Accused of sexual abuse, a priest left Colorado for a safe haven: San Diego
By Peter Rowe
San Diego Union-Tribune
October 25, 2019
|Colorado’s attorney general is the most recent state prosecutor to investigate sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy.|
Photo by Howard Lipin
In 1953, the Rev. Walter Buetzler was accused of molesting a fifth-grade boy after hearing the child’s confession at St. Joseph Parish in Monte Vista, Colo. After the boy’s father complained to the parish council and later to the Diocese of Pueblo’s bishop, Buetzler left the state.
He quickly secured a new job: professor of classical languages at the San Diego College for Men, then part of the University of San Diego. The German native, who died more than 30 years ago, taught on the USD campus until at least 1961.
On Wednesday, the Colorado Attorney General listed Buetzler among the 43 priests its investigation found to have sexually abused minors. The report concluded that, between 1950 and the present, at least 166 children were molested by employees of the state’s three dioceses. The report found that fewer than one in 10 cases had been reported to civilian authorities. Other dioceses were rarely warned when a suspected abuser moved there.
That appears to have been the case with Buetzler.
“It is not clear whether the Pueblo Diocese took any action against Buetzler after the parish council reported their concerns in 1953,” the Colorado Attorney General’s report said. “But it does appear Buetzler left the Pueblo Diocese in 1954. Whether there is any connection is not explained in Buetzler’s file. The Pueblo Diocese took no action against Buetzler after Victim #1 reported his abuse again in 1990 because Buetzler had died in 1988.”
Born in 1905, Buetzler left Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He pursued graduate studies at Marquette University and St. Louis University, earning a Ph.D in philosophy at the latter institution. In 1942, he became an U.S. citizen.
Buetzler was the administrator of St. Joseph Parish when the alleged crime occurred. The 11-year-old victim told his father about the encounter soon after it happened, and the irate parent confronted church authorities, including Bishop Joseph Clement Willging. There’s no record of the diocese taking disciplinary action against Buetzler, the attorney general’s report noted.
“There is no indication that the Pueblo Diocese restricted his ministry in any way,” the report concluded, “referred him for any evaluation or counseling, or communicated his sexual abuse of Victim #1 to Buetzler’s subsequent out-of-state diocese.”
That subsequent diocese, of course, was San Diego. A diocesan spokesman here said there are no recorded complaints against him.
While teaching at the College for Men and USD, Buetzler gave fiery speeches on the dangers of communism.
“Go down to your knees and pray that this new president may save this country,” the San Diego Union reported him telling the San Diego Freedom Forum in January 1961, weeks before John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. “Some day, my fellow Americans, you will be communists, whether you like it or not — unless you do something about it.”
The Diocese of San Diego reports that Buetzler left the county in 1963, moving to Germany in 1968.
His victim, meanwhile, was rebuffed several times by the Diocese of Pueblo. When St. Joseph’s parish council took their concerns to Bishop Willging, the attorney general’s report said the prelate “told them such matters ‘were not their concern.’”
In 1990, the victim — then an adult — contacted the diocese on his own. He was told that any financial settlement “was barred by the statute of limitations, that if he filed such a claim the Pueblo Diocese would sue him and make him pay the Pueblo Diocese’s legal fees, and that the Pueblo Diocese ‘wished (Victim #1) well in (his) strong determination to overcome (his) problems,’” the report said.
“That was the end of the Pueblo Diocese’s pastoral healing relationship with this child sex abuse victim.”
Colorado is one of numerous states, including California, investigating sexual predators within the priesthood, and cover-ups by the church hierarchy.