Former Altar Boy Says Priest Molested Him in Confessional
By Mark Mueller
January 15, 2016
An assistant pastor at a South Orange church has been removed from ministry amid allegations he sexually assaulted two minors in the early 1980s, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark confirmed.
|The Rev. Michael "Mitch" Walters is accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy at St. Cassian Church in Montclair in 1982 and a 13-year-old girl in 1982 and 1983. He has denied the accusations. (Archdiocese of Newark)|
The Rev. Michael "Mitch" Walters, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, also has given up two archdiocese-wide positions.
Walters served as director of the Center for Ministerial Development, overseeing educational and spiritual enrichment programs for parishioners, and director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which raises money for missionary and evangelical work.
The accused priest denies the allegations, said the spokesman, Jim Goodness.
"He said nothing had happened, that he did not do this," Goodness said.
Walters, 60, left ministry by mutual agreement with the archdiocese in October. NJ Advance Media learned of his removal recently. The allegations date to Walters' tenure at St. Cassian Church in Montclair.
One of the accusers, David Ohlmuller, said in a telephone interview the priest fondled him in a confessional on at least 10 occasions in 1982, when Ohlmuller was 12.
Ohlmuller, now 46 and a resident of Lake Bluff, Ill., said Walters also kissed him on the lips and gave him wine at the church. At the time, the accuser said, he was an altar boy and a student at St. Cassian School.
"He said not to tell anyone about what was happening, that nobody would believe me," said Ohlmuller, who teaches platform tennis, a racquet sport.
Ohlmuller said he eventually stopped attending Mass and avoided the church, cutting off contact with the priest.
|Dave Ohlmuller, seen here in a collage of childhood photos from the 1980s, said he was molested as a child by the Rev. Michael "Mitch" Walters at a Montclair church. (Courtesy Dave Ohlmuller).|
In the years afterward, he said, he developed anxiety, depression and substance abuse problems. His personal struggles came to a head, he said, when his own son turned 11 last year, reminding him of himself at around that age.
"A lot of memories started coming back," Ohlmuller said. "I needed to come forward. I couldn't live with this any longer. My aim is to get him out of the priesthood."
He said he first contacted Robert Hoatson, a former priest who now runs a New Jersey support group, Road to Recovery, for victims of sexual abuse. Hoatson, in turn, put Ohlmuller in touch with Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of accusers since the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in 2002.
Garabedian said he represents a second accuser, a woman now in her mid-40s, who contends Walters molested her in her Montclair home and on a trip to Pennsylvania during the same time period, when she was 13 and 14 years old.
The woman, who now lives in another state, wishes to remain anonymous, the lawyer said.
Garabedian said that in August, he informed the archdiocese he plans to file separate lawsuits on behalf of his clients if settlements cannot be reached.
"The attorney for the archdiocese is conducting his own investigation and will be responding to me," Garabedian said.
The archdiocese informed the Essex County Prosecutor's Office of the sexual assault allegations after Garabedian filed notice of a possible suit, a spokeswoman for the law enforcement agency confirmed.
Under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document written by the nation's bishops in the wake of the abuse crisis, priests are typically suspended from ministry swiftly after an accusation is made, regardless of its merit.
Asked why it took the archdiocese two months to remove Walters, Goodness said church leaders had very little information about the claim because the accuser declined to speak with a review board that evaluates such allegations.
"We had a nebulous accusation," Goodness said. "We knew the names of the accusers, but we did not know specifically what father was accused of, and today we still don't know."
When it was clear the accuser would not provide more information, Goodness said, "we didn't think it was something we should be waiting on any longer."
Hoatson and Garabedian questioned whether Walters remained in his administrative positions even after his suspension, noting parishioners across the archdiocese received a fundraising letter from the priest in December.
Goodness said the letter had been prepared months earlier, before Walters' removal, and had been "in the hopper for distribution."
"That was just a glitch," the spokesman said. "He was not in the office when the letters went out."