2 More Priests Resign
Amarillo Diocese Has Lost 5 Pastors since New Sex-Abuse Policy Ok'd

By Holly Becka
Dallas Morning News
August 6, 2002

Two more parish priests in the Diocese of Amarillo have quietly resigned because of the U.S. Catholic bishops' new sex-abuse policy, diocese officials confirmed Monday.

The Rev. Jim Hutzler, 58, pastor at St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Panhandle, and the Rev. Ed Graff, 73, most recently pastor of churches in Silverton, Turkey and Quitaque, resigned about two weeks ago.

Their departure brings to five the number of Amarillo-area priests who the diocese says resigned as a direct result of the sex-abuse charter adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during a June meeting in Dallas.

Diocesan officials said Monday that they were unsure why Fathers Hutzler and Graff did not resign as quickly as the other priests did.

"They resigned a month after the charter; I don't know exactly when they read it," diocesan spokeswoman Cathy Lexa said. "It's my understanding that a copy of the charter was sent out to every priest in the diocese by Bishop [John] Yanta after he returned from Dallas.

"It's only my speculation that they contemplated on the words as they read the charter and dealt within their own heart what was in their pasts. And I'm sure they took it to prayer, because I believe all these men are good men."

The sexual-abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church has taken an especially heavy toll in the Texas Panhandle, where the resignations have worsened a shortage of parish priests.

Almost a third of the 35 parishes in the sprawling 26-county diocese are without full-time priests; many pastors have had to increase their duties, and the diocese has asked some retired priests to fill in when needed. The sexual-abuse crisis has cost the Amarillo Diocese about 16 percent of its pastors.

When the bishops met in Dallas to draft the new policy, conference officials said at least 250 priests around the country had resigned since the first of the year.

Fathers Hutzler and Graff have retired "without faculties," meaning they will not be able to serve in any ministerial duties or present themselves as priests, Ms. Lexa said.

That also applies to the Rev. Dennis Boylan, the Rev. Neal Dee and the Rev. Ted Podson, all Amarillo-area parish priests who resigned shortly after the charter's adoption, officials said.

Medical retirement

In addition, other priests with sexual-abuse allegations in their pasts resigned before the Dallas conference. The Rev. John Anthony Salazar-Jimenez had served time in a California prison for molesting two boys before he came to the Amarillo Diocese. The Rev. Richard Scully was accused in a lawsuit - which was ultimately settled - of sexually molesting two boys in Washington state in the 1980s. He was put on leave by the diocese in March. He later requested and was granted a medical retirement.

Ms. Lexa said the resignations in recent months of two other priests, the Rev. Orville Blum and the Rev. Darryl Birkenfeld, were unrelated to the sex-abuse scandal.

Father Graff told his parishioners he was resigning because of his age, said Deacon Floyd Ashley, administrative assistant to Bishop Yanta. He said the bishop was unavailable Monday. Father Graff could not be located for comment.

Father Graff's 1992 arrival at the Amarillo Diocese was arranged through the Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic order that runs treatment programs for troubled priests, Ms. Lexa said.

Former Amarillo Bishop Leroy Matthiesen has acknowledged to members of the media that he accepted from a Paraclete treatment center in New Mexico priests who had accusations of sexual molestation in their pasts. He said there never had been any complaints of abuse against those priests while they were in Amarillo.

"They knew where he [Father Graff] came from; I don't know the details," Ms. Lexa said Monday. "It was arranged through the Servants of the Paraclete and our former bishop, Leroy Matthiesen."

Matt Kerr, a spokesman for the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., said Father Graff retired from that diocese in 1992 and had pension checks mailed to Silverton in the Texas Panhandle.

Mr. Kerr said he did not know why Father Graff moved to Texas.

Mike Juarez, a former president of the parish council at Our Lady of Loretto Church in Silverton, said Father Graff was assigned to the small mission about 10 years ago to replace Father Salazar-Jimenez.

Mr. Juarez said Father Graff had complained about health problems for several years and often talked to members of the church about retiring permanently. He said the priest told church members about a month ago that he would retire at the end of July for health reasons.

"He's been one of the best," Mr. Juarez said. "We all hate to see him go, but we can understand because of his health."

Mr. Juarez said that he did not believe Father Graff's departure was connected to the bishop's new sexual-abuse policy and that there had never been any complaints that Father Graff engaged in sexual misconduct in Silverton.

"I would never believe that," Mr. Juarez said.

Father Hutzler did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Dick Conrad, president of the parish council at Father Hutzler's church in Panhandle, said the priest told church members about a month ago that he would be resigning because of the bishops' new policy.

Father Hutzler said his resignation stemmed from an incident 18 years ago when he had contact while wrestling with a young man in front of a youth group.

"The young man denied that anything wrong happened to this day, but I guess it wasn't seen that way," Mr. Conrad said.

After the incident, Mr. Conrad said, the Amarillo Diocese sent Father Hutzler for counseling at a facility near St. Louis.

Ms. Lexa said she believed all the parish priests with sexual allegations in their backgrounds had resigned.

"As far as we know, there will be no more resignations of priests who are actively serving in a parish," Ms. Lexa said. "There may be other priests [to resign] but they are not serving in parishes right now."


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