Priest Who Left Yakima Resigns St. Louis Post

By Jane Gargas
Yakima Herald-Republic [Yakima WA]
January 12, 2007

A Catholic priest who was investigated in Yakima on suspicion that he viewed child pornography resigned Thursday from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The Rev. Darell Mitchell decided to leave both his pastoral assignment in St. Louis and the archdiocese, according to a statement from the archdiocese.

"It's a tragedy," said Monsignor John Ecker, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima. "There was no need for it."

Ecker said that Mitchell told him he wasn't sure what he would do next.

"He's very upset," said Ecker.

Mitchell reportedly intended to spend some time at his mother's home elsewhere in the Midwest.

Mitchell left Yakima in 2004 while under criminal investigation for having photos of nude boys on his computer. About a dozen photos of boys, elementary school-age to teens, all naked, were turned over to police by the diocese.

The FBI and police investigated, but no charges were ever filed.

In keeping with the Yakima Herald-Republic's policy of not identifying suspects unless they are formally charged with crimes, Mitchell had not been identified in previous articles. However, the paper is using his name now because it appeared in statements by the Archdiocese of St. Louis and because he agreed to Associated Press interviews in which he was identified.

Ecker, who was Mitchell's supervising pastor when he served at St. Paul Cathedral parish, said Thursday there had been no problems with the priest, either before or after the photos surfaced.

The priest was "hounded by SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) and people in the community here," Ecker said.

"If they had stopped hassling him, he'd be fine," he said.

Mitchell was assigned last June to a St. Louis parish that has an elementary school. When SNAP members notified parishioners there last month about the incident with the photos in Yakima, an outcry arose among parents.

Earlier this week, the pastor of the St. Louis church where Mitchell served as associate pastor scheduled a meeting for parents, which was set for Thursday evening, to answer questions about the priest's background.

A number of parents there had questioned why Mitchell was assigned near a school.

However, Ecker disputed that position.

"Nobody thought it was a mistake to place him there," Ecker said. "He was never any danger to children."

Ecker explained that Bishop Carlos Sevilla of Yakima knew Mitchell was being assigned to a St. Louis church with a school and that the Archdiocese knew "every detail" of Mitchell's background.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement Thursday saying that Sevilla had certified "without qualification that there is nothing in Father Mitchell's background or service that would raise questions about his fitness for ministry."

Sevilla said through a spokesperson that he "does not have any comment because he doesn't have confidence in the Yakima Herald."

Local VOTF coordinator Robert Fontana agreed with Ecker that the whole incident is a tragedy.

"The cycle of deception, discovery, outrage and removal repeats itself," he said.

"I am saddened for the priest who once again gets bounced around without honestly facing parents, telling them what he did, and asking them for help in ministering as their priest."

Fontana added that he thought Mitchell could be assigned to serve an adult ministry.

Art Wentz, a parishioner at Holy Family Church, was sorry to hear Mitchell had left the St. Louis church.

Wentz said that he and many others at Holy Family would welcome Mitchell if he returned to Yakima.

"He did so much good here, and he didn't do anything wrong," Wentz said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.