Show Bishops Transferred Known Abuser
Church officials say policies have since changed
By Brooks Egerton with contributions by Michael D. Goldhaber
Dallas Morning News
August 31, 1997
[Note from BishopAccountability.org: This article quotes extensively
from diocesan documents in order to describe the bishops' involvement
in the Holley case. With this article, the Dallas Morning News published
a selection of correspondence
excerpts providing additional quotations from those documents. We
have added links to PDFs of the documents themselves. See also a PDF
of Egerton's original printed article and the correspondence excerpts.
For more information on the Holley case, see Holley's own Affidavit
(7/12/93) with links to the documents he cites; Priest
Accused of Abuse While at Parish in Mass, by Stephen Kurkjian, Boston
Globe (12/21/92); 4
Say Diocese in Worcester Reneged, Plan Abuse Suit, by Linda Matchan,
Boston Globe (4/13/93); and Priest
Left Heavy Trail of Abuse, by Bill Murphy, Houston Chronicle (6/2/02).]
A National Conference of Catholic Bishops leader and several other top
clerics knowingly allowed a child-molesting priest to work for at least
20 years in Massachusetts, New Mexico, West Texas and Colorado, their
|The Rev. David Holley ... the priest received
275 years in prison for molesting boys in New Mexico.
Repeated transfers of the now-imprisoned Rev. David Holley provide a
case study in how bishops have cooperated to protect pedophiles in the
priesthood, say experts who have tracked hundreds of clergy-abuse cases
around the country.
Catholic Church officials dispute that assertion, saying they lacked
knowledge about pedophiles' incurability until the early 1990s and now
are moving to flush out "wolves in sheep's clothing."
Indications that bishops understood the danger much earlier appear in
their own writings, which were in personnel files that some of Father
Holley's former parishioners obtained in litigation a few years ago. The
Dallas Morning News recently reviewed the documents, whose contents were
sealed under out-of-court settlements and have never been made public.
"This man has been . . . accused of molesting teenage boys on at
least two occasions - most recently in a hospital from which he has been
barred - and with carrying around and showing to these boys pornographic
magazines and books," wrote Worcester, Mass., Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan
in a 1968 therapy referral. [See a PDF
of Flanagan's letter.]
Those allegations and similar ones forced Father Holley out of his home
diocese of Worcester and led to a series of transfers in the Southwest,
the correspondence shows.
In 1982, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza wrote that he knew of Father Holley's
"past difficulties" and stated: "With our shortage of priests,
I am willing to risk incardinating him" - which means formally making
him a priest of the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas. [See a PDF
of Fiorenza's letter.]
At the time, Bishop Fiorenza headed that diocese. Today, he governs the
Diocese of Galveston-Houston and, as vice president of the national bishops
group, is expected to become president next year.
Bishop Fiorenza, 66, declined interview requests, saying through spokesman
Ron Regan that he didn't want to revisit old traumas. "The church
needs to move beyond this," Mr. Regan said Thursday .
Father Holley isn't the only child molester whom Bishop Fiorenza has
allowed to continue working. After going to Houston in 1985, the bishop
reassigned a priest caught in the act of abusing a girl and offered her
no help, according to published reports that his spokesman doesn't dispute.
The woman who discovered the abuse said the diocese pressured her not
to tell police.
Mr. Regan said the Houston diocese, like the Catholic Diocese of Dallas
and many others, now has a policy of investigating all abuse allegations
and putting anyone accused on leave.
Father Holley, 70, didn't respond to interview requests. He was sentenced
to prison in 1993 for molesting young boys in Alamogordo, N.M., two decades
earlier. He is serving a maximum sentence of 275 years at the Western
New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants, N.M.
During Father Holley's 30-year career as a priest, bishops sent him for
inpatient psychiatric treatment at least twice, then institutionalized
him again when abuse allegations resurfaced in the early 1990s after he'd
One of the hospitalizations was initiated by Bishop Fiorenza's now-deceased
predecessor in San Angelo, Bishop Stephen A. Leven, who wrote in 1977
that Father Holley was "a calculated risk." [See a PDF
of Leven's letter.]
Other revelations in the bishops' correspondence:
• Bishop Flanagan, now retired, wrote in 1970 that he would help
Father Holley find "a benevolent bishop who could use his services"
after evidence of molestation emerged in three Massachusetts parishes.
[See a PDF
of Flanagan's letter.] The first record of abuse in his personnel
file was made in 1968, though Father Holley has testified that it was
reported to Bishop Flanagan during his first parish assignment, from
1962 to 1964. [See Holley's
• Bishop Flanagan was unavailable for comment because of poor
health, said Worcester Diocese spokesman Ray Delisle. Other top church
officials in Worcester also were unavailable, he said.
