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Catholic priests charged with sexual misconduct

DETROIT – Four Roman Catholic priests who formerly worked in the Archdiocese of Detroit have been charged with sexually abusing boys in cases that date back to the 1960s to the 1980s.

The priests – who now live in Hawaii, New Mexico, Virginia and Florida – face counts of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving boys 14 and younger.

“This is serious and sobering news for the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Cardinal Adam Maida said Tuesday.

Though authorities nationwide have so far found only a few priest abuse cases that fall within each state’s statute of limitations, Michigan prosecutors were able to take advantage of their state’s law.

Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan used an exception in the law that allows charges to be brought if the suspect left the state before the six-year statute ran out.

The charged priests are: Robert Burkholder, 82, who lives on the island of Oahu, Hawaii; Jason E. Sigler, 64, of New Mexico; Harry Benjamin, 60, of Vienna, Va.; and Edward Olszewski, 67, of Key Largo, Fla. Each man is accused of criminal sexual conduct involving a boy 14 and younger.

“The magnitude of this is astonishing,” Duggan said. “If they have one skill, it’s manipulation.”

Olszewski was serving in a parish in Key Largo, Fla. He also faced several allegations of sexual abuse while serving in the Archdiocese of Miami, which removed him from the ministry this spring, according to the Detroit Archdiocese. He has denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman for the Miami Archdiocese did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

At least 300 priests have been suspended or resigned since the abuse crisis erupted in January with the case of a former Boston priest who was shuffled between parishes despite evidence he molested children.

American bishops agreed at a meeting in June to remove all errant priests from public ministry and to turn more information over to prosecutors. That is what happened in Michigan. Duggan said efforts to extradite the priests would begin immediately.