WA--Accused priest is saying mass, victims say
For immediate release: Monday, Nov. 17
Sex abuse victims challenge bishop
Accused priest is reportedly saying masses
He had photos of young naked boys on his computer
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SNAP: Cleric had a “desk job” but is now “among suspecting families”
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging Yakima’s Catholic bishop to prevent a stop a priest who is reportedly saying mass and be more “open” about his wrongdoing.
Fr. Darell Mitchell has been seen performing mass recently, with altar boys, and teaching adults at St. Paul Cathedral. He also heads Calvary Cemetery.
In 2004, Fr. Mitchell was suspended twice. One was while he was under criminal investigation for “having photos of nude boys, elementary age to teenagers, on his computer,” the Yakima Herald reported. Later he was also accused of inappropriate relationships with teenaged boys.
No charges were ever filed, and that same year, Fr. Mitchell was sent out-of-state. In 2010, then-Bishop Carlos Sevilla brought Fr. Mitchell back to Yakima, putting him in an administrative position at the diocese headquarters at 5301 Tieton Drive. At that time, Mitchell said that he did not want to have a ministry with children, according to Fr. Robert Siler, Yakima diocesan chief of staff.
But recently leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, learned from two Yakima area Catholics that Fr. Mitchell now works in parishes around families.
The group is writing Bishop Joseph Tyson to stop Fr. Mitchell from saying masses or teaching at St. Paul's parish ([email protected], 509 575 3713). They also want Tyson to “be more forthcoming,” put Mitchell in an independent treatment center and “restore the good reputation of the brave whistleblower who reported Fr. Mitchell's wrongdoing.”
The photos were allegedly discovered by a church employee while he was doing computer maintenance. Some say that worker has suffered repercussions for reporting the nude photos.
After the photos were discovered, Fr. Mitchell was quietly sent to Missouri where he worked for years at two parishes. No church officials warned parishioners or the public about Fr. Mitchell's past. When members of SNAP disclosed Fr. Mitchell's presence in St. Louis, he abruptly left town “for personal reasons,” the St. Louis Archdiocese claimed.
"There has never been a public acknowledgment from the diocesan office or from Mitchell that he downloaded the naked photos,” the Herald reported in 2010.
Mitchell allegedly lives at a house adjacent to Calvary Cemetery. SNAP suspects he sometimes act as a replacement priest in nearby parishes.
Fr. Mitchell, in a 2010 letter to church officials, said that he had been "admitted to a program of intensive outpatient therapy” and “was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. The therapy helped me to understand the motivations which caused my destructive behavior."
“We urge Bishop Tyson to keep Fr. Mitchell out of churches and alert parishioners about Fr. Mitchell’s troubled past,” said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP’s director. “There’s probably been a lot of turnover at Yakima area churches since his wrongdoing first surfaced a decade ago so few moms and dads probably know about Fr. Mitchell’s nude pictures and admitted ‘destructive behavior.’”
Clohessy also said that the continuing silence by church officials about Fr. Mitchell violates the US bishops abuse policy which mandates “openness and transparency” in clergy sex cases.
“Child predators rarely change,” Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP's outreach director. “That is why we urge church officials to remove Fr. Mitchell to a remote and secure treatment facility. Remember, it takes just seconds for a predator to put his hands down a boy’s pants or his tongue in a girl’s mouth.”
“The brave whistleblower who reported Fr. Mitchell,’s nude child photos was ostracized by church officials,” said Robert Fontana of Seattle, who worked for years for churches in Yakima. “That whistleblower did the right thing and was punished for it. If Bishop Tyson can restore Fr. Mitchell to parish ministry, he certainly can, and should, restore the reputation of the brave man who acted responsibly by reporting those inappropriate and possibly illegal photos.”
Yakima attorney Russell Mazzola, who chairs the Diocesan Lay Advisory Board, told The Herald that “The most credible position is that the priest downloaded the photos. That's the position the advisory board has taken and the Bishop, too."
St. Paul's pastor is Msgr. John A. Ecker (509-575-3713, [email protected]).
When Fr. Mitchell returned to Washington from Missouri, he was living in Kennewick.
A copy of SNAP’s letter to Bishop Tyson, sent today by fax and email, is below:
We have recently learned that Fr. Darell Mitchell has been the primary celebrant at Sunday Mass at parish churches in and around Yakima. This is causing alarm among parishioners who are aware of Fr. Mitchell’s troubled history. It would likely cause even more alarm if more parishioners knew of his history.
As you well know, Fr. Mitchell was first removed as pastor of Holy Family Church in 2003 after diocesan officials were shown that he downloaded photos of naked boys, whose ages were estimated by law enforcement to range between 8-16 years.
In 2004, he was returned to ministry as an associate pastor at St. Paul Cathedral following six months of treatment and while the FBI was still investigating the case. In fact, he was living in an apartment above the Catholic grade school. He was removed again from ministry after evidence surfaced that he may have been involved in inappropriate relationships with teenage boys while serving as a pastor at previous assignments. The Lay Review Board of the diocese ordered an investigation.
As you know, this investigation concluded that Fr. Mitchell broke many of the rules governing clergy-teen relationships that might suggest grooming behavior by a sexual predator: overnights with teenagers at his home; unchaperoned trips with a minor including a trip to Europe where the youth and Fr. Mitchell shared a room; exchange of gifts with youth and calling one young person his godson; and giving alcohol to a minor.
The investigation also found that three times Fr. Mitchell was cautioned by colleagues that his relationship with youth was problematic, yet he never changed his behavior. A staff person from Our Lady of Lourdes who helped Fr. Mitchell with his computer found a suspicious “Boy Star” site in the computer’s web history, a possible indication that Mitchell’s behavior of down-loading naked photos of boys at Holy Family was not a one-time behavior. The investigator could not determine if any minor was molested by Fr. Mitchell, but he did determine that Fr. Mitchell had used sophisticated software to destroy any evidence that may have been left on his computer linking him to downloading photos of naked boys. In short, he tampered with evidence that prevented law enforcement from gaining all the information necessary to complete the investigation of his case.
Fr. Mitchell has clearly shown a sexual proclivity towards teenagers. He has victimized youth by accessing photos of naked boys that are illegal to possess. It is unknown if he has physically molested a child, but the inclination and potential is clearly there. Parents who know about his history are worried and have contacted SNAP uncertain about what to do. I am writing you who are Fr. Mitchell’s superior to insist that parents and youth in the diocese be fully informed about Fr. Mitchell’s history including his twice being removed for breaking the protocols of the National Charter to Protect Children and Youth, and that he no longer be permitted to celebrate Mass with children / youth serving as altar servers.
We urge you to fully inform your flock about Fr. Mitchell, do not let him say Mass publicly, and put him in an independent, remote safe-house or treatment center where his minute-by-minute activities are fully monitored. Also use church bulletins, parish websites and pulpit announcements to urge anyone else who may have seen, suspected, or suffered from his crimes or misdeeds to call police. Finally, we also urge you to restore the reputation of the brave church employee who first reported the nude photos on Fr. Mitchell’s computer.
Executive Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790, [email protected]
7317 Bainbridge Place S.W. #1
Seattle, WA 98136
509 731 6012