For immediate release: Feb. 19, 2019
Dr. Richard Brenz, MD, group spokesman: (231) 920-3029
Bill DeLyon (231) 348-2700
Martin Dubravec (231) 920-9738
Chris Maciborski (231) 920-9870
More scandal at St. Francis Xavier:
Bishop Raica ignored complaint of abuse by Bishop Lynch
CADILLAC, Mich. (Feb 13, 2019)—Catholics in northern Michigan are owed an explanation by Gaylord Bishop Steven Raica regarding the presence of one of America’s most notorious bishops, Robert Lynch, at St. Francis Xavier Church in Petoskey for at least eight years, according to the activist group, Gaylord Diocesan Watch.
“A great deal has happened since last August at St. Francis that is causing the faithful to scratch their heads in wonderment at what was going on regarding Fr. Dennis Stilwell, who is both the pastor of the parish and the vicar general of the Diocese of Gaylord,” said Richard Brenz, spokesman for the group, which was formed in January.
“First we learned in December that Fr. Stilwell was accused of sexual harassment of a young priest half his age, Fr. Matthew Cowan; then, we discovered that Fr. Stilwell seems to have been enlisting people with notorious backgrounds as sexual offenders to work in his parish going back at least eight years, all the while keeping silent about the history of these men,” said Brenz.
Last week, we issued a press release about the scandal of Fr. Stilwell hiring former priest James Holtz, who was removed from ministry in 2002 for sexual abuse of a minor. Today we are publicly questioning Bishop Raica’s rationale for allowing Bishop Lynch to minister in Petoskey.
“Anyone can do a simple Google search,” Brenz said, “to learn about Bishop Lynch and see he is among the most controversial figures in the Catholic Church, in part due to payment of more than $ 100,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging workplace sexual harassment filed by his director of communications, Bill Urbanski, in 2002, as well as several decisions as a bishop that deeply offend those who respect Christian morality.”
Lynch was bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg from 1996-2016. Following Bishop Lynch’s statement blaming the Catholic Church for the June, 2016, massacre at the Pulse Night Club, the typically sedate Catholic publication, Catholic World Report said Lynch should be forced to resign. He was removed shortly thereafter by Pope Francis.
For many years Bishop Lynch has vacationed in the Petoskey area and has offered Mass and other sacraments at parishes under the direction of Fr. Stilwell.
A complaint of sexual harassment within the Diocese of Gaylord against Bishop Lynch was made in person to Bishop Raica in November 2016 by the Adam C. Chittle, who runs the Augustine Center, a retreat house located in Conway, on the northern border of Petoskey.
Upon reading reportage last summer of how Cardinal Theodore McCarrick preyed on young adults, Chittle realized that Bishop Lynch exhibited the exact kinds of behaviors towards him two years previously, as well as toward and decided to alert Bishop Raica again.
“Bishop Raica, since the release of the news about McCarrick taking seminarians and priests to a
beach house for sex, and the credible claims of a predatory homosexual network in the church,
I now believe that I have a duty to alert others in the diocese about my experiences with Bishop
Lynch-let the people draw their own conclusions regarding him,” Chittle wrote in
a two-page letter dated Oct. 26, 2018.
Chittle’s letter lists “specific experiences” he had involving Bishop Lynch that he now believes are part of a pattern used by predator clerics:
- He offered to take me out to dinner. I warily accepted.
- As he drove us to dinner, he found occasion to touch the back of his right hand to the outside of my left thigh.
- At dinner, he asked me about my exercise regimen in reference to my physical fitness.
- At dinner, I asked him why he became a priest. His answer had nothing to do with prayer, love of God, Jesus or the saints, etc.
- After dinner, he said that my payment to him for dinner was to drive us back, and he handed me the keys.
- Sometime later he asked me to dinner again. This time I said that it would depend on my friend’s schedule. He tried a couple of times to get me to drop the idea of bringing a friend. My friend came with us for this second meal.
- Sometime later, while in the sacristy, he said he was worried about my never taking a vacation, and then he offered to purchase a plane ticket for me to someplace in Florida. I told him there was no chance I would accept that offer.
- Sometime later, while in the sacristy following a Mass, he reached out and clasped my left hand with both of his hands. I froze for the 5-7 seconds he did this, and then he let go.
- Sometime later, he asked me to dinner yet again. This time I made up an excuse which indicated I would never again be going out to dinner with him.
- Lastly, from around the end of 2016 to the present, Bishop Lynch has brought several young priests and seminarians with him to the Sacramentine Monastery for Mass.
“While it is troubling that Bishop Raica never gave a formal response to Mr. Chittle about his complaint for more than two years, it is even more problematic that he so far has refused to address in any meaningful way publicly that Bishop Lynch was even problem at St. Francis or in the diocese,” Brenz said.
When Bishop Raica spoke to a group of about 400 people at St. Stephen Church in Lake City in January, he was asked specifically about Bishop Lynch and said only: “I have informed him (Lynch) that he is not to minister in the diocese. I have spoken to Bp. Lynch. He is only here 2, 3 months.”
“Our question to the bishop is simple,” Brenz said. “What is it that occurred that caused you to forbid Lynch to minister in the diocese in January that was any different over the last many years when he was a celebrated figure by Fr. Stilwell?”
In the Aug. 29, 2018, parish bulletin, Fr. Stilwell issued his annual “good bye” to Bishop Lynch after the summer vacation season and said he considered Lynch a “truly a great and holy man and one of my heroes.”
In the Sept. 2, 2018 bulletin, Fr. Stilwell wrote: “Bishop Lynch left Petoskey last Friday to return to his home diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida. I had dinner with him and with Bishop Raica last Monday. Let us keep Bishop Lynch in your prayers. Though he is retired he is as busy as every using his special gifts to give retreats to priests and laity all across the country. We have benefited from his talent for preaching and teaching.”
Meanwhile, two months after Fr. Stilwell praised Bishop Lynch, a former bishop of Gaylord, Bishop Bernard Hebda, forbade Bishop Lynch from preaching in his new diocese, St Paul/Minneapolis due to protests from laity over Lynch’s soft stance on sexual abuse.
“Once again we, the faithful in this diocese are faced by major scandals that rip our parishes apart the local bishop stands silent,” Brenz said. “We are troubled about the pattern of wrong-headed behavior we see from Fr. Dennis Stilwell and are beginning to wonder why Bishop Raica has kept someone with Stilwell’s judgment as vicar general, which is the second-most-powerful position in the chancery for a priest.
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