While this tragic story began over 65 years ago and was first reported to the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1995, it didn’t come completely to the surface until August of 2018, after the clergy sex abuse crisis in Pennsylvania hit the news media. The revelation of those cases along with Cardinal McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians triggered members of a family to come forward with collective allegations of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. Between 1954 and 1966, Fr. John Tyminski, a family friend who they met while he was an associate at St. Andrew in Detroit, sexually molested five siblings at his parish rectory as well as the family’s home in Detroit.
In September of 2018, one of the siblings, “Peter”, decided to reveal his abuse story to his pastor. In this account of the family’s ordeal, he will serve as the unofficial spokesman.
“I hadn’t given much thought to my abuse throughout my adulthood,” recalled Peter. “After the news broke in the 2002 scandal in Boston, I actually took the side of the Church and priesthood, citing the stats that showed a very low percentage accused and most were not pedophile cases as the media reported. In fact, I talked to a priest who was being accused, Fr. Edmund Borycz, who was from my childhood parish, SS Peter and Paul in Detroit. He gave a very convincing story over the phone and I wrote a letter of support to the AOD. As it turned out, the allegation was credible, and he was removed from ministry. He duped me good. But it shows how good they are in weaving these believable stories – and how ready lay people are to trust and defend their priests.”
After the Philadelphia story broke, Peter attended a meeting of ministry leaders at his parish, at which his pastor gave an in-depth account of what the scandal involved and where it evolved from, going back to the St. John Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Peter says, “He described St. John’s as a cesspool in the 1980s, with a huge homosexual subculture. It struck a nerve with me because I spent a lot of time at the seminary at that time with a friend who was studying for the priesthood. And the homosexual subculture was very much alive.” His pastor also detailed other issues like the Dignity Masses (for the homosexual community every Sunday night at Marygrove College in Detroit) and talked about the so-called “Lavender Mafia.”
Peter talked about how these details affected him. “After hearing everything our pastor had to say about the scandal, it felt like old wounds were being ripped open. I hadn’t told a soul about what happened, not even my wife, and it was tearing me up inside. The more I heard and read about abuse cases, especially in the Archdiocese of Detroit, the worse it got. I decided I had to talk about it.
“It took two weeks for me to work up the courage to tell my wife, who was predictably stunned by it. She asked me if I was going to tell our pastor and I reached out to him the next day. We met a few days later and he encouraged me to write to Archbishop Vigneron.”
Peter wrote to the Archbishop on September 15, 2018. “In the letter, I made it clear that I was not looking for any financial gain,” he explained, “and that my whole goal was getting this priest’s name on the AOD list (of abusive clergy) and the purification of the Church. I told of my own abuse as well as the abuses of my three brothers. I didn’t know any details of their cases because throughout all those years, we never talked about it and had no idea anyone else was abused. I spent nearly 45 years thinking I was the only one. After my parents died, bits and pieces came out about my brothers. I also told the Archbishop in the letter that I just wanted to do what I could to bring healing.”
When asked if he’s forgiven Fr. Tyminski, Peter replied, “It was difficult, but yes. However, I’m having a much more difficult time forgiving the leadership of the Archdiocese for the treatment given us in the aftermath of my letter.”
“After mailing my letter,” he continued, “I waited. I had no idea how long it would take, but it seemed like forever. With this being such a critical issue, I expected at least an acknowledgement that my letter was received. Finally, on November 1, 2018, two and a half months later I received a phone call from Marge Huggard, the victims’ advocate for the AOD. We talked more about the details of my case and she asked of I wanted to make a formal complaint. I said yes and asked if this would get his name on the list. She said, ‘Absolutely.” I asked if there were others– because it’s never just one — and she said, “Yes – several.”
Peter hung up satisfied that he’d been heard and kept checking the list on the AOD website for Fr. Tyminski’s name. Four weeks passed, then eight. Nothing. After the first of the year 2019, he checked again. Still nothing. He finally texted Marge on February 15, 2019 to ask why. She texted back, “Funny enough- I was just thinking that today! I know that name did not come up at the last review hearing although I know they are very aware of- I will send an email and check!!”
