Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Accused priest seeks defrocking

By James Pilcher,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Northern Kentucky priest under suspension for allegedly abusing a minor in the early 1970s has asked to be defrocked, Diocese of Covington officials said Tuesday.

Click here for all Enquirer reports on accusations or actions against local priests.
        The Rev. Louis J. Holtz, 73, was suspended indefinitely in 1995 after Bernard “Bernie” Gerhardstein accused the priest of abusing him when he was 13.

        Mr. Gerhardstein, now 41 and living in Fort Thomas, later settled with the diocese and with Father Holtz in 1997. He made his allegations public last month in the Enquirer.

        The priest, who cannot perform any ministry or even refer to himself as a priest under his suspension, had agreed to undergo voluntary “laicization” — the formal term for being defrocked — in his separate settlement with Mr. Gerhardstein.

        But Father Holtz never applied to undergo the process, which is complicated and lengthy, and ultimately requires the approval of the Vatican.

        “We have every indication that Father Holtz will follow through on the process,” Covington diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said, adding that diocesan chancellor Rev. Gerald L. Reinersman confirmed that the process had begun.

        Previously, diocesan officials said they did not know that Father Holtz had agreed to be defrocked.

        Father Holtz did not return phone calls seeking comment, but earlier had said that he was told by diocesan officials that they were taking care of the laicization.

        Mr. Gerhardstein had accused the priest of abusing him over the course of 1 1/2 years in the early 1970s in Melbourne in rural Campbell County. He came forward after learning that the diocese was still referring to Father Holtz as a “retired” priest in the Messenger, its weekly newspaper.

        “I am thankful that the church is finally honoring its agreement,” Mr. Gerhardstein said Tuesday. “But I think most courts would say that waiting five years to even start is not a good safe gesture. And if I had not gone public, things would not have changed, which shows the core of this problem — the church won't act unless its back is against the wall.”


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