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  Charter Cited As Reason for One Priest's Resignation

By Don Munsch
Amarillo Globe
August 7, 2002

One of the three priests who recently resigned from the Diocese of Amarillo apparently resigned because of the new sexual abuse policy for priests.

The Rev. James Hutzler, 58, pastor of St. Theresa's Church in Panhandle and sacramental minister to Sacred Heart Church in White Deer, resigned in July after seeking an opinion from the diocesan review board concerning an incident that occurred 18 years ago, Bishop John W. Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo said.

The Rev. Ed Graff, 73, parochial administrator of Our Lady of Loreto Church in Silverton and on the pastoral team for St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Turkey and St. Juan Diego Center in Quitaque, also resigned in July. The Rev. Darryl Birkenfeld, 41, former pastor of St. Joseph's in Stratford and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cactus, resigned in June and has requested laicization, the process of completely removing him from the priesthood.

Yanta said Hutzler was concerned about a horseplay incident involving a young man that occurred 18 years ago.

Cathy Lexa, director of communications for the Diocese of Amarillo, said Hutzler, who lives in Panhandle, had worked for the diocese since 1980.

Birkenfeld, Graff and Hutzler were unavailable for comment.

"In the case of Father Hutzler, he, like all the priests of the diocese, received copies of the charter, and when I approached him I asked if he felt that he fell within the parameters of the charter statutes," Yanta said, referring to the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved at its meeting in June in Dallas.

The charter calls for removal of priests who have even one act of sexual misconduct in their past.

"He felt that he didn't. So I accepted his opinion, and in fairness, I submitted it to the diocesan review board, and they judged it as a positive case. So he accepted their judgment and proceeded as he did (submitting his resignation)," Yanta said.

Four priests who resigned from the Diocese of Amarillo this year - Neal Dee, Dennis Boylan, John Anthony Salazar-Jimenez and Richard Scully - had attended a treatment program in Jemez Springs, N.M., which treated priests for sexual problems and offered psychological testing and treatment, such as psychotherapy.

Hutzler attended a similar treatment facility in St. Louis, Yanta said.

Yanta said Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Amarillo, arranged for Graff to come to the diocese in 1992 from the Diocese of Allentown, Pa.

"(Graff) was not accused of anything with sexual abuse," Matthiesen said.

Yanta said Graff was already a resigned priest from his diocese in Allentown who was here "helping out" at various parishes.

Graff resigned because of his age, said Deacon Floyd Ashley, Yanta's administrative assistant.

Matthiesen said he knows Graff was having health problems.

Yanta and Matthiesen said they knew of no allegations against the three priests who recently resigned.

Birkenfeld resigned for personal reasons, Ashley said, and the charter had nothing to do with his resignation.

Yanta said he could not say whether all diocesan priests with sexual misconduct allegations in their backgrounds had resigned.

"There's always a possibility of new allegations," Yanta said.

He declined to comment on whether other priests in the diocese have gone through a treatment center such as the one in Jemez, N.M.

Contact: dmunsch@amarillonet.com

 
 

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