Local church avoids addressing Nassar ties despite evidence
Former MSU employee Larry Nassar was a catechist for St. Thomas Aquinas Church’s seventh grade class, though the parish is not eager to claim him.
Nassar also served as a Eucharistic minister at , also part of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, according to the spring 2000 edition of Communiqué, the magazine of the College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Nassar is accused of sexually abusing his patients and other young women with whom he had contact.
Nassar was arrested in December 2016 on charges of possessing “at least 37,000” images of child pornography.
Some of the images show Nassar sexually assaulting young girls, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Director of religious education Annie Kitching said Nassar was not affiliated with St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, despite having written a post on the indicating that he was a catechist for the 2015-16 school year.
When pressed, Kitching conceded that Nassar “may have been at one time, but not for a long time.”
Within 10 minutes of the conversation, the list of catechists was taken off the blog, though it is still visible in cached versions of the site.
He was associated with the program until September 2016, and had been teaching “for several years,” said catechist Michelle Danaj, who worked directly with Nassar.
The Diocese of Lansing confirmed Nassar was involved with the church and completed “Safe Environment training” before becoming a catechist.
Safe Environment training is intended to train parishioners who work with children how to recognize and prevent child abuse.
Diocese of Lansing director of communications Michael Diebold said the Diocese is unaware of any inappropriate activity involving Nassar.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of any abuse wherever it occurs,” Diebold said via email. “They can be assured of our prayers.”
Anyone who is aware of inappropriate activity should contact the police and the Diocese of Lansing’s , Diebold said.
There was nothing strange about working with Nassar, Danaj said.
“It seemed like a normal teaching experience,” Danaj said. “He knew a lot about the Catholic faith, he treated the students with respect.”
Danaj found out about the accusations against Nassar while watching the news.
“It was a shock to me,” Danaj said. “I had never even suspected, I had never even thought that he was capable of such things.”
After seeing Nassar on the news, Danaj said she immediately called Kitching to ensure the safety of the church’s catechism students.
“I was a little bit anxious about the whole thing,” Danaj said.
Kitching had already learned of the accusations and removed Nassar from his position. The Diocese had no comment on whether they had informed the parents of children in Nassar’s class of the allegations against him, or whether an internal investigation has been launched. Attorney Stephen Drew, who have accused Nassar of sexual abuse, said he thinks the parish should let parents know because children might not bring up abuse themselves.
“Given what’s come out about Mr. Nassar, it probably makes some sense if he’s been teaching the classes to maybe get a letter out to parents to see if there’s been any concerns of any inappropriate action,” Drew said. “A lot of times children will not mention it because (they’ve been abused by) an authority figure.”
Drew said he believes the Diocese of Lansing should conduct an internal investigation into Nassar’s interactions with children in St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.
“When you have a person that has the tendencies to be an abuser of children, there’s always a possibility that he used that forum or that location,” Drew said. “There always is that possibility.” An investigation wouldn’t indicate that Nassar definitely used his authority to abuse children in the parish, but it would be a reasonable step as allegations continue to be brought against him, Drew said.
“In my judgment, they should do that, for the sake of their own children,” Drew said. “Fear of a lawsuit should never deter asking the right questions in an investigation. It just should not, that’s the worst reason not to do it.”