When Dove of Peace Lutheran Church parishioners walked out of last Sunday's service, they were greeted by two television news crews and a newspaper reporter asking about a woman from a California-based sex abuse survivors' organization passing out flyers about their music minister when they arrived for church that morning.
On Thursday, Nov. 7, Joelle Casteix, volunteer western regional director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sent out a press release that she and other SNAP volunteers would be outside the 665 W. Roller Coaster Road church holding signs and childhood photos, and handing out flyers to warn church members that their music minister Eric Holtan was convicted in 2000 of first-degree and third-degree criminal sexual conduct; and that they should demand his removal and talk to their kids.
Dove of Peace member Brad Schwab told the Tucson Weekly that it's been 13 years since Holtan pled guilty and he only has two years left on his 15-year probation. Another church member Nancy Day chimed in that many in the congregation knew about Holtan's past and it was understood that Holtan's probation officer checked in with the church pastor regularly.
Day added that Holtan does not work with children in the church in his duties as music minister. "He directs the adult choir," she said, addressing the terms of Holtan's probation in which he is not allowed to have unsupervised contact with underage females.
Schwab added that some of the information released by SNAP is wrong, specifically that Holtan served time in prison for his crimes. "That's not true. He was only put on probation." Although a court document provided to the Weekly does show Holtan was sentenced to 28 months confinement at the Northwest Regional Corrections Center.
Holtan has paid the price for what happened, and "while we feel for the victims, the case was brought to trial," Schwab said.
Last week, the Weekly talked to Casteix about the press release just as she was getting ready to drive to Tucson from Orange County. Casteix said SNAP was contacted by one of Holtan's victims, one of two female students at Duluth East High School where he worked as choir director.
Casteix said she contacted the church pastor by email before sending out the press release in an effort to "reach out," as well as police in Duluth and the Pima County Sheriff's Department. She said she wonders if the church knows about Holtan's past, that he remains on probation, as well as Evangelical Lutheran Church of America guidelines that discourage employment of anyone convicted of child sexual abuse.
Casteix stood outside the church wearing a large picture of herself when she was 15 years old, the age she said she was abused by her own choir teacher at the Catholic high school she attended in California. The reception she received at Dove of Peace was mixed, she said—one mother with young daughters came up to her and thanked her for the information, and others defended Holtan and told her to get off the church property. In the SNAP press release, Casteix said other volunteers would be there to talk with church members, but she was on her own, and said it is difficult to get survivors of sexual abuse to come to things like this because it is painful.
Calls made to Holtan and the Dove of Peace church pastor seeking comment about SNAP and allegations in the press release were not returned. An email sent to the church pastor was also not returned.
According to a Tucson Citizen story published in November 1999, Holtan was a 28-year-old UA doctoral student when the accusations were made, and that he had sexual contact up to 50 times with two female students from 1994 to 1998 outlined in the complaint filed then in St. Louis County District Court in Minnesota.
Casteix, standing across the street from the church, said SNAP isn't saying that Holtan can't go to church at Dove of Peace or sing in the choir, but she contends that being music minister of a church is a different situation that could put him in contact with underage members.