|Bishop Approves Return of Investigated Priest
By Jane Gargas
May 11, 2010
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A Catholic priest who left Yakima after being investigated on suspicion that he viewed child pornography six years ago has been given permission by Bishop Carlos Sevilla to return to work in the diocese.
The Rev. Darell Mitchell will begin working in an administrative position in the pastoral office at 5301 Tieton Drive in July.
Mitchell, 47, 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.
Mitchell spent about five years in the Midwest after leaving Yakima, living with relatives and also receiving medical treatment in St. Louis. He was assigned briefly as an associate pastor in St. Louis but resigned when parents brought pressure on the diocese because they felt it was unsafe for him to be near a parish school.
Mitchell returned to Washington about a year ago and has been living in Kennewick. Although he is still a diocesan priest, he has not been performing official tasks.
In his new post in the pastoral office, he may make special presentations to adults and perform administrative duties, said the Rev. Robert Siler, Yakima diocesan chief of staff.
Mitchell has voluntarily said that he doesn't want to have a ministry with children, according to Siler, and the diocese has agreed.
"We don't view him as a threat to children, but we didn't want this to be a distraction," Siler explained.
Mitchell has received the help he needed as well as addressed issues that arose from his tenure here, Siler said.
There has never been a public acknowledgment from the diocesan office or from Mitchell that he downloaded the naked photos. Mitchell has only referred to "my destructive behavior."
But five years ago, Yakima attorney Russell Mazzola, who is chairman of the Diocesan Lay Advisory Board, said in an interview, "The most credible position is that the priest downloaded the photos. That's the position the advisory board has taken and the Bishop, too."
In a letter to Bishop Sevilla written last Friday, Mitchell asked permission to return to work in the diocese, noting that he had been "admitted to a program of intensive outpatient therapy where I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. The therapy helped me to understand the motivations which caused my destructive behavior and has given me the tools to live out my priesthood in a faithful manner."
Siler said that Bishop Sevilla has discussed Mitchell's return with Mazzola.
Mazzola was out of his office Monday and couldn't be reached for comment.
Siler noted that, according to church law, Mitchell has the right to continue in his church ministry. He was ordained in Yakima in 1998 and wants to return here, Siler said.
"Everyone deserves forgiveness," Siler said.
On that note, the local Voice of the Faithful chapter agrees.
"I think the Catholic community will give him a chance," said Robert Fontana of Voice of the Faithful, a group interested in reforming the Catholic Church.
"As far as we know, Mitchell did not abuse a child. But if he is around children, he shouldn't be alone," Fontana said.
Fontana added, however, that both Mitchell and the diocese have more to do to regain trust of parishioners.
"Bringing him back to ministry in this way does not do justice to the reason he left," Fontana said.
In Fontana's view, there are several pertinent questions the diocese needs to answer: the details of what happened six years ago, why Mitchell was gone for so long, does he pose a risk to children and is he taking responsibility for downloading the pictures?
"(Mitchell) should go back to the parish where he was working when he downloaded the photos (Holy Family), own up to what he did and exonerate and restore the good name of the layman who found the photos," Fontana said.
The fact that people were led to believe that the layman, who was repairing Mitchell's printer at the time, planted the photos has been a grave injustice, said Fontana.
If Mitchell acknowledges that he was the one who downloaded the photos, and if he lives in a place where he is monitored and is not alone around children, then Fontana believes Mitchell's ministry would be appropriate.
"If he asks for a second chance, I'll say that's OK, and I'll support you."
* Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or email@example.com
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