BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The newly named bishop-designate of Birmingham, Alabama, who will serve as spiritual advisor to EWTN, is coming to his new position with unresolved allegations of cover-up on his back.
Bishop Steven J. Raica has been accused of "maintaining the ministry of priests who abuse kids," according to a press release issued May 12 by St. Mary MacKillop Coalition for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults.
The Coalition issued the statement "to help spread the word" of Bp. Raica's cover-ups before he steps into the sphere of the world's largest Catholic network.
E-mails, letters and news reports that circulated throughout the diocese of Gaylord, Michigan — Bp. Raica's previous location — show that the bishop promised the community that a priest credibly accused of sexual misconduct who was to have been permanently removed from ministry in 2002, may never have been removed from ministry at all, St. Mary MacKillop Coalition president Nadja Tirrell said.
Emails in the possession of the coalition show Fr. Jim Holtz was back in ministry in May of 2019, despite Bp. Raica's reassurances to the contrary to the diocese.
In 2016, a concerned priest, Fr. Mathew J. Cowan, then newly ordained, who worked side-by-side with Fr. Holtz, sent two letters to Bp. Raica expressing his concern about Holtz' behavior around minors.
In January, Fr. Cowan informed Bp. Raica that he witnessed inappropriate grooming behavior by Fr. Holtz with a freshman altar server in the sacristy. Cowan said he submitted his letter to the bishop in deference to the law for Diocesan policy of minors which states all suspicious activity regarding adults and minors must be reported.
Cowan said he also confronted Holtz in the sacristy in private regarding the inappropriate nature of the action and that Holtz appeared compliant.
In October, Cowan sent another letter reporting that Holtz continues to serve as "sacristan, lecter, eucharistic minister, RCIA coordinator, as well as bringing Communion to the sick and as a spiritual director for Teams of Our Lady." "As a sacristan, there are circumstances when Fr. Holtz is alone in the sacristy with altar servers who are minors," he added.
In an ironic twist, Fr. Cowan was removed from ministry for "confidential reasons," the Gaylord diocese announced in January 2019. The coalition expressed dismay that a priest who "protects kids" is being given "harsh penalties" while a priest credibly accused of abuse is allowed to minister.
Letters from concerned parents to the bishop have also surfaced.
One parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote Bp. Raica and a priest at St. Francis Xavier Parish (SFX) in Petoskey, Michigan that she was "disappointed in [the] decision to put my boys at risk without letting me in on the danger," referring to Holtz's being allowed to be with her boys alone in the sacristy for over 10 years.
The parent said the SFX priest told her that Bp. Raica, Bp. Patrick Cooney and Abp. Bernard Hebda "were not only all aware of the situation, but all were happy with the situation."
Gaylord Diocesan Watch, a watchdog group that formed in response to the handling of Fr. Holtz and the accompanying persecution and removal of Fr. Cowan, found five-star reviews of child erotic literature, and erotic literature called Wizard's Moon about the sale of a boy as well as other inappropriate books involving young males on Fr. Holtz's public Facebook page in 2016.
In an article on bishop-accountability.org, Holtz is quoted as saying of the alleged incident in the 1980s that led to his removal from the ministry in 2002, "I recognize that I went through a process of conversion, I'm still changing my life around. ... I work hard at maintaining, trying to change something in my life every day."
Mother Angelica founded Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in 1981, originally broadcasting her religious programs from a converted garage in Birmingham. Over the next 20 years, she developed it into a world-class broadcasting network remaining to this day its face for Catholics around the world.
Her emphasis on tradition in the spirit of Pope St. John Paul II put her at odds — and continues to do so — with some members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, particularly over teachings surrounding the Eucharist and the liturgy.
One of Mother Angelica's fans told Church Militant upon hearing of Bp. Raica's inaction toward Fr. Holtz and his action against Fr. Cowan: "If Mother Angelica wasn't in eternal ecstasy beholding the beatific vision, having won the grace to behold our God forever, she would be expressing deep sorrow. That sorrow would be for those who are going to suffer because of Bp. Raica's actions."
He added that he was "astonished" that prelates "continue to pursue power while they protect the ones that others should be protected from."