-6252 or email: vac@dioceseoflansing.org.

 

ENDS

 

Notes:

1. An extern cleric is a cleric incardinated in one diocese (i.e. belonging to one diocese) who seeks faculties to minister within another diocese on a temporary basis. For example, a priest who is seeking a sabbatical, or wants to undertake formal studies, or to pursue other pastoral or apostolic assignments. The rules governing extern status are set out in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the internal law of the Catholic Church, in cann. 271 §2-3. Accordingly, extern status is usually requested by the priest’s bishop or religious superior. They submit their request in writing along with a letter of good standing on behalf of the priest. If they come from outside the United States, the priest is also vetted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a component of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The application is then adjudicated upon by the local bishop in consultation, usually, with his Vicar for Clergy.

2. At present the Diocese of Lansing has a series of guidelines which set out the high standards of conduct expected of all who corporately represent the Church in parishes, schools or other apostolates. This includes the Code of Conduct which is signed by all volunteers, employees and clergy, including the bishop, and commits all signatories to exemplify the moral teachings of the Catholic Church in their personal and professional lives by “growing in virtue and holiness”. Such individuals are also governed by the General Norms of Pastoral Conduct issued in 2013. Meanwhile, employed staff and clergy are also guided by the Employee Handbook. Clerics are also governed by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the internal law of the Church.  It was Fr. Egan’s violation of all of these policies which ultimately resulted in his revocation of faculties and extern status.

3. While the independent review carried out by Honigman made clear to the Diocese of Lansing that these policies are, indeed, fit for purpose, Bishop Boyea has recently initiated the creation of a new lay-led Review Board to further assist him in assessing any allegations of grave misconduct, including sexual misconduct, in relation to adults levelled against clerics within the diocese. This is a parallel to the review board that has operated since 2002 in the case of abuse of minors. The bishop has observed how a lay-led review board with greater independence has helped the diocese process allegations of abuse relating to minors in a sensible, sound, and systematic way that fosters and facilitates good, informed, consistent decision-making. Hence the desire to ensure the same in cases relating to adults. This week, the bishop is issuing an appeal for nominations for membership of the new Review Board. It is hoped that its membership should have some expertise or experience in one of the following areas: law enforcement, psychology, law, or organizational leadership. Bishop Boyea would also like to appoint a survivor of clerical sexual abuse to the new review board.

4. The Diocese of Lansing was established by Pope Pius XI on May 22, 1937. It comprised of 10 counties covering 6,218 square miles: Clinton, Eaton, Genesee, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Shiawassee and Washtenaw counties. Major cities are Lansing, Adrian, Ann Arbor, Flint, Jackson, Owosso and Ypsilanti. It has 74 parishes. The U.S. Census Bureau estimate the total population in the 10-county area at 1,795,538. The approximate Catholic population is 195,858.