Bishop Attacking the Faithful

News: Commentary
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  April 16, 2019   

How can Fr. Dennis Stilwell remain vicar general of Gaylord?

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A local watchdog group in the diocese of Gaylord, Michigan is pushing Bp. Steven Raica to explain how his vicar general could knowingly employ a known pedophile to work with children.

A newly formed watchdog group, Gaylord Diocese Watch (GDW), is asking tough questions surrounding Raica's vicar general, Fr. Dennis Stilwell, pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Petoskey, Michigan. Stilwell allowed a priest, Fr. James Holtz, who was removed from public ministry in 2002 owing to credible allegations of sex abuse of a minor, to work with minors as sacristan, religious education teacher and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.

In a February press release, GDW spokesman Dr. Richard Brenz noted:

Holtz never could have passed the Gaylord diocese basic background check that every employee in a parish and school is required to undergo. It is bad enough that Holtz was selected by Fr. Stilwell to work with and be around children on parish grounds, but the secrecy surrounding his involvement is even more outrageous.


Stilwell himself made news when a young associate priest, Fr. Matthew Cowan, accused Stilwell of workplace sexual harassment. Cowan was subsequently removed instead of Stilwell. In a statement on March 29, the diocese didn't say the claims against Stilwell were fraudulent but that they "did not reach the level of credible and substantiated sexual misconduct."

Not only did Stilwell keep the parishioners and parents in the dark about Holtz's past, but also Bp. Raica, who claimed that he didn't find out about Holtz's ministry at Stilwell's parish until January of 2016 when he received a complaint about Holtz inappropriately touching an altar boy.

Following this incident, nothing was done about Holtz for three more years until this year when the affair hit mainstream media owning to Holtz's picture being posted last November on the diocesan website as a priest removed from public ministry for sex abuse. During this time, he was still sacristan and teacher of children under Stilwell's supervision.

"Until that list became public in November, virtually nobody at St. Francis was aware Fr. Dennis Stilwell allowed a known child molester to work at the altar, with altar servers and in religious education for many years," said Brenz.

Other issues with Holtz are noted by GDW. According to the group's press release, during his time at St. Francis, Holtz was posting on his Facebook page favorable ratings of books with explicitly homoerotic themes.

Watch the panel discuss the network running the Gaylord diocese in The Download—Bishop Attacking the Faithful.

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