Gerald Hartz
Gerald Hartz

Feb. 14, 2019

More than 20 years after a former Catholic priest in Carroll was accused in district court of groping a teenage girl, the Sioux City Diocese has deemed the allegation “credible” and last week banned him from preaching and hearing confessions, among other priestly duties.

The Rev. Gerald Hartz, now 85, was charged with indecent contact with a child in September 1995 for groping a 13-year-old girl’s breast at St. Lawrence School, according to court records.

The girl and her family eventually decided not to participate in the prosecution, and the charge was dismissed as part of an agreement with state prosecutors that Hartz would leave Carroll, seek therapy or counseling “to address his long-established tendency toward overfamiliarity with females,” and never be reassigned to another parish that would put him in authority over similarly aged girls.

The next year, a lawsuit filed by someone identified as “Jane Doe” alleged that Hartz had grabbed her and kissed her neck in December 1994 when she arrived at St. Lawrence Church to sing at evening Mass.

But Hartz later moved to Bakersfield, California, where he was allowed to continue his work as a priest at two churches for the past 15 years.

“I was very sad, disappointed and then angry that he was allowed to move to a distant diocese and continue his ministry without restriction or supervision,” said Barry Bruner, a Catholic who was Carroll County’s chief prosecutor at the time of the groping allegations.

Bruner questioned the diocese’s handling of Hartz in an October 2018 meeting in Carroll with Bishop R. Walker Nickless, who held “listening sessions” with Catholics about how church leaders dealt with abuse allegations against clergy.

Because of Bruner, Nickless returned to Sioux City and asked the diocese’s Review Board to investigate, said Susan O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the Sioux City diocese.

Last week, Nickless announced in The Catholic Globe — the official newspaper of the diocese — that Hartz “is hereby removed from the exercise of priestly ministry/office and may no longer exercise priestly faculties in the Diocese of Sioux City or elsewhere.”

The removal was effective Feb. 4.

“Hartz denies the allegations, but the Review Board still believes the allegations to be credible,” O’Brien said. “We simply don’t know why the decision was made 20 years ago regarding Hartz, and those involved are no longer here. Today, the protocol is far different.”

Hartz provided “ministerial support services” for a time at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bakersfield and most recently had been assisting at Christ the King Church, according to Teresa Dominguez, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Fresno.

She said Fresno Bishop Armando X. Ochoa recently suspended Hartz from the diocese when he received word that the Sioux City diocese “would no longer be able to provide a Letter of Good Standing.”

Hartz could not be reached to comment for this article.

The Sioux City diocese’s announcement last week comes amid its review of abuse accusations that was spurred last year by an investigation by The Associated Press, which found that the diocese had concealed instances of abuse by clergy for decades.

The diocese has said it will make public a list of its clergy who have faced credible allegations of sexual abuse. That list was initially expected by the end of 2018, but its release has been delayed because “completing the list is requiring additional time for our research to be thorough and reporting to be correct,” the diocese said in January.

Hartz’s name has been added to the list, O’Brien said.

Bruner said he was relieved that church leadership finally dealt with Hartz appropriately.

I can only hope there were no further crimes committed by this man,” Bruner said.