Accused of sexual abuse, a priest left Colorado for a safe haven: San Diego

In 1953, the Rev. Walter Buetzler was accused of molesting a fifth-grade boy after hearing the child’s confession at St. Joseph Parish in Monte Vista, Colo. After the boy’s father complained to the parish council and later to the Diocese of Pueblo’s bishop, Buetzler left the state.

He quickly secured a new job: professor of classical languages at the San Diego College for Men, then part of the University of San Diego. The German native, who died more than 30 years ago, taught on the USD campus until at least 1961.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Attorney General listed Buetzler among the 43 priests its investigation found to have sexually abused minors. The report concluded that, between 1950 and the present, at least 166 children were molested by employees of the state’s three dioceses. The report found that fewer than one in 10 cases had been reported to civilian authorities. Other dioceses were rarely warned when a suspected abuser moved there.

That appears to have been the case with Buetzler.

“It is not clear whether the Pueblo Diocese took any action against Buetzler after the parish council reported their concerns in 1953,” the Colorado Attorney General’s report said. “But it does appear Buetzler left the Pueblo Diocese in 1954. Whether there is any connection is not explained in Buetzler’s file. The Pueblo Diocese took no action against Buetzler after Victim #1 reported his abuse again in 1990 because Buetzler had died in 1988.”

Born in 1905, Buetzler left Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He pursued graduate studies at Marquette University and St. Louis University, earning a Ph.D in philosophy at the latter institution. In 1942, he became an U.S. citizen.

Buetzler was the administrator of St. Joseph Parish when the alleged crime occurred. The 11-year-old victim told his father about the encounter soon after it happened, and the irate parent confronted church authorities, including Bishop Joseph Clement Willging. There’s no record of the diocese taking disciplinary action against Buetzler, the attorney general’s report noted.

“There is no indication that the Pueblo Diocese restricted his ministry in any way,” the report concluded, “referred him for any evaluation or counse...

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