Bishop Walsh has announced diocesan-wide masses of reparation in light of the Abuse Report of the Michigan Attorney General. These will occur on Wednesday, January 24th, 2024. This announcement is an appropriate and long needed response to the crisis of sexual abuse in our diocese. Please check your parish bulletin for times and try to attend if you can.
But it’s not enough.
Lacking in the various videos and bulletin inserts that Bishop Walsh put together is a glaring absence of accountability for those in charge when these events occurred. In many of these abuse cases, bishops and fellow priests were notified of the abuse but nothing was done. A few examples are illustrative:
The case of Fr. James Holtz reveals a shocking and disgusting lack of accountability of the Diocese regarding his sexual abuse. According to the Attorney General’s report (page 46), in 1988, Bishop Rose was notified by the vicar of the the Diocese, Fr. James Suchoski, by parents that their child had been abused by a priest. They requested confidentiality regarding the issue. The Diocese, according to the Attorney General report, did not pursue the matter. However, after the nationwide scandal of 2002 regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was blown wide open, then Bishop Cooney took a look at Holtz’s file and interviewed the parents and the victim. Two more alleged victims were discovered, including one who subsequently committed suicide. It was noted that in 2002, all of the priests of the Diocese were notified about Holtz’s abuse and the Diocesan Review Board even agreed that the allegations were credible. Holtz was then removed from ministry – but not for long. Years later, Holtz would resurface as a “helper” for the disgraced Fr. Dennis Stilwell, then vicar of the Diocese. Fr. Stilwell allowed Holtz to help altar boys at St. Francis Church in Petoskey where Stilwell was pastor. This occurred for years until he was outed and removed from that job. So who knew about Holtz? Bishop Cooney and the entire clergy in place in 2002 (including Fr. Stilwell).
One of the most disturbing examples is that of Father James Gardiner (page 14 of the Attorney General report). In 1996, under the leadership of Bishop Cooney, Father Gardiner performed a sex act on a troubled parishioner looking for help during a time of suicidal thoughts. Fr. Gardiner admitted this to a police officer. Under the leadership of Bishops Hebda and Raica, Father Gardiner had another abuse allegation lodged against him for which the Diocese notified the state of Michigan that he had been sidelined, but the Diocesan Review Board threw out this allegation. Under Bishop Hurley, Father Gardiner was taken out of retirement and put in to fill for another disgraced priest, Bryan Medlin (who has left the Diocese) due to that priest’s inappropriateness with minors. Finally, under Bishop Walsh, Fr. Gardiner was assigned as a Sacramental Minister for the Diocese to cover in a parish in 2022.
These and other examples reveal not a single episode of incompetence from a single cleric, but rather a pattern of gross incompetence, or even possible malice, of bishops and priests to their flocks. Much, if not all, of the abuse could have been appropriately addressed, stopped, or even prevented if bishops and priests listened to their parishioners. Instead, too many clergy refused to sit down and talk to concerned Catholics in the Diocese such as Gaylord Diocesan Watch. Bishop Walsh is no exception.
Instead of guarding and protecting, what is displayed is a long and recurrent lack of accountability and transparency – the clergy of this Diocese are not capable of policing themselves. No wonder the Diocese has lost thousands of Catholics. Episodes such as this emphasize the need for Gaylord Diocesan Watch. Every diocese should have an organization such as Gaylord Diocesan Watch to assist the clergy with regard to proper functioning of the Church. Faithful Catholics can be a loving, effective, efficient, and reliable source of checks and balances regarding much of the functioning of the Diocese. Faithful lay people of the Diocese should be able and are obligated to use their talents and resources to aid the Diocese. Gaylord Diocesan Watch remains dedicated to being a part of this Diocese. Please keep Gaylord Diocesan Watch in your prayers that we continue our apostolate with fidelity to the Church and with the common good of the Diocese of Gaylord in mind.