Gaylord Diocesan Watch
For immediate release: Feb. 13, 2019
CONTACT: Dr. Richard Brenz, MD, group spokesman: (231) 920-3029
Bill DeLyon (231) 348-2700
Martin Dubravec (231) 920-9738
Chris Maciborski (231) 920-9870
CADILLAC, Mich. (Feb 13, 2019)— Parishioners at St. Francis Church in Petoskey were shocked to learn in November a former priest, James Holtz, who was removed from ministry 17 years ago for molesting a minor, was currently involved in activities at their parish involving contact with children, in violation of diocesan guidelines. Fr. James Holtz was removed from active ministry in August 2002 by Gaylord Bishop Patrick Cooney for sexual abuse of a minor in the 1980s. He was at that time pastor of the parishes of St. Mary of the Woods in Kalkaska and St. Aloysius in Fife Lake. The diocese report at that time indicated Holtz had sexually abused a minor in the early 1980s.
Holtz’s name was on a list of 10 priests made public on Nov. 14, 2018 “who are known to have had credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor made against them in the Diocese of Gaylord.”
“Until that list became public in November, virtually nobody at St Francis was aware Fr. Dennis Stilwell allowed a known child molester to work at the altar, with altar servers and in religious education for many years,” said Dr. Richard Brenz, spokesman for Gaylord Diocesan Watch, an activist group formed last month.
“Holtz never could have passed the Gaylord Diocese basic background check that every employee in a parish and school is required to undergo,” Brenz said. “It is bad enough that Holtz was selected by Fr. Stillwell to work with and be around children on parish grounds, but the secrecy surrounding his involvement is even more outrageous.
As faithful Catholics who have once again been betrayed by our local bishops who shroud everything they do in secrecy yet preach about transparency, we once again call on the media to investigate this scandal,” Brenz added.
“Bishop Steven Raica wrote in response to the Pennsyvania scandal, ‘…we must not let down our guard. We must remain vigilant.’ Yet his own vicar general ignores the basic rules in place to protect children. We are sorry to say that we have little confidence in Church officials to protect our children. At the very least, parents of children attending the St. Francis Elementary School and who are altar servers should have been notified of Holtz’s background.
Bill De Lyon, a co-founder with Brenz of GDW, wrote a letter Oct. 2, 2018 to Bishop Raica inquiring about Holtz’s role at St. Francis and has gotten no response so far.
Below are excerpts of De Lyon’s letter to Raica:
“In your August 15 letter regarding the Pennsylvania grand jury report, you asked what more you could do in the diocese to ensure that the clergy were more faithful witnesses and you said there is no place in ministry for priests who would harm youth. You cited mandatory safe environment training and background checks for clergy and religious while emphasizing the need to create and maintain a safe parish environment. …
“How could Fr. Denny Stillwell, the first priest ordained in the diocese of Gaylord, who knows Fr. Jim Holtz, allow him to be involved with the altar servers, teach the faithful and participate in the Eucharistic ministry, along with other duties, as recently as last year? How could he have passed a background check or a safe environment training? How could someone in Fr. Denny’s position as Vicar General make such a grievous decision?”
Brenz said it appears Bishop Raica has not learned the lesson cited by his predecessor, Bishop Patrick Cooney, in a press release when he removed Holtz from ministry in 2002: “We have learned that the effects of abuse are often life-altering for everyone involved, regardless of who the perpetrator is or the specifics of an individual case. There is so much pain and anguish,” Cooney wrote.
Holtz’s Facebook page, which is easily accessed by the public, shows he has given favorable ratings to books in the last two and three years with explicitly homo-erotic themes. In the section of his Facebook profile titled “Reviews” several of the books have covers with an image of handsome young men in provocative poses. One book, “Leap of Faith,” which Holtz gave a 5-star rating (on a scale of 1-5) shows two men kissing.
The description on the Amazon web site to purchase “Leap of Faith” indicates: “This is a full length romance novella which has multiple gay sex scenes. Mature readers only. Set in the onset to WWII.”
Another book which received a 5-star rating from Holtz is “My Dream Boy.” Clicking the image of book takes the reader to a web site titled “Romance Week,” which carries this summary of the book:
“Jake and a couple of his college friends learn about a cruising spot near campus and decide to try it out. They soon find that they can get a blowjob there and in no time they’re doing it to each other… and more. Then the school year ends and Jake moves home. He misses his pals and the hot sex they had and is looking forward to a boring summer. But things look up when new people move in next door. Their son is a gorgeous young guy and Jake makes it his mission to get to know him. What he doesn’t know is that Evan also likes guys.”
Another book that received a 5-star rating from Holtz is “Wizards Moon,” which is summarized on the Romance Week web site thusly: “I wish to buy a boy. A warrior from the Northlands purchases a young man for purposes both secret and perhaps sinister.”
“The presence of Holtz under the direction of Fr. Stilwell at St. Francis is part of a deeply troubling pattern we see at the parish and in the diocese,” Brenz said.
Gaylord Diocesan Watch’s web site includes press releases issued by the group in recent weeks, all of them focusing on Fr. Dennis Stilwell, as well as coverage in local media based on our Feb. 6 press conference in Cadillac.