He checked again in March and then in April – still not on the list. He decided to write a follow up letter to the Archbishop on April 2 but received no response. Finally, after being frustrated by the lack of action by the Pope, the USCCB, and the perceived inaction by the AOD on the clergy abuse scandal, Peter angerly sent this Facebook Message to the AOD Facebook page on May 12: “I have donated to the CSA for the past 30 years but am now seriously considering no longer doing so. As a victim of abuse by a priest more than 50 years ago, I am appalled by the AOD doing next to nothing to address the real problem addressing our priesthood – the serious lack of fidelity among our priests. They know who these priests are and refuse to do anything. I have written twice to the Archbishop concerning my own case and the name of the priest who sexually molested me is still not on the list. This tells me that victims like me matter not to the Church unless there is some financial measure attached. I am totally disgusted by this. Changing the DNA? Really? Try starting with a look inside. To me, it’s just words.”
Two days later, he got this reply: “This inbox is monitored by members of the Archdiocese’s Communications Department. We are so sorry to hear about your experience, but we are grateful you reached out to voice your concern and disappointment. We know that our words mean nothing without concrete action. Since receiving your message, we have been in touch with the team tasked by the Archbishop to review and respond to reports of abuse. They are examining your case today and will be in contact with you soon. God bless.”
On Friday, May 17, 2019 – six weeks later –Peter received a voicemail from Judge Talbot, from the AOD Review Board, apologizing for such a delay in getting Fr. Tyminski’s name added to the list but that it would be done so immediately and said if Peter wanted to talk further to call and leave a message and he would call me back. Late that afternoon, a press release was issued that said: “the complaint against the Rev. Jan Tyminski was brought forward to the Archdiocesan Review Board, considered and deemed to be credible.” It also stated that “Another similar allegation had been brought more than a decade ago, but the review board did not investigate claims against deceased priests at that time.”
Peter said, “When I saw the very weakly written news release the AOD sent to the local papers,” I shared it with my siblings. The release stated only one allegation was received. This upset me as I had detailed the abuses of my brothers as well. That made it four. And, recall, Marge Hubbard had told me there had been ‘several.’”
The following Monday, Peter got a call from Ned McGrath and Judge Talbot. He shared his frustration with the news release and McGrath said that he was writing it from memory as he didn’t have Peter’s letter in front of him. McGrath said he would make a correction to the news release and offered counseling for Peter and his siblings if needed that would be provided by the AOD. Peter commented later, “Who writes a news release of this magnitude without all of the pertinent detail in front of him?” A week passed with no corrected news release or correction on the AOD website.
A friend suggested Peter write to Msgr. Bugarin who was heading up the Review Board. So, Peter emailed Bugarin on May 22, 2019, sharing every detail going back to the previous September and attaching the two letters to the Archbishop as well as the Facebook messages. After seven weeks of waiting, Peter emailed Bugarin again. Nothing. It was at that time that Peter learned that his sister, “Dorothy”, 8 0r 9 at the time was molested by Fr. Tyminski as well. He also learned that she had first called the AOD to report hers in 1995.
With frustration increasing, Peter decided to write one more time to the Archbishop. On July 2, 2019 he sent a certified letter stating in part, “Before I go public, I want a personal meeting.” On Sunday, July 14, Peter got an unexpected visit from Dorothy, who shared the details of her abuse when she was X years old, as well as the negative impact it had on her in many of her relationships. She also told Peter how she called the AOD in 1995, at the request of their mother, to report the abuse. This was shortly after the death of their father.
She told Peter that whomever she spoke to at the AOD told her that these abusers rarely went after girls and because he was already dead (he died in 1984) there wasn’t much they could do. She was also told that she should seek counseling with a priest from Farmington Hills. Her reaction was, “I was abused by a priest and you want me to go to counseling to one of your priests?” She was told someone would get back to her, but no one did.