• Worcester Auxiliary Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, who later
became head bishop and recently died, wrote a few months earlier in
1970: "Bishop Flanagan and I have had such serious doubts about
Father continuing in the priesthood that, at one time, it was suggested
that he seek a dispensation and return to the lay state. . . .
"People have been so greatly disturbed by his behavior that we
would wonder whether he can avoid his reputation going before him in
any area of this compact diocese. We also question whether we can chance
the possibility of his having another relapse." [See a PDF
of Harrington's letter.]
• Wilmington, Del., Bishop Thomas J. Mardaga refused to take
on Father Holley but expressed openness to other priests "who have
experienced difficulties in their own communities. This has been our
policy . . ." Bishop Mardaga died more than a decade ago. [See
of Mardaga's letter.]
• Father Holley ended up at an Albuquerque retreat house run
by the Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic order that aids priests
plagued by everything from sexual misconduct to addictions. All those
under Paraclete care "go out to neighboring parishes on weekends,"
Father Holley wrote to superiors in Worcester in 1971. [See a PDF
of Holley's letter.]
In recent years, the Paracletes and higher church officials have settled
several dozen lawsuits over abuse committed by these priests. The policy
allowing sex offenders to minister in parishes was changed.
• While under Paraclete care, Father Holley served as an assistant
pastor at an Alamogordo church until the mid-1970s. His personnel file
contains no record of allegations being made against him then, but his
immediate supervisor, the Rev. Wilfrid Diamond, later testified that
several victims' families told him of abuse at the time. Father Diamond
- who said he himself was once put under Paraclete care for having sex
with a woman - is now dead. [See excerpts from the Diamond deposition
on the Holley
allegations and Diamond's
time with the Paracletes.]
• In El Paso, where Father Holley went next, Bishop Sidney M.
Metzger removed him from his first parish job because of more molestation
allegations. He put him at another church in the city that was described
by the first pastor, the Rev. A. Dixon Hartford, as needing help. "Bishop,
I know what I'm proposing is very risky . . .," wrote Monsignor
Hartford, now pastor at another church. He could not be reached for
comment Friday; Bishop Metzger has since died. [See a PDF
of Hartford's letter.]
• After being forced out of El Paso, Father Holley went to the
Diocese of San Angelo in 1977. Court records say he worked at churches
in McCamey and Garden City. Repeated recurrences of "his past problems"
led to Father Holley's expulsion by Bishop Fiorenza in 1984, church
correspondence shows. [See a PDF
of Fiorenza's letter.]
• Father Holley ended up working later in the 1980s for short
periods at an Amarillo church and as a chaplain at hospitals in Albuquerque
and Denver, where church records indicate he last worked in 1988.
The records do not specify why Father Holley left those posts, although
Amarillo Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen once told The Boston Globe
that Father Holley had been accused of making sexual advances toward
another priest's nephew in 1985. The bishop said he ordered Father Holley
into counseling. [See the Globe
Bishop Matthiesen could not be reached for comment Friday. An Amarillo
diocese spokesman said he could find no record that Father Holley had
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, of which Albuquerque is a part, likewise
said it could find no records on Father Holley and wouldn't comment.
Denver archdiocesan officials said they granted Father Holley the right
to work at a Catholic hospital after the Worcester diocese assured them
that he was a priest in good standing. Mr. Delisle, the Worcester spokesman,
said he didn't have access to the priest's personnel file and couldn't
In the early 1990s, Father Holley and some who supervised him were sued
in New Mexico and Massachusetts. More than a dozen Alamogordo victims
later received undisclosed amounts from the Diocese of Worcester, as well
as the Diocese of El Paso, of which Alamogordo once was a part; the Servants
of the Paraclete; and a clinic to which the order sent Father Holley.
Separately, four Massachusetts men received settlements from the Diocese
of Worcester, according to published accounts. One man has said he got
$12,500; the other amounts weren't disclosed.
The Alamogordo suit led to criminal charges of sexual assault and sodomy,
to which Father Holley pleaded guilty. Before being sentenced, he told
the judge that he empathized with the young men who had testified against
"When they shared their pain, their embarrassment, their anguish,
their suffering, I was able to identify with them," The Associated
Press quoted the priest as saying.
One of the victims, Robert Curtis, said Thursday he never felt that Father
Holley had taken responsibility for his actions. But the greater crime,
he said, was committed by the bishops who "shuffled him around to
unsuspecting little towns."
