Tuesday, November 15, 2005

 

Lutheran pastor faces sex-conduct charges



Minneapolis - The young man said he was about 14 when the pastor took him on trips, showed him pornography, bought him boxer shorts, asked him to pose for photos -- and had sex with him, including once at the church parsonage on Christmas Eve.

The pastor, the Rev. James Michael Holthus, 51, of Lake Crystal, Minn., appeared in court Monday in Mankato on charges of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

He was arrested Thursday after his home and church office were searched, and a computer was seized.

Holthus' lawyer said his client adamantly asserts his innocence and looks forward to clearing his name at trial.

The pastor's supporters packed the Blue Earth County District courtroom, defense attorney Chris Rosengren said, and Holthus' parishioners at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lake Crystal and St. John Lutheran Church in Rapidan have started a defense fund.

Dwayne Matzke, a church council member at St. John, said he has "very much confidence" in Holthus, whom he called "a wonderful pastor." Holthus' problem was that he was "too soft-hearted. He wanted to help everybody," Matzke said.

The complaint, signed by Blue Earth County Sheriff's Capt. Will Purvis, said Holthus admitted to fondling the boy but denied giving him oral sex.

The complaint said Holthus admitted there were times when he groped the boy while he was sleeping and, "for some reason, that made me feel" as if "this kid is all mine."

Rosengren, the attorney, said officers "vehemently interrogated [Holthus] for quite a long time," and he suspects some comments during those interviews were taken out of context. He said such criminal complaints often are a precursor to civil suits seeking damages from a church.

Allegations from 2001, 2002

The unnamed young man, now an adult, gave this account of his relationship with the pastor in 2001 and 2002, according to the complaint:

The young man had been active in Trinity's youth group, choir and other activities. He was about 13 when Holthus started taking a special interest in him, taking him to movies and the Minnesota State Fair, and apparently wanted to be "more of a friend than a pastor."

The boy sometimes stayed overnight at the single pastor's residence, and Holthus took him on trips to Duluth, St. Louis and Chicago. Back rubs and talk about sex led to masturbation and oral sex, the man said, the last time on Christmas Eve of 2002, according to the complaint.

Rosengren said the trips were group events that included the boy's mother, not just Holthus and the boy. The pastor had counseled the boy and denies having sexual contact with him, Rosengren said.

Holthus was released on $200,000 bail Monday.

He has been pastor at Trinity since 1992 and St. John since 1996. In addition to serving the two Missouri Synod churches, he has taught at area Lutheran schools.

The allegations are "very discouraging news," said Robert Patrick, principal of Martin Luther High School in Northrop, Minn. Holthus has been suspended as chaplain adviser and German teacher there pending the outcome of the case, he said. "All parties involved are in our prayers."


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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