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Saturday December 07, 2019
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Problem Priest

Last spring, a local high school belatedly warned parents about an octogenarian British cleric.

by Michael Betzold

From the December, 2019 issue

"Fr. [Patrick] Egan has been communicating with one of our families seeking to work out," wrote Gabriel Richard High School president John DeJak. DeJak added that he "would discourage any contact of any minor or young adult with Fr. Egan."

It was a startling fall from grace for the popular priest, a former assistant pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church at Domino's Farms and chaplain for Domino's founder Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria Radio and Ave Maria Foundation. Egan's undoing: the unusual boxing lessons he liked to give to young males.

Twenty-five years apart, two men complained that Egan's lessons had sexual elements. The diocese of Lansing brushed off one accuser and threatened to sue the other before bishop Earl Boyea finally defrocked Egan in the fall of 2018 for what the bishop called "credible allegations" of "inappropriate sexual behavior with an adult male."

The final straw seems to have been Egan's insistence on seeking out sparring partners. "[T]wo years ago, the Bishop told Fr. Pat to cease and desist from any and all boxing-related activities," Christ the King pastor Fr. Ed Fride wrote in the church bulletin last spring. "Unfortunately, Fr. Pat did not comply with that order." Fride advised: "Fr. Pat is not to engage in workout activities with anyone, period. If someone is visiting Fr. Pat, two people minimum should be part of the visit."

Steve Wiland first tried to blow the whistle on Egan thirty years earlier. Now a lecturer in the U-M School of Social Work and director of the U-M's online Addictions Certificate Program, Wiland met Egan in the late 1980s, when the priest became his spiritual mentor in the charismatic Word of God community.

Egan invited Wiland to join the U-M boxing club, where he was a volunteer coach. At first, Wiland says, things went well. But after he hurt his back, Egan offered "special drills" to increase his pain tolerance. Wiland says Egan would punch him in the face,

...continued below...


abdomen, and groin. But when he touched his testicles through his gym shorts, Wiland quit. He later wrote to Egan: "there is a formal name for your 'drills' in the statute of law, and it is called 'criminal sexual conduct.'"

Wiland took his concerns to Word of God leaders and to then-bishop Kenneth Povish. But without interviewing Wiland, a diocesan review board deemed his allegations "not credible." The diocese didn't report the allegations to the Washtenaw County prosecutor until 2003. By then the statute of limitations had expired.

The U-M's Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) acted more urgently. After months of counseling, a SAPAC therapist told Wiland in 1990 that the university was removing Egan from coaching boxing. No legal complaint was filed, however. Amy Burandt, a program manager at SAPAC, points out that if the priest had been accused of abusing minors, there would have been a clear duty to report it, but Wiland was in his twenties. (U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says that all volunteer coaches now are required to go through a background check.)

Egan left Christ the King in the early 1990s and spent a couple of years in England. When he returned, the Ave Maria Foundation provided him a house, and he landed a regular homily segment, "Fully Alive," on Ave Maria Radio. He also touted his connection to Monaghan: the station's CEO, Al Kresta, says that when they met, Egan introduced himself as the "pizza priest."

Kresta says his three sons, all now adults, boxed with the priest. After Egan was defrocked, he asked them about their experiences. They reported no problems. However, a Jackson man who asked not to be named says he was victimized.

The man says he met Egan in 2014, soon after marrying into a Catholic family and converting. He accepted Egan's offer to teach him to box.

In Egan's basement, he saw teenage boys punching the cleric in the stomach. Egan offered him $20 an hour to conduct "gut punch sessions." But after urging him to be more "dominant," Egan started touching his own genitals. And at the next session, the man says, the priest became visibly aroused.

The man told Fr. Bill Ashbaugh at St. Thomas, and Ashbaugh soon informed him that the diocese was stopping the boxing. But Egan didn't stop looking for young sparring partners. And when the man continued to demand accountability, a diocesan attorney threatened to prosecute him for "stalking" its officials. The man's attorney, Richard Mills, responded by noting his "amazement and dismay that the Diocese's attorney would threaten an acknowledged victim of sexual abuse with prosecution." The diocese later said Boyea hadn't authorized the letter--and, in September 2018, formally apologized for sending it.

The man says Egan also has apologized to him. Now eighty-two and living in the senior housing complex on the St. Joseph Mercy campus, Egan did not respond to requests for an interview.

This October, the diocese conducted an outside audit to review its handling of Egan. It concluded that the diocese erred in Wiland's case but that the Jackson man's complaint was "handled appropriately"--an opinion he vigorously disputes. He points to evidence that Egan was active in online "gut punch" fetish forums and complains that diocesan policies still don't sufficiently protect minors from predatory clerics.

This fall, Boyea announced the creation of a lay review board to handle complaints about sexual abuse of adults, and the diocese named seventeen priests credibly accused of abusing minors since 1937. Since none of the young men who accused him were minors, Egan was not on the list.     (end of article)

 

 
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