"Those people deserve to be in jail, too, as far as I'm concerned,"
said Mr. Curtis, who was an 11-year-old paperboy when Father Holley first
approached him in the early 1970s. "They were consenting to what
he did. They put every one of those kids in harm's way, including me."
To this day, he said, none of those clergymen has apologized personally
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a church-law expert who formerly worked in the
Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Father Holley worked in an unusually
large number of dioceses. But the broad outlines of his story, Father
Doyle said, are not unusual.
"In numerous dioceses in this country, priests reported for sexual
misconduct with children were transferred not only once but often several
times," he wrote in a 1996
report for lawyer Sylvia Demarest. She is one of the plaintiffs' attorneys
who recently won a $119.6 million judgment against the Diocese of Dallas
and suspended priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos.
In a confidential 1985
report to all U.S. bishops, Father Doyle warned of the emerging pedophilia
scandal and offered advice on combating it. After the document's key recommendations
went ignored, he began working as an expert witness for victims suing
the church - a role he played in the Dallas trial.
In a recent interview, Father Doyle said he did not believe bishops transferred
molester priests out of ignorance of pedophilia's seriousness.
Such an argument "is absolute lunacy," said Father Doyle, now
a chaplain at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. "Everyone knows
it's a felony" to sexually abuse a child. Yet, church officials,
he said, long failed to report cases to police.
No record could be found that Father Holley's supervisors ever reported
him to secular authorities. Texas and New Mexico required such notification.
In 1992, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops first spoke with
one voice about abusive priests; some bishops also met with a group of
victims. That same year, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, then
president of the bishops group, issued this statement:
"In the matter of priests and sexual abuse, undoubtedly mistakes
have been made in the past. Until recently, few in society and the church
understood the problem well. People tended to treat sexual abuse as they
did alcoholism - as a moral fault for which repentance and a change of
scene would result in a change of behavior. . . .
"Where lack of understanding and mistakes have added to the pain
and hurt of victims and their families, they deserve an apology and we
Archbishop Pilarczyk called for "far more aggressive steps . . .
to protect the innocent, treat the perpetrator and safeguard our children."
He said new policies were already in place, "notwithstanding the
fact that such sexual misconduct has involved relatively few priests measured
against 53,000 priests in our country."
Father Doyle said nearly 1,000 pedophile priests have been identified
over the last 15 years, most through criminal or civil charges. Knowledge
of the problem was already widespread when he worked in the embassy a
decade ago and sent the Vatican information about cases as they came to
light, he said.
"In numerous dioceses across the United States from the 1970s through
the early '90s," his
report to Ms. Demarest states, "complaints of child abuse were
handled in such a unified fashion as to indicate a meeting of the minds
as to how best to prevent public knowledge of the abuse, avoid criminal
prosecution and suppress potential claims. . . .
"How was such a commonly practiced plan of action arrived at? The
bishops' activities in and through the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops/United States Catholic Conference would provide an informal forum."
That line of thinking initially led Ms. Demarest to name the bishops
group as a defendant in the Kos case. The group resisted in pretrial motions,
and she backed off - fearing, she said, that she couldn't prove it had
a duty to her clients, at least as that term has been interpreted by the
Texas Supreme Court.
Still, she noted Friday, "the Dallas jury found that there was a
conspiracy" to cover up abuse by Mr. Kos. "The question arises:
Is the conspiracy limited to the Dallas diocese and the parties from outside
the diocese who cooperated with them?"
Ms. Demarest said she still struggles to fathom why the church she was
raised in has harbored child molesters.
"They needed the bodies" because of the priest shortage, she
said. "They were very confident they would be able to prevent the
public from finding out."
Former priest A.W. Richard Sipe, who worked at one of the hospitals where
Father Holley was institutionalized and has counseled hundreds of pedophile
priests, advanced another explanation in a report
for Ms. Demarest: that bishops simply didn't consider molestation a major
sin, even though they felt it needed to be concealed "to protect
the reputation and finances of the Catholic Church" [Sipe report,
"After I was ordained in 1959, I learned that some priests had sex
with adults and even minors, and to some degree this was taken for granted
by church authorities," he wrote.
"The secret world of sexual activity, including sexual activity
with minors, was known by the Catholic hierarchy, and though considered
unfortunate and morally wrong, was accepted as an inevitable and easily
forgivable failure of some priests" [Sipe report, para.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops' conference, rejected
that assessment, although stressing that she didn't know enough about
the Holley case to address its specifics.