Time passed while Dorothy was busy raising a family, but she tried again to get some action from the AOD in 2002, after the news of the scandal in Boston broke. Again, follow up was promised, but none took place. In the meantime, Peter and Dorothy’s mother learned of the abuses of the other siblings. “She called me one night in tears,” recalled Peter. “She blamed herself. She said ‘I brought that man into our house. I cooked for him and did his laundry.” She died a few months later, taking that guilt to the grave with her.
After Dorothy finished telling of her frustrating experiences, Peter texted Marge Huggard that same evening, demanding a meeting with the Archbishop. She recommended meeting with Bugarin first, but Peter insisted on meeting with Vigneron. She finally said she’d facilitate it by the end of that week. Late that night, Peter received an email from Bugarin saying he’d like to meet. Peter responded that he wanted to meet only with the Archbishop. “He’s my shepherd,” he wrote, “and I have a right to meet with him.” Bugarin guaranteed that he would get the meeting with Vigneron but would have to have to meet first with him. “I’m going to be at the meeting with the Archbishop anyway,” Bugarin wrote. Peter agreed and they met at St. Joan of Arc office on July 27. He said that he viewed Bugarin as “the call screener” and prepared for the meeting.
Peter decided to take a friend from his men’s group to the meeting as “an extra set of ears.” Msgr. Bugarin also had another priest accompany him. Reading from his notes, Peter recounted the details of his clerical abuse as well as an overview of what his sister went through. “I didn’t go through every detail of everything I’d experienced. I just wanted to get past Bugarin to meet with the archbishop,” Peter commented. Bugarin listened and took many notes and at the end of Peter’s presentation, apologized for having to go through such an ordeal. He offered to send Peter information on a retreat for abuse victims, which he did, and the two agreed to exchange date options to get together with Vigneron.
The week following the meeting with Bugarin, a date was set for a meeting with Archbishop Vigneron to take place at the AOD Chancery on August 12, 2019. “I decided to take a picture of my mother to the meeting,” Peter explained. “I set in on the table facing Vigneron and Bugarin because she was the one victim they would never get to hear from.”
Peter and his spiritual advisor met with Vigneron and Bugarin in a small meeting room at the Chancery in downtown Detroit. Having written out all his notes, Peter began by explaining that he was there primarily out of love for God and His Church and the desire for her purification. He also emphasized his commitment to Jesus in surrendering himself to Him. He also told Vigneron he was there behalf of all the Catholics in the AOD, including the 75% that did not attend Mass regularly; the Mission of the Church – God wants His world back; and the other victims – those we know about and those we don’t know about.
“People like the Archbishop need to see people like me to understand what this has done to our lives and our relationships, he told the Archbishop. “To show the impact that those who are supposed to be saving souls – our supposed shepherds – have on victims like me and my siblings. I’m here to look for a path to healing for me, my family, and others abused – those who are still out there who may never come forward. And most importantly, I’m here for the cleansing of our Church.” He explained to Vigneron and Bugarin that from the time of his abuse through his adult years, it was only through the grace of God, that he’d been able to separate Christ’s Church from the people entrusted to lead Her. He also shared his frustration in that “too many instances of not being heard or listened to, both in the AOD and parishes. There is not much worse that the feeling you’re being ignored.”
Before detailing his experiences with clerical abuse and those of his siblings, he told them of the contact he has had with priests that were credibly accused of abuse and removed from active ministry. He’s been a member of primarily four parishes in the AOD throughout his life. In three of those, he knew some of these priests. It was in two of those parishes that Fr. Tyminski served, SS Peter and Paul (where Fr. Borycz served) and St. Andrew. While at St. Andrew, Fr. Joseph Sito – removed from ministry and now deceased – served as associate pastor and athletic director. Peter was also a member of Sacred Heart in Dearborn where Fr. Tony Conti (removed from ministry for abuse); another associate faked an attack on himself in church; a pastor, Fr. Peter Petroske was arrested for driving naked and drunk. That’s just 3 parishes of over 300 that were open at that time.
