SAGINAW, Mich. (WWJ/AP) – The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw is encouraging sexual assault victims to come forward after a priest who served for decades in Michigan was charged with sex crimes.

The Saginaw News reports Bishop Joseph Cistone recently spoke to parishioners at St. Agnes Church in Freeland, where 71-year-old Rev. Robert DeLand served as pastor, telling that the allegations against DeLand were “the first indication we had of this issue.”

DeLand was arrested and charged last month following reports from two male accusers, ages 17 and 21, and police say they’ve received other complaints since his arrest. Charges include second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Defense attorney Alan Crawford, who represents DeLand, said his client has “dedicated his life to service.

“He would like to get this behind him. …He has helped not hundreds but thousands of individuals,” Crawford told Judge M. Randall Jurrens.

Bishop Cistone stressed, on behalf of the Diocese of Saginaw, church leaders would cooperate fully with law enforcement.

“ …Being made aware of these allegations, like many of you, my emotions have moved back and forth from compassion, sadness and concern to anger, betrayal and a sincere desire for justice,” Cistone said. “I can only imagine the deep hurt and betrayal that you must feel.”

“Though our trust is shaken, our Faith must remain strong,”  he added. “ … although we may be mistrustful of those who live and serve in the Church, we must never lose trust in the Lord or His Church.

A complete transcript of the bishop’s remarks was posted on the Saginaw diocese website here.

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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