Lawsuit filed against former St. Mary's priest


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Former St. Mary's priest Denis Heames meets former Pope Benedict XVI. This photo was posted on Heames' Facebook page in February 2012.

For nearly two years, St. Mary's University Parish Priest Denis Heames asked a Central Michigan University student to keep his sexual relationship with her a secret, according to a lawsuit filed in Isabella County's 21st Circuit Court.

Senior Megan Winans is asking the court to consider whether she was abused by Heames, who was removed from St. Mary's in June, during her work as a "media intern" at the church from 2012 to 2014. A civil lawsuit was filed Jan. 14 claiming battery, defamation, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision and retention. 

Winans is suing for economic losses equivalent to $25,000 for each count and any other costs she may be entitled to.

Heames, who now resides in Canada according to the documents, was placed on leave for "boundary violations." No other specific details were given in a press release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saginaw other than to point out the violations had nothing to do with minors. 

"It greatly distresses me to know that any person entrusted to our care has been harmed by the minister of our church," said Bishop Joseph Cistone in the press release.

Among those named in the lawsuit are Heames, a woman described as his "spiritual director," Trudy McCaffrey, the Diocese of Saginaw and St. Mary's. 

According to the lawsuit, Heames met with Winans in fall 2012 to discuss her involvement in the church. Winans said she opened up to him about her struggles with faith and "emotional issues." She claims Heames persuaded her to attend weekly meetings with him for "spiritual direction and counseling."

Heames initiated a sexual relationship with her, Winans said. She also alleges Heames had sexual relationships with other female parishioners before and after 2012, though there are no details in the lawsuit which support this claim.

The document states Heames justified his sexual relationship with Winans by explaining it through religious means. Winans said she didn't consent to sexual contact with Heames and feared turning him down because he is a priest. The first sex act happened at Heames' spiritual adviser's home in Saginaw. 

After their sexual relationship began, Heames hired Winans as a "media intern" at St. Mary's. She states in the lawsuit the job would allow him to "work closely with her without raising suspicion among parishioners and employees." Winans was paid a stipend by the diocese. 

During her work at the church, Winans accompanied Heames on several trips required of him as a priest. The two continued their sexual relationship during these trips. 

The lawsuit states Heames breached his fiduciary duty by having a sexual relationship with Winans, while acting with the intention to mislead her during spiritual counseling.

When their relationship ended, so did Winans' position at the church.

St. Mary's and the diocese failed to exercise reasonable care when supervising its priests to ensure the priests were not abusing any of the parishioners, the lawsuit states, essentially subjecting Winans to a priest who abused his status to take advantage of a parishioner. 

Heames is accused of defaming Winans to cover up his relationship with her. The documents state he acted with actual malice when he said she seduced him, acting with a reckless disregard for the truth. 

The Diocese of Saginaw declined to comment.

No court date has been set yet.

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About Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith is a super-senior at Central Michigan University. She comes from metro Detroit ...

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