Peter also shared his frustration with the AOD, as well as the news media, in ignoring one of the root causes of the sexual abuse scandal among the clergy: the homosexual subculture that still exist among priests and bishops. Bishop John Nienstedt, who was removed from ministry in Minnesota, was accused of sexual abuse of seminarians while teaching Moral Theology at St. John Seminary. “I spoke with Bishop Nienstedt regarding liturgical abuse that was taking place at Sacred Heart,” recalled Peter. “He sounded rock-solid and said he’d look into it. I thought, ‘we have a good one here.’ Boy did he dupe me!” There were also two priests from Sacred Heart, Fr. Jack Child and current pastor Fr. Kenneth Chase (also the vicar), who regularly presided over so-called Dignity Masses – which take place every Sunday evening at Marygrove College for the homosexual community. Fr. Child has also attended meetings of the Elephants in the Living Room, a group that dissents against Catholic teaching, as did former Sacred Heart pastor Fr. Larry Kaiser.
He then shared the story of the abuses of Fr. Tyminski, starting with his oldest brother “Stanley”, 12 -14 at the time which took place in the mid-1950s. The family had befriended Fr. Tyminski while he was at St. Andrew and the abuse took place at Resurrection Church in Detroit, his next assignment. Stanley recalled, “They (our parents) put me on bus on Sundays to go visit with him. I had no idea what was happening. And then this SOB is concelebrating at my wedding Mass.” Stanley wanted no part of confronting the AOD. He just wanted to put it behind him.
Peter didn’t know much of anything about his older brother “Frank’s” abuse, other than it was than it was “bad” and happened in their family home. Frank was 13 or so years old at the time. After Peter’s meeting with Bugarin, Frank told him he “was done with the Church. F___ the priests!” As with other siblings, Frank encountered problems with relationships and went through two divorces.
Peter then detailed his and his sister’s ordeals. One thing Peter wanted to make clear was the grooming process Fr. Tyminski used on the brothers, all altar boys. “He made us feel special, always hugging and kissing us, telling us, ‘I love you my boys.’” Peter was 12-14 years old at the time he was abused.
During this meeting, Peter decided to disclose another sexual molestation he went through, but not by a member of the clergy. “It happened at a part-time job I was working during my teens, by an open homosexual man in his 40s. I thought it was important that they heard another example of how these predators try to groom their victims. This guy took as special interest to me, took me to a hockey game, exposed himself, and then molested me. I felt they needed to hear a vivid, first-hand description of the grooming process of these predators.”
Throughout the meeting, the Archbishop listened intently while Bugarin took notes. Once Peter finished recapping his experiences, he concluded by answering a question asked him by those he confided in regarding his meeting with Vigneron, “What are you looking to get out of this meeting?” He responded to this question as follows:
“Through MUCH prayer, this came to me.” Peter began.
“First, I want to make it clear, this story is going public. The only question is will come from the AOD or me? I think it would be better if it came from the AOD.
“So this is what I’m looking for. And as one of the faithful, I deserve nothing less – on behalf of me, my family, every other victim, as well as every faithful Catholic and the mission of the Church.
“I want a leader – a true shepherd – to have the courage to stand in front of a microphone and say, ‘As Archbishop of Detroit, I take full responsibility for the crisis that is taking place in our Church today. I take that responsibility partially on behalf of my predecessors who did not respond in a Christian fashion to sex abuse cases and on behalf of myself who also has not, in every respect, done what should be done. I will be as specific as possible.
‘Over the last 3-4 years, our goal has been to change the DNA of the Archdiocese and Unleash the Gospel throughout our land. But before we can effectively expand our mission field and attract others to come home to Jesus, we need to first clean our own house so that the eyes we hope to reach will be open to see and the ears to which we preach the Gospel will hear. We need to address the disease that infects our Church.
