Ex-Juneau priest loses ministry

Church removed Gutierrez from his duties due to sexual abuses in the 1980s

Posted: Friday, July 19, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A former Southeast Alaska priest has been stripped of his ministerial duties over sexual improprieties involving a teen-age girl at the Haines parish in the late 1980s.

The Rev. Javier R. Gutierrez, ordained for the Diocese of Juneau in 1983, was permanently removed from his duties under a recommendation this week by the diocese's new sexual misconduct review board, Juneau Bishop Michael Warfel said Thursday.

Gutierrez also had been accused of inappropriate behavior toward five grade-school girls in Ketchikan, but those claims were never substantiated, Warfel said.

Gutierrez, 50, left the state in 1988 and has served in the diocese at Tijuana, Mexico, since 1989. He is the second priest with Alaska ties to be relieved of his duties this week, although both technically remain priests.

Bishop Carl Mengeling of Lansing, Mich., announced Monday that he was revoking the authority to minister from the Rev. Timothy Crowley, who has worked for the Archdiocese of Anchorage since 1995. Crowley, an administrative assistant in the curate's office, abused an 11-year-old boy in Michigan. Anchorage Catholic officials said his record has been clean in Alaska.

The fates of Crowley and Gutierrez stem from a strict stance overwhelmingly approved in June at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by bishops calls for past, present and future abusers to be removed from all church duties. It also calls for review boards to be established to assess allegations of clerical abuse.

Guiterrez, though serving in Mexico, remains a priest of the Juneau diocese and is ultimately accountable to it. Losing the authority to minister means Guiterrez may not function as a priest anywhere else. Nor is he allowed to wear clerical garb or present himself publicly as a priest.

Warfel said he notified the bishop of the Tijuana diocese about the decision reached Wednesday night in Juneau by the new eight-member review board at its first meeting. Warfel also is notifying the known victims and has written an announcement to be read to parishioners at weekend Masses throughout the diocese, which covers the Panhandle.

The allegations against Gutierrez re-emerged after Warfel began going through diocese records in April that had been kept by his predecessor, the late Bishop Michael Kenny. Warfel, who became Juneau bishop in late 1996, said he was prompted by the sex scandal that has shaken the Catholic church this year.

"I wanted to see what we had in the past," Warfel said. "Most people don't like those kinds of surprises."

After serving more than a year as a deacon for the Juneau diocese, Gutierrez was ordained as a priest in December 1983 from his Mexican hometown of La Barca, Jalisco. As a priest, he served in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Haines.

In January 1986, Gutierrez was accused of inappropriate behavior, including making "sexual innuendoes," toward five grade-school girls at the Holy Name Parish school in Ketchikan. According to Kenny's notes, one girl said Gutierrez asked her if she was a virgin.

Another girl said Guiterrez invited her into his rectory bedroom to show her a valentine made for him by students. He sat the girl on his lap and hugged her, telling her "she was special and that he really liked her." The girl said she felt uncomfortable and told the priest she had to leave. He said she didn't, but let her go when she insisted, Warfel said.

Gutierrez denied any wrongdoing and was reassigned to Haines.

"Basically it was seen at the time as a 'he said, she said' case," Warfel said. "In the context of that time, I don't know that people paid as much attention to such allegations as they would today."

In January 1988, Gutierrez was accused of kissing a 16-year-old girl against her wishes in his rectory at the Sacred Heart Parish in Haines, but Kenny's notes don't provide details, Warfel said.

Gutierrez admitted the allegations. In March of that year he began a six-month stay at the Servants of the Paraclete, the Jemez Springs, N.M., treatment center for troubled priests. The center has been used for general retreats since the treatment program closed in 1994.

Guiterrez was placed with the Tijuana diocese in August 1989. "It appears he was doing a very good job in Tijuana," Warfel said.

Warfel said he recently learned the name of one of the grade-school girls who did not want to be interviewed at the time of the allegations. He said she still lives in Southeast but declined to specify where, saying he wanted to protect her identity.

"She just started getting counseling," Warfel said. "Her feelings about the case resurfaced in recent times, probably because of all the news stories."

It's not surprising for the ongoing priest-abuse scandal to bring back painful memories for victims, said Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher, a member of the Juneau review board who also testified at the Dallas convention of bishops. Rohrbacher told bishops she was molested at 12 by a seminarian her family had befriended in Oregon, where she grew up.

Rohrbacher said she has been in counseling on and off for 18 years. "It's a lifelong thing, not something you can put behind you."

Rohrbacher said her own experience and that of the girls who came into contact with Gutierrez illustrate that priest abuse extends beyond gender lines.

"There's been a tremendous amount of focus on sexual abuse of boys by priests, a lot of talk that it's purely a homosexual issue," Rohrbacher said. "I feel very strongly it's not that. It's an abuse of power."



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