9&10 News Investigates: Betrayal of Trust

A 9&10 News investigation is uncovering new information about a former priest removed from the ministry 17 years ago over a credible claim of sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Father Jim Holtz was permanently removed from ministry back in 2002.

Holtz is one of 10 priests the Diocese of Gaylord says have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct in its nearly 50 year history.

9&10 News was the first to report back in November that the Diocese of Gaylord had released a list of priests credibly accused of misconduct with a minor.

To fully understand this story we have to go back to November, when 9&10 News first started reporting on priests credibly accused of misconduct with minors in the Diocese of Gaylord.

That is when the phone calls and emails started. That name and face strikingly familiar to people around Petoskey including Joni Hosler.

“I was given information about him and I was told ahead of time it was going to rock my world, and it did,” said Hosler.

Joni says her three sons were all altar servers at St. Francis Xavier in Petoskey. She says the man who was in the sacristy with them as they prepared for mass was Jim Holtz.

Joni says her sons told her nothing inappropriate ever happened between them and Holtz, but she says she had no idea about Holtz’s past until recently.

“I’m not saying I’m here to judge anybody, nobody is here to judge anybody, and there are a ton of positions in the parish, somebody with a known background shouldn’t be allowed around children, and I think about the other servers and they’re great families and all I can think of is why, why was it allowed and why are we all hurting now because it was allowed,” said Hosler.

As we worked to answer that question 9&10 News obtained a copy of a letter sent to Gaylord Bishop Steven Raica in January of 2016. It outlines a moment where Holtz appeared got too close for comfort:

‘I witnessed fry Jim Holtz, sacristan, standing behind a freshman male altar server with his arms around the young man and began to attach and tie the cincture for the young man at the young man’s naval from behind’

The letter goes on to say the action by Holtz was seen as possibly suspicious and the writer of the letter is reporting it to the Diocese per diocesan policy. The writer goes on to say:

‘I confronted Fr. Jim by myself in the sacristy after mass regarding the inappropriate nature of this action and he agreed and appeared compliant.’

The writer also says they notified the pastor of St. Francis and ask for any further action to take.

9&10 News spoke with the altar server mentioned in this letter. We are concealing their identity.

“I was going to altar serve that day and as I was putting on the robes, there’s a rope that goes around our waist and I don’t remember what he said but he said either I was doing it wrong or there was a better way and he came up behind me, and he put his chin on my right shoulder and then put his hands around my waist and started to tie the rope and it was just awkward,” said the altar server.

The altar server says learning of Holtz’s past, it brought the incident in the sacristy to a whole new light.

“Knowing his past and the reason that he was removed from the priesthood looking back I should not have been in a situation like that. I’ve asked myself if this has really happened, if I’m a victim and I guess with looking back at the situation and then looking at the fact that I do have to ask myself that question, the fact that o have to is evidence enough that I am a victim in a sense,” said the altar server.

We asked Gaylord Bishop Steven Raica about the contents of this letter sent to him in January. He says that’s when he first learned Holtz had this role.

“The one letter that I saw said that he had spoken to the pastor and it had been taken care of, so from that standpoint I did not address it further because I thought it was taken care of,” said Raica.

Then, in October of 2016, this letter came across Bishop Raica’s desk, noting that Hotlz remained in the sacristan role and outlined concerns.

Raica says it’s then that he started taking steps to remove Holtz from the role as sacristan.

“I spoke to Fr. Denny about it I remember at that point to say that it’s my understanding that it would be best for him not to be involved in any ministry at all that those who have creditable, substantiated allegations should not be involved in any ministry in the parish, that’s my conviction,” said Raica.

But Raica says an alleged adult victim of Holtz came forward at a later date that further action was taken.

“At that particular time that person actually helped us to be able to craft what we called a safety plan to put in place, so it was through the help of that person working with us and working with the review board that we were able to put into place the parameters of what he’s able to do and not able to do,” said Raica.

Raica says the time frame for handling the situation was not as fast as he would have liked, and if it were up to him, Hotlz would not have had that role to begin with.

“I apologize that it wasn’t as fast as it could have been, but I think the point of the matter is, the more important point is that it was eventually cleared up and forth rightly addresses at that critical moment,” said Raica.

9&10 News made multiple attempts to reach Holtz for comment, including a Facebook message, certified mail and going to his house in Petoskey. He wouldn’t go on camera but agreed to talk over the phone.

“I had no intention of doing anything to anybody. I helped the young people, I didn’t touch them at all, okay, I might have touched his hands when I put the cincture on them but I did not touch his body at all, he had clothes on, had the garment on,” said Holtz.

Holtz also says he was rarely alone with minors in the sacristy.

“There were people always present in that sacristy when I was there, and altar servers usually showed up about 10 minutes or five minutes before mass, the doors were always open. I can’t say never because I’m not sure, but 99 percent of the time I was not,” said Hotlz.

Holtz said it was the former and now deceased Bishop Patrick Cooney who Okayed him having a volunteer role at St. Francis in Petoskey and that volunteer role lead to him taking on the role as sacristan.

“I’m not a predator, I am not chasing kids for sex, if you want to put it that way, I’m not that way. I deny that I’m a sex predator,” said Holtz.

Holtz also opening up to me about his life since the alleged incident in the 1980’s 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’m following the message of Jesus, Jesus Christ, he’s my savior, I believe and also believe in the Catholic Church. I thank God that we have the sacrament of penance, that we can be reconciled back to god and I work hard at maintaining, trying to change something in my life everyday,” said Holtz.

Back to the altar server we introduced you to at the start of our story, they say they want this story to be part of the healing process the Catholic Church now finds itself in.

“There’s been cases where teachers have harmed students and bank tellers have stolen money from the bank, but we don’t pull all of our money out of the bank and we haven’t given up on educating children and just as important as those institutions are I think that faith is one of the most important institutions in that individuals acts, acts from certain individuals do not reflect the institution as a whole and I would encourage people to not leave the church due to any certain acts whether it’s in their diocese, or their local parish or the church as a whole, it’s important to keep your faith,” said the Altar server.

For information on reporting claims to the Attorney General, click here.

For a look at the Diocese of Gaylord policy, click here.

You can watch our full interview with the altar server below.