‘Following the recent USCCB meeting on clerical abuse, my publicized comments regarding our plan in the AOD to address the abuse crisis included two critical words: Transparency and accountability.
‘First the transparency:
‘We have a cancer that continues to spread and eat away at the moral being of our Church. When treating a cancer, surgeons aggressively attack the tumorous area and surgically remove it. They then treat the surrounding cells that may be affected and then follow up to make sure the cancer does not return.
‘Likewise, when faced with a flesh-eating disease, often the only treatment is to remove the infected area in order to save the life of the patient.
‘And, in Matthew 5, we see the words of Jesus: ‘If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better that you lose your eye than that your whole body be thrown into Hell.’
‘We have a deadly cancer infecting our Church in the form of infidelity and dissent. We have some in positions of ministry who are charged with shepherding their flocks who reject the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, are unfaithful to their vows, and openly dissent to other doctrinal teaching and lead others to do the same. And this, to a large extent, is the source of the cancer.
‘Recently, I met with members of a family of which 5 siblings were sexually abused by a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Fr. John Tyminski. These abuses took place over an approximate time-frame of 15 years, dating back over 65 years. They began a few years after Fr. Tyminski was befriended by the family when he was assigned at St. Andrew parish in Detroit in the early 1950s. The first took place at the rectory of Resurrection Church in Detroit in the mid-1950s when the eldest sibling, an altar boy, took a bus to visit him. Many of the abuses of the other siblings took place right in the family home where Fr. Tyminski was staying as a guest. None of the children said a word out of fear of accusing someone perceived as such a “holy priest.” None of the siblings knew about the abuses of the others for over 45 years. The mother, who eventually learned of one of the abuses after her husband died in 1994, went to her grave in 2003 blaming herself for what this priest did to her children.
‘Now the Accountability:
‘The Archdiocese of Detroit failed this family and so many others like them in so many ways. The abuses were first reported in a phone call by one of the victims to the AOD in 1995 shortly after the father’s death in December of 1994. There was no immediate follow up by the archdiocese. Another call was made to the AOD in 1999 after a publicized priest abuse case involving athletes from Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Still no follow up. In fact, not much hope of a follow up investigation was given since Fr. Tyminski had died in 1984. Again in 2004, a few months after the mother passed away, another call went to the AOD. Still, little or no action was taken. Finally, in 2018, following yet another call and other communications with the AOD, some action was taken. Even still, it took: a letter to me; a conversation with the victims’ advocate; a follow up text to the victims’ advocate; another letter to me; a private message on Facebook; and finally, a call from Judge Talbot to one of the victims to get Fr. Tyminski’s name added to the list. This latest process began on September 2, 2018 and finally got to this point on May 17, 2019.
‘At the same time a very weakly written and incomplete news release was sent out and the notice of the sexual abuse was posted on the website. However, the mention was made only of ‘a credible accusation of sex abuse’ when it should have stated that 5 siblings of the same family, one female and four males were abused. When one of the victims complained, a new, corrected release was promised by Ned McGrath, Director of Communications for the AOD. That never happened. Emails were then sent to Msgr. Bugarin with no response for 7 weeks. Finally, after a series of texts between one of the victims and the victims’ advocate, Msgr. Bugarin responded by email and meetings were set up, first with Mgsr. Bugarin, and then also myself.
‘We are so terribly sorry for all the pain and suffering this family has gone through because of these abuses and the AOD’s failure to respond in a more compassionate and timely fashion. We are committed to do everything we can to bring them healing and make sure this does not happen to any other family.
‘Regarding the cancer that is eating away at our Church, as chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of Detroit and metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Michigan, I pledge today to also become the lead surgeon in treating and removing this deadly tumor. I understand fully, that before people will be open to our teaching, they must have full confidence in our complete fidelity.
