Yakima Herald-Republic [Yakima WA]
July 17, 2022
By Joel Donofrio
Nearly 20 years of investigations, allegations and acrimony between lay employees, priests and Catholic Church officials — from Yakima all the way to the Vatican — began with a simple problem: A pastor’s computer wouldn’t connect to the printer.
The events started by a request for computer help in September 2003 would ultimately have a huge impact on the life of Yakima’s Frank Murray — and many others in the Yakima Diocese. And the computer checkup almost didn’t happen.
“The day I found the pictures on (Father Darell Mitchell’s) computer, I was set to go to Seattle — but my car broke down,” Murray said during a June 10 interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic. “Instead, that morning I went in to talk to Father Darell and he asked me to go to his home and check his computer, because he hadn’t been able to print anything.
“The cable from the computer to the printer was in the wrong slot, so I fixed it. I pushed the print button so whatever was in the queue would print out for him,” Murray said. “Pretty quickly, one of the first things that came out were color pictures of naked boys.
“The first thing I did was call (my wife) Linda, and said, ‘I think I might be in trouble at work.’”
Murray believes his decision to turn in those photos to diocesan officials eventually cost him his job at Holy Family Parish. He hopes a recent Vatican reprimand of former Bishop Carlos Sevilla for his handling of sex abuse investigations will help future Catholic Church employees faced with reporting abuse.
“My motive, quite honestly, is to help protect children and to help protect — I hate the term whistleblower — but to help protect anybody who’s under the authority of the church, being able to make reports without being retaliated against,” Murray said. “Without losing their jobs.
“I think if you make this disclosure, if you follow the procedures — and I did, 100%, right down the line, chapter and verse — if you do that, they view you more as the fox guarding the henhouse. They don’t want you inside there,” he added.
Murray grew up along Lake Michigan in Kenosha, Wis., attended Catholic schools and earned a business management degree at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
He and Linda were married in Wisconsin, lived briefly in Arizona, Southern California and Eugene, Ore., before they moved to Yakima, where Frank was transferred to be an assistant manager at the two Bi-Mart stores.
“At a certain point, I was really feeling called — I needed to do something that made a difference in the world,” Murray said. “I interviewed with Father (John) Murtagh, my wife and I presented ourselves as a possible youth ministry team at Holy Family. He hired us together, and we worked together for four years.”
While Linda Murray went on to open an early childhood learning center and family resource center at Yakima Valley College, Frank Murray stayed at Holy Family and served in a variety of roles during his 18 years there.
After 12 years as a youth minister, Murray said his role morphed into a pastoral assistant. His duties included coordinating adult “small church” meeting groups, developing a social justice outreach program (known as “stewardship”), and working on a self-assessment tool to identify parishioners’ spiritual gifts and how they could incorporate them into their everyday lives.
Mitchell had been pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Selah and was an assistant at Holy Family before he was named pastor of the west Yakima parish in the summer of 2003. Murray said at first, he was not sure Mitchell wanted to work with him, but during the new pastor’s first two-plus months at the parish, that changed.
“The week before I found the pictures — it was Friday, Sept. 19, 2003 — (Mitchell) called me in and wanted to talk to me. He basically started by saying, ‘When I came here, I really intended to fire you. I didn’t think we could work well together. I really thought you wouldn’t accept my authority as pastor.’ At this point we were almost three months in,” Murray said.
“And he said, ‘But I really have to tell you I’ve changed my mind. You’re willing to work with me, you’re willing to be cooperative. You have a job here for the foreseeable future,’ ” Murray added.
A week later, Murray fixed the pastor’s printer, photos of naked boys and teenagers came out of it, and everything changed.
Photos turned over to diocesan officials
Murray then reviewed what happened next, referring at times to written statements he provided in 2004 to members of the Diocesan Lay Advisory Board and its chairman, Russ Mazzola.
In accord with diocesan policy, Murray brought the pictures to Mazzola and discussed the matter with him, then spoke with Sevilla on Friday night and again on Saturday morning — the latter while the bishop was meeting with Mitchell.
He recalled Monsignor Ron Metha, chancellor of the diocese, meeting with the staff at Holy Family on Monday, Sept. 29, and saying Mitchell had suffered a psychiatric breakdown due to the stress of leading such a large parish — a statement Murray knew was not true.
“I sat there knowing he was lying, knowing that breakdown had to do with being caught with the pictures,” Murray said. “I obviously didn’t say anything at that point.
“(Metha) then said he wanted to talk with me privately, and we went into another office,” Murray added. “He asked me to keep all of this to myself, said (the diocese) was trying to get Father Darell some help … that’s when he told me, ‘If this gets out, no bishop in the country would hire Father Darell as a priest.’”
The diocese acknowledged the reason for Mitchell’s 2003 departure from Yakima in documents filed for a Washington state Court of Appeals decision on the lawsuit, Robert Fontana v. Diocese of Yakima.