"This criminal activity is absolutely appalling and always has been,"
she said. Asked why clerics long failed to report the crimes, she suggested
that both they and the priests' victims didn't want to call public attention
to "something that was rightly considered sordid."
The bishops' conference now calls for all dioceses to comply with reporting
laws and develop abuse-prevention strategies. Since 1992, it has also
continued to elaborate on guidelines for dealing with victims, the accused
and the community.
Both of the molestation cases that Bishop Fiorenza is known to have dealt
with in Houston surfaced in 1986. And both involved priests caught in
the act of molesting children, the Houston Chronicle reported
in 1992. [See the Houston
The bishop wouldn't talk to the Houston newspaper, which said its calls
to him were returned by Monsignor Daniel Scheel, then the diocese's chancellor.
The monsignor wouldn't discuss details of the cases then and maintained
that "things were a lot different" when the crimes occurred.
"We didn't know about the tendency of these people to repeat their
One case occurred in Navasota, where social worker Ramona Ybarra reported
finding the Rev. Fernando Noe Guzman on the floor, pants down, with a
13-year-old girl. Ms. Ybarra told the Chronicle that she later met with
Monsignor Scheel, who urged her not to cooperate with police and who transferred
Father Guzman to a Galena Park parish.
In a deposition, Monsignor Scheel said he accepted Father Guzman's characterization
of the girl as a "precocious child who came on to him." He said
he didn't ask her name or age, so the diocese didn't contact her to offer
Bishop Fiorenza, in his deposition, said he had left the matter in Monsignor
The story was unpublicized for a few years, until Father Guzman impregnated
a Galena Park church secretary. After she sued, the priest acknowledged
the 1986 abuse and was criminally prosecuted. He served 90 days in jail
but was not defrocked, the Chronicle reported.
In the other case, a Houston police officer discovered his own priest
performing a sex act on an 11-year-old boy in a van. The Chronicle quoted
another officer as saying that the Rev. Donald L. Stavinoha laughed about
his arrest and predicted that nothing would happen to him because "I'm
The boy's family sued the diocese and won payments for counseling. Father
Stavinoha, stripped of most priestly powers, later pleaded guilty to sexual
assault and was imprisoned for a little more than a year.
The two priests' whereabouts are unknown, said Mr. Regan, the diocese
His diocese's chancellor, the Rev. Frank Rossi, issued a statement late
Friday saying that "bishops do well to directly remind their priests
of the responsibility they have to conduct their lives with the greatest
of human dignity and virtue. . . . "
"When acts of sexual misconduct do occur, the diocese strives to
respond with compassion and healing love."
Bishop Fiorenza - the first from a Southern diocese elected to a top
post in the bishops conference - is a native Texan who has stressed social
He headed the church's national anti-poverty program, the Campaign for
Human Development, in the early 1990s. He has called for breaking the
cycle of poverty and helping the poor build "a better life for themselves
and their children."
In an interview
with The Morning News last year, Bishop Fiorenza talked about
the rapid growth in many of his parishes and the corresponding shortage
of pastors. He said he hoped that his flock would be inspired to bring
forth new priests.
"We would like to emphasize strengthening family life, bringing
moral teachings into the public arena . . . ," the bishop said. "We
believe it's a biblical value to welcome the stranger and care for the
poor. And of course a high priority is the reverence for life, particularly
the unborn child."
In a 1993 affidavit in the New Mexico lawsuit, Father Holley testified
that "my psychosexual disorder first began to manifest itself in
approximately 1962." That was the year Bishop Flanagan accepted him
in the Diocese of Worcester on a trial basis from the Benedictine order,
in which he'd gotten his start as a priest in 1958.
Well before he was officially made a diocesan priest in 1967, he testified,
"Bishop Flanagan had received reports that I had sexually molested
boys" in three parishes. "On at least two occasions Bishop Flanagan
called me in to discuss the allegations, cautioned me against causing
a scandal in the church, but he expressed no comments about my victims."
Almost 30 years later, four middle-aged men came forward, trying to get
the Worcester Diocese to acknowledge the abuse they suffered as boys.
They said the church told them in 1993 to sue if they wanted compensation
for therapy, according to The Globe; diocese officials declined to comment
on that allegation. [See the Globe
Months earlier, at their general assembly, the nation's bishops had passed
a resolution saying that they'd "reflected - once again and more
deeply - upon the pain, anguish and sense of alienation felt by victims.
. . . "
"We pledge ourselves to one another to return to our dioceses and
there to examine carefully and prayerfully our response to sexual abuse;
to assure ourselves that our response is appropriate and effective; and
to be certain that our people are aware of and confident in that response."