‘The treatment begins today with these action steps:
- ‘We will broaden the profiles of every priest on the AOD abuse list to include details of their offences, including a list of all their assignments, with location and timelines of when the abuse took place, the dates when the abuse was reported, the dates of action by the dioceses, and details of the nature of the abuse. We will issue acknowledgements and apologies for all mismanagement by those in authority. Names of the victims will not be made public.
- ‘We will show the complete content of the files to those who have been abused.
- ‘We will invite victims to make a statement about how the abuse affected them and their families and to report how they were treated by those in authority.
- ‘We will create a network of counseling and treatment to aid in the healing of victims of abuse and their families at the expense of the AOD.
- ‘We will end the so-called Dignity Masses which celebrate dissent to the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. I apologize for any scandal that may have been brought upon the Church and Her faithful as a result of having allowed these Masses to continue for so many years, as well as any bad counsel given by priests either in public or in the confessional due to these Masses.
- ‘We forbid the meetings of the dissenting group Elephants in the Living Room from being held on church property.
- ‘We will identify those in public ministry who openly dissent to Church teaching and remove them from these positions.
- ‘We will invite any priests who are living doubles lives and want to recommit themselves to a chaste, celibate, and faithful priesthood to come to me and I will help them embark upon a program of reform.
- ‘We will hold a yearly Mass of reparation and healing for all of those who have been harmed by priests or religious.
‘Our ultimate goal is the purification of our Church, the care of all Her members, and to maintain Her health. The faithful deserve nothing less.’
Peter continued, “If you decide that this comes from the AOD, I want my family and I to approve anything released to the media.
“As I was praying about this meeting yesterday, a quote from Cardinal George came to mind: ‘I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.’
“Your Excellency, God wants His world back. He wants His Church back as well. It’s up to us – the faithful – to ‘present Her to Him in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that She might be holy and without blemish.’ And as we heard at the end of yesterday’s Gospel, ‘Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.’”
When Peter finished, Vigneron said, “I am so sorry for all of the pain and suffering you and your family have gone through. I’m going to pray about how to respond.” He then bowed his head for a minute or so and said, “I’m not going to do everything you ask. I’m not even sure what we are going to do. But our approach is going to be a more deliberate one. We will follow the example of St. Philip Neri.” The Archbishop did assure Peter, though, that if he did decide to go public, the AOD would not take any action against him.
Peter requested that they at least let him know a timeframe for deciding on a course of action and they agreed. He emailed the outline of his notes, which included his requests for action to Bugarin. A week later, he emailed Bugarin, asking if they had decided on a timeframe. No response. He tried again a week later. Again, no response. That is when Peter decided to take the story public. “I texted Marge Huggard, the victims’ advocate, once more, sharing my frustration at the lack of response. To her credit, unlike everyone else, she answered immediately.. She didn’t have any answers of why it was taking so long but would pass my concerns along. The short answer she gave is that everyone is very busy and Bugarin has to ‘prioritize’ with ‘who is in crisis right now’. As Peter observed: “Well, what the hell, it’s only been 18 months. My sister only waited 26 years. What’s a few more months, or years?”
Just recently, before the writing of this story, Peter checked the AOD website to see if there was any change in Fr. Tyminski’s profile or an upgrade in the profiles of other priests on the list. He could not find a link to this information on AOD.org. It was only through a Google search of Fr. Tyminski that he found that the AOD has created a new, separate website to house this date: protect.aod.org. “It’s almost as though they don’t want anyone to be able to find the information,” he thought. And not only was there no link on the AOD site to the new page, only minimal information was given on priests credibly accused, and almost all of what was posted before has been removed. What an appalling slap in the fact to victims who need to have their stories told and others alerted to the facts.
“The irony of this whole story is, if Ned McGrath had just done what he promised me on the phone last May, the story would have ended right then and there. But when nothing happened, it infuriated me and caused me to pursue other actions. It made me feel that they were just checking the box when dealing with victims and just wanted them to disappear quietly.”
So much for transparency and accountability.