In a statement included in the May 3, 2007, court decision, the diocese reports it “discovered pictures on a priest’s computer of naked adolescent boys on a beach … In response, the Diocese sent him to a psychiatric facility. The computer was turned over to the Yakima County Prosecutor’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s office. No charges were filed.”
Murray said Metha, who now works as a chaplain at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz., also told him to ask his wife, Linda, not to talk about the photos or there would be “consequences.”
“At the time, I believed he was referring to consequences to the church and priest, and not to myself or my wife,” Murray said.
Murray said other than his wife, Linda, he only spoke about the photos with Yakima police officers and FBI agents investigating the case. Although several pictures showed the genitals of teenage and pre-teen boys, Murray said, federal investigators eventually decided not to file criminal charges against Mitchell.
In January 2005, then-Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Ron Zirkle told the Herald-Republic he decided against filing charges because the photos were not considered pornography.
“The bottom line, in my opinion, is that we can’t prove that these pictures showed children in sexually explicit conduct,” Zirkle said. “Pictures of nude children are not per se prohibited” under Washington or federal law, he added.
Mitchell did not respond to a request for comment from the Yakima Herald-Republic.
Publicity increases pressure on Murray
The FBI and local prosecutor’s decisions did not end controversy surrounding the photos, however. The investigation was reported on TV and other media in 2004, without naming Mitchell.
Murray said he was asked by diocesan officials if he talked to the media about the photos.
“I told them I didn’t do this myself — I didn’t tell the story to the TV station,” Murray said in his June 10 interview. “I didn’t know the story was given to the TV station until just before the story ran.
“That’s when the retaliation and the cover-up got serious,” he added.
Monsignor Robert Siler, episcopal vicar and spokesperson for the Yakima Diocese, said it was not the diocese, nor his finding the photos on Mitchell’s printer, which led to Murray losing his job.
“Based on my review of the files and first-hand knowledge, I do not believe the Diocese caused Frank Murray to lose his job,” Siler wrote in a July 8 email to the Herald-Republic. “It was a parish decision based on their pastoral and financial needs.
“For my part, I am glad Mr. Murray reported the incident to the Diocese. It did help to bring about some needed self-awareness and healing for the priest,” he added. “I am saddened that this (Vatican reprimand) story has become yet another occasion to rehash a story told and retold numerous times over the last two decades. It seems unnecessary to me.”
After spending six months in a treatment center, Mitchell returned to the diocese in the spring of 2004, assigned to St. Paul Cathedral. In a 2005 story on the matter, Mazzola told the Herald-Republic that St. Paul’s was chosen because the priest could be closely monitored while the diocese waited to see if criminal charges would be filed against him.
In late fall of 2004, before Zirkle announced he wouldn’t be pressing charges in the case, Mitchell was granted a sabbatical and left the diocese. By 2006, Mitchell was working as an associate pastor in a St. Louis, Mo., parish with an elementary school — but news about the photos and subsequent investigation caused an outcry among parents there, and he resigned from the position in early 2007, the Herald-Republic reported.
By that point, Murray had left Holy Family. He had spoken with others at the diocese about finding the photos, including Father Lawrence Reilly in April 2004. Murray told Reilly — then serving as the diocesan moral ethicist, advising Catholics about moral decision-making in areas such as end-of-life issues — that he was worried about bringing Mitchell back to a parish in Yakima while the case was under criminal investigation.
“Father Reilly cautioned me about being overzealous,” Murray told the Herald-Republic. “He said if no charges were filed, and I pursued the matter, that perhaps the bishop and others would think that, quote, the problem we have is with Frank Murray, and not with Father Mitchell.
“I took that as another threat. He was couching it as advice, as trying to protect me … but I took it more as, he’s telling me what was going to happen. ‘If you do this, Frank, this is what was going to happen’,” Murray added.
Eventually, some parishioners at Holy Family — including members of the parish council — began to believe that Murray might have planted the naked boys’ photos on Mitchell’s printer, a false rumor that was impossible, Murray noted, due to the time stamp on the pictures, which was from the day before Murray went to fix the computer.
On Nov. 29, 2004, Murray wrote a letter to Mazzola and members of the diocesan advisory board asking to speak to them about several matters related to Mitchell. The letter referenced:
- Conversations with Monsignor Metha, the Yakima police detectives and the FBI agent assigned to investigate.
- A letter Murray wrote to the bishop and his response.
- Conversations with other priests in the diocese, including a call from Mitchell shortly after he returned to the diocese in spring 2004, in which the priest told Murray he and his wife should keep silent “for the good of the church.”
- The presence of “institutional intimidation” and misinformation which clouded the entire process, including accusations that Murray planted the pictures.
- Statements about Mitchell’s behavior at his previous parish.
- How these events and this process affected Murray, his family, his work and “mostly my fellow parishioners and the people and priests of the Diocese of Yakima.”
