Employee sues Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, claiming retaliation for reporting sex-abuse complaint
SAGINAW, MI — A man who says his job with the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw was impacted after he reported a sex-abuse complaint against a priest has filed a lawsuit against the diocese.
In the suit, Gabriel Villarreal alleges he was retaliated against by the diocese and its agents for reporting a relative had been assaulted by the Rev. Robert J. DeLand. A jury acquitted DeLand of charges related to the relative, but DeLand was convicted of sexual assaulting a different person in a separate case.
Villarreal is a maintenance worker for the diocese.
Detroit attorney Jonathan R. Marko in March filed the suit in Saginaw County Circuit Court on behalf of Villarreal. The suit is seeking at least $25,000, plus interest, attorney fees, and exemplary damages.
Contacted by MLive-The Saginaw News, the diocese declined to comment, apart from saying it had not yet been served the complaint and would not comment on matters of litigation.
Villarreal’s relative testified in DeLand’s March 2019 trial that the priest called him into a coatroom and when they shook hands it was “very low” near the person’s groin. Villarreal later addressed the matter with a diocesan nun. He and the relative spoke to police about the incident after news broke in February 2018 that DeLand had been arrested on charges of sexually assaulting another person.
DeLand was later charged with attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct relating to the handshaking allegation. DeLand in September 2018 pleaded no contest to the charge and six others related to the assaults of two other males, though he later withdrew those pleas and faced trial. A jury acquitted him on the charge relating to the handshake.
With two more trials scheduled, DeLand then pleaded no contest to single counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between two males, and manufacturing or distributing an imitation controlled substance. That case involved a different person.
The lawsuit states that Villarreal had been a model diocese employee before he went to the authorities about DeLand’s cond...