Diocese knew in 2002 of ex-Springfield priest's sex abuse allegation. Why wasn't he fired?

By Harrison Keegan
Springfield News-Leader
February 25, 2020

Frederick Lutz was arrested last week at his home in Springfield.

Frederick Lutz was arrested last week at his home in Springfield.

A spokeswoman said the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau was aware in 2002 that one of its priests had been accused of sexually abusing a teen.

But the accused clergyman was allowed to keep working as a priest for the next nine years, until he retired in 2011.

That now-former priest, 76-year-old Frederick Lutz, was arrested at his Springfield home last week on charges of forcible sodomy, statutory sodomy and sexual abuse for acts that allegedly occurred in 2000 in Stoddard County in southeast Missouri.

The criminal charges stem from those same allegations that the diocese says it found out about in 2002, involving a 17-year-old boy.

Leslie Eidson, director of communications for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, told the News-Leader that diocese alerted law enforcement in 2002 after it learned about the allegations involving Lutz.

Eidson said her understanding is that Lutz was not removed because the Stoddard County prosecutor at the time did not find the sexual abuse allegation to be credible. Furthermore, Eidson said the case would have also gone before the diocesan review board — which includes a priest, former law enforcement officers and health care professionals — to determine if the diocese should take action. That review board evidently did not find cause to fire Lutz, according to Eidson.

Recently filed court documents indicate, however, that the 2000 abuse accusation was reported to a Catholic school teacher days after the acts allegedly occurred. Court documents say Lutz met with the victim's father weeks later and apologized for his actions.

It's unclear why word of the accusation apparently did not reach the diocese until two years later or what about the case made it seem not credible to law enforcement and the review board.

Eidson said it wasn't until 2016, five years after Lutz retired, that the diocese learned of a second possible victim who accused Lutz of sexual abuse in 1972.

After the diocese became aware of that 1972 allegation, it identified Lutz on its public list clergy members credibly accused of abuse.

The Lutz cases were given a fresh look last year when the Missouri Attorney General's Office launched a statewide investigation into clergy sexual abuse.

The attorney general's investigation culminated with 12 cases being sent to local prosecutors for review — including the Lutz case in Stoddard County.

The allegation from 2000 is that Lutz — who at the time was the priest at St. Joseph Parish in the town of Advance, Missouri — forced a 17-year-old Catholic school student to perform sex acts with him after playing a pornographic video.

Charges were not filed after the boy initially came forward about the abuse, but current Stoddard County Prosecutor Russell Oliver evidently felt he had enough evidence to charge Lutz this time around — perhaps because of the revelation of a second possible victim from 1972 that would show a pattern of conduct.

Lutz has not been charged with a crime in connection with the 1972 case, perhaps because of issues related to the statute of limitations. In that older case, Lutz was accused of supplying a 17-year-old with alcohol in Cape Girardeau and performing sex acts on him after he passed out. The next year, diocesan records indicate Lutz was moved to Holy Trinity Parish in Springfield, where he served as a transitional deacon.

Oliver declined to talk about the specifics of the Lutz case and why he decided to file charges last week. Oliver also said he did not know why Lutz was not charged back in the early 2000s, because he was not the county prosecutor at the time. Oliver said he has not seen documentation showing the case was referred to the prosecutor's office back then for possible charges, although that doesn't mean it wasn't referred.

Briney Welborn, who was the Stoddard County prosecutor in the early 2000s, said he does not remember the Lutz case coming across his desk.

"That was 20 years ago," Welborn said when reached by phone Monday by a News-Leader reporter.

Eidson, the spokeswoman for the diocese, said it is reasonable to assume the diocese's review of Lutz's situation in 2002 would have been different if officials knew about the second abuse allegation from the 1970s.

Eidson said the diocese is not aware of any abuse allegations involving Lutz after 2000, but the diocese encourages all victims to come forward.

"If there is any other victim out there, we would like to hear from them," Eidson said. "We want to help them."

During his career, Lutz had pastoral appointments throughout southern Missouri, including in Springfield, Cassville and Lamar.

Lutz is being held in the Stoddard County Jail on $125,000 bond. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

Lutz's attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment for this report.

The diocese provided this list of Lutz's pastoral appointments:

  • As a transitional deacon, Lutz served in St. Mary of the Annunciation Cathedral, in Cape Girardeau (1972), and Holy Trinity Parish, Springfield (1973).
  • 1973 Associate Pastor—Holy Trinity Parish, Springfield
  • 1974 Leave to Archdiocese of San Francisco
  • 1975 Parochial Administrator—SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Pulaskifield, and St. Edward Parish, in Cassville
  • 1975 Pastor—St. William Parish, Buffalo; Chaplain—Fordland Honor Camp Parochial Administrator—Sacred Heart Parish, Conway
  • 1981 Leave
  • 1986 30-day retreat
  • 1987 Associate Pastor—Immaculate Conception Parish, Jackson
  • 1988 Pastor—SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Pulaskifield, and St. Edward Parish, Cassville
  • 1991 Pastor—St. Susanne Parish, Mount Vernon, and St. Patrick Mission Church, Greenfield
  • 1994 Pastor—Guardian Angel Parish, Oran
  • 1996 Pastor—St. Joseph Parish, Advance, and St. Anthony Mission Church, Glennon
  • 2003 Pastor—St. Benedict Parish, Doniphan, and St. Anne Mission Church, in Grandin (mission closed in 2005)
  • 2005 Pastor—St. Mary Parish, Lamar
  • 2009 Health leave
  • 2010 Pastor—St. Mary Parish, Lamar
  • 2011 Retired


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