Murray was given the chance to speak to the advisory board, but it did not help matters at work, where some parishioners thought he and other parish staff were to blame for what the diocese called Mitchell’s “breakdown.”
Holy Family’s new pastor, Father Michael Ibach, told Murray in an email that some parishioners, including some of those on the parish council, believed Murray was working directly with Robert Fontana to try and hurt Mitchell and Bishop Sevilla.
In April 2006, as the parish council considered a new role with fewer responsibilities for Murray, he met with Ibach, who Murray said told him a few parish council members “do have animosity toward you and I think that is related to the Father Darell situation.”
“They called me in (for a meeting) and told me, ‘It looks like a lot of what you do could be done by a talented secretary.’ My ministries had shrunk by this point … I was doing the bulletin, all the information for ministries, stuff like that,” Murray told the Herald-Republic. “So they told me I could stay if I wanted, but I was going to move into the office, into more of a secretarial/administrative role, and my salary would be cut by $1,000 a month.
“And I said, ‘When’s my last day?’ I mean, they knew I wouldn’t accept that, they knew I was going to leave,” Murray said. “They kept me until the end of June (2006), but continued to pay my salary — and my family health insurance, which was about $1,200 a month — for three months.
“It was implied that if I go quietly, this is what would happen. I don’t think there was any overt, quid-pro-quo kind of thing. I think it was, you’re going, and they offered me the three-month salary and health insurance,” he added. “Bottom line, I was comfortable with that agreement — they knew they would help me out, and I would probably not say anything.”
Working as a court advocate for children
Murray was 55 when he left Holy Family Parish, and he was grateful to the pastor, Ibach, for writing him a good letter of recommendation, which he used in applications for other jobs.
Five months later, Murray was hired by the Yakima County juvenile court system, and also became an advocate for abused and neglected children in the foster care system under the CASA program. After working for a year and half as a court-appointed advocate for 90 to 100 children, Murray became the supervisor of the program, a role he held for roughly 8½ to 9 years, he said.
Later, he worked from December 2018 through May 2019 to help the county fulfill and retain a grant to develop a children’s advocacy center at the county courthouse. This center provided children who were victims of sexual abuse with a place to tell their story, one time, to forensic interviewers.
He believes his background as a youth minister helped, both with the experience of working with children and having empathy for their situations. Murray said he helped develop a restorative community service program, providing youths who committed a misdemeanor with service opportunities.
The jobs in the court system caused him to reflect on how the diocese handled reports and investigations of clergy sex abuse, Murray told the Herald-Republic.
“I read about 2,000 petitions in my role as supervisor about what people do to their children, about what people allow to be done to their children, and it’s as bad as you think it is. There’s no sugarcoating it,” Murray said. “Now that was in my bones — identifying what was in a child’s best interest in situations.
“All that work informed me and helped me understand the impact that trusted people have on young children, middle school children — any children — when they do bad things to them,” he added. “It’s not just the bad thing, the act (itself). Much if not most of it is the betrayal, that someone you trust — a parent, a parent’s boyfriend in some cases — had access to you in a way that you felt you didn’t have any choice in certain matters.
“That has been proven to happen in the past with priests, it has been demonstrated to me here in this diocese, mostly by Robert’s work, of what priests in this diocese have done — and that this diocese isn’t protecting children,” Murray said. “This diocese made the conscious decision … to protect the priests more than the parishioners and the children.”
In the end, Murray said being forced out at Holy Family eventually was the right thing for him, and he is no longer bitter about it.
Those feelings were reinforced as he and his wife attended a funeral for Father Murtagh in May 2022, his first time back at Holy Family Parish in many years. He was asked if it felt strange or uncomfortable to be back there.
“You know what I felt? Nothing — except for a feeling of positive connections to many people I knew through my ministry. I was there to mourn a guy I really loved who I thought was the epitome of what a pastor could and should be in a Catholic parish,” Murray said. “I did not participate in the Mass — I’m not a Catholic any more, period — but I was there to mourn a guy … he was my image of what a pastor should be.”
Murray stressed that he has “no animosity whatsoever” toward Mitchell, who now works as director of the diocese’s Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum in Yakima. He believes Mitchell was also harmed by how Bishop Sevilla and diocesan officials handled the discovery of photos.
Murray’s main issue, reinforced by how the reprimand of Sevilla was announced, remains what he calls the church’s culture of secrecy and how it protects abusive priests and hurts both victims and reporters of abuse.
“It kind of continues. This whole notion of cover-up, of a simple situation where really it appears no crime was committed, no proof of any abuse, simply a factual situation that pictures of naked boys were found. Period. It couldn’t even be brought forth to the people,” Murray said. “They couldn’t even trust the parishioners that this priest could be rehabilitated and returned with a good name to parish work. They couldn’t get out ahead of it, they were too afraid.”
Contact Joel Donofrio at firstname.lastname@example.org.