New Bishop Appointed to Saginaw Diocese Amid Ongoing Sex Abuse Scandal
The Saginaw Catholic Diocese is receiving a new bishop, appointed by Pope Francis. Bishop Robert D. Gruss, current bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, will begin his service starting July 26.
The 63-year-old Gruss was born in Texarkana, Arkansas June, 25, 1955. He attended school at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin and Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He worked as a corporate pilot and flight instructor from 1980-1989.
In 1990 he entered the seminary. Gruss says the transition was like night and day.
“As I got more involved in my faith as a single person, the Lord began to move me more into the direction of priesthood. So I decided my deepest desire was to do the will of God, whatever that is.”
Gruss entered the seminary at St. Ambrose University in Davenport 1989, then attended North American College in Rome from 1990-1994. He also attended the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Additionally, he earned a Master of Arts degree in Spiritual Theology at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1994. He completed studies at the Institute of Priestly Formation (IPF) with an emphasis on Spiritual Direction training in 1999.
Gruss was ordained as a priest in 1994 and named a monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. In 2011, he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City.
Gruss will relieve Apostolic Administrator Bichop Walter Hurley, who stepped out of retirement in Detroit to oversee the diocese following the death of bishop Joseph Cistone last October.
Saginaw Diocese Sex Abuse Scandal
The Diocese of Saginaw, as many dioceses around the U.S., are facing backlash after allegations of sexual abuse of minors was made public. Critics decry the actions of church leaders as insufficient in the wake of the news, some going so far to say they have been attempting to cover up the claims. The Saginaw County Prosecutor’s office has even said the Saginaw Diocese made the investigation into former Freeland-area priest Robert DeLand difficult by refusing to fully cooperate with law enforcement, which the diocese has denied.
DeLand pleaded no contest in March to second-degree criminal sexual conduct, providing an imitation controlled substance and gross indecency between males. He’s serving two to 15 years in prison.
During the the course of the investigation, it’s been found that so far, 22 priests within the diocese have “creible allegations” of sexual misconduct of one type or another, the most recent being the Rev. Dennis Kucharczyk of Midland. All investigations are now being handled by the Michigan Attorney General’s office. On May 24, Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the arrest of five priests from around the state, who aren’t from the Saginaw diocese, in her office’s investigation.
It is this atmosphere that Gruss is taking charge. He says he doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about the issue in the Saginaw diocese, but does say that he believes in the church being transparent and accountable and that “there is no place in the Church for sexual abuse of minors or anyone else.”
Gruss says he hopes he can be an agent of bringing unity back to the diocese.
Rapid City Diocese Sex Abuse Scandal
While Gruss may be unaware of the details of issues in the Saginaw Diocese, he is no stranger to sex abuse scandals. In March, Gruss published a list of 21 priests accused of sexual misconduct in the Rapid City Diocese, dating back to the 1950s. Only one of the priests, 38-year-old John Praveen, is still alive. According to the Rapid City Journal, Praveen was sentenced in March to six years in prison for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl.
Gruss has also been criticized for his position on allegations made against the former bishop of the Rapid City Diocese, now Archbishop of Chicago Blase Cupich. Cupich has been accused of covering up sexual abuse while serving the Rapid City Diocese. In a statement, Gruss defends Cupich and says the accusers, a group known as Roman Catholic Faithful, are “doing the work of Satan.”
Cupich has been tasked with investigating sexual abuse by priests. He was part of a council of U.S. bishops in 2018 focused on the matter. The Washington Post reported the Vatican issued a statement during the conference to not vote on certain proposals to address sexual abuse and to not rely on outside investigations.
This May, Pope Francis required all Catholic nuns and priests to report claims of sexual abuse or cover ups by clergy to their superiors in an effort to hold those responsible more accountable.