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Brighton priest admitted to sexual encounter with 16-year-old

The Lansing Diocese has confirmed that a Brighton priest who resigned this past April did in fact have sex with a teenager.

According to a release from the diocese, in March of 2021, a high school student reported to the Diocese of Lansing that the person’s friend, a 16-year-old male, had engaged in sexual activity with Father Shaun Lowery, Pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen Church, after connecting with him through the mobile app Grindr. The diocese said that the person who made the report didn’t disclose the name of their friend, but said they recognized Father Lowery as a priest.

The diocese said Lowery admitted to the alleged sexual encounter but claimed to have been unaware that the young person in question was a 16-year-old and presumed he was an adult. It was also confirmed that the encounter had been arranged through Grindr, a mobile application that requests age verification on the part of all subscribers to affirm they are over 18 years of age.

The Diocese of Lansing says it immediately forwarded the information to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which began an investigation. It was at that point that Bishop Earl Boyea placed Father Lowery on administrative leave.

At the time, no information was released by the diocese as to why an investigation was being conducted, other than to say that if anyone had a reason to suspect physical, sexual or emotional abuse of any person of any age, they were encouraged to contact Child Protective Services or the police.

The AG’s Office closed its investigation in May of 2021 and said they would not be bringing charges, although a spokeswoman at the time said the lack of charges was not equivalent to exoneration. Yet, until the diocese release on October 13, it was never revealed exactly why no charges had been sought.

However, according to the release, the AG said that what Father Lowery stood accused of was not a crime because the State of Michigan’s statutory rape law requires the victim to be under 16. Likewise, they said, since there was no allegation that the sexual contact was non-consensual, there was no crime under Michigan law.

“The conclusion of the Attorney General’s investigation allowed the Diocese of Lansing to proceed with its own investigation under the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which defines a minor as a person under the age of 18,” said the release. “Thus, the case was referred to the diocesan Review Board for the Sexual Abuse of Minors. The Review Board found that, while Fr. Lowery denied knowing that the sexual encounter was with a minor, the encounter was, indeed, with a minor. The Bishop agreed and, as is required by Canon Law, forwarded his findings to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome.”

After reviewing the details of the case, the CDF informed the Diocese of Lansing that because Lowery’s conduct occurred prior to December 8, 2021 when new standards for priestly behavior came into effect, he could not be face sanction under them.

The new norms state that “ignorance or error on the part of the cleric regarding the age of the minor does not constitute an extenuating or exonerating circumstance.”

“The Diocese of Lansing has asked for clarification on certain aspects of this ruling and is currently awaiting a response from the CDF,” continued the release. “Once that response is received, the Diocese will determine the next steps to be taken in this case.”

Following his resignation, Father Lowery is reportedly now seeking laicization, or dismissal from his clerical state, and would become a layperson.

“Father Lowery…grievously violated his vow of celibacy, and gave scandal to the young persons involved in this case as well as to the wider Church,” said David Kerr, a spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing. “Our desire had been to issue an all-encompassing statement at the conclusion of the canonical process involving Father Lowery but, unfortunately, the prolonged nature of those proceedings meant that information relating to the case was emerging into the public domain in a piecemeal and, thus, potentially inaccurate fashion.” 

The full statement can be found HERE.

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