Archdiocese of Santa Fe publicly names priests accused of molestation

Archdiocese of Santa Fe publicly names priests accused of molestation

By Andrew Oxford, The New Mexican

In a step toward accountability long demanded by survivors of sexual abuse at the of hands Roman Catholic clergy, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe on Tuesday released a list of 74 priests, deacons and brothers who it says have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct over the last several decades.

While more than two dozen dioceses around the country have released similar lists in recent years, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe had not. Instead, the archdiocese has fought in court to mostly keep secret its handling of a scandal that goes to the heart of an institution central to New Mexico’s history and culture. The list comes as a very public acknowledgement of the suffering, doubt and denial faced by survivors. But survivors and their advocates said the church also must do more to rebuild trust and help heal those still recovering from trauma as well as betrayal.

“It is my deepest hope that our publication of this list will serve as an important step in healing for survivors, their families, and our Church and communities,” Archbishop John C. Wester said in a statement. “But we will not stop here.”

The archbishop wrote that he is “deeply sorry” for the pain survivors and their families have endured.

“The history of this terrible abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to love and protect you is a deep source of sadness and shame for our Church,” Wester added.

While court filings and survivors’ groups publicly identified 44 priests accused of sexual abuse in New Mexico over the last half-century, the list released Tuesday included names that surprised even those most familiar with the scandal that first broke in the 1990s.

The list includes 66 priests, six brothers and two deacons. The list includes those who were originally associated with other dioceses or with religious orders. None of them are in active ministry. Thirty-eight of the men listed are deceased.

The archdiocese said it will revise the list to include each man’s assignments, such as the parishes where they worked. The archdiocese also said it will update the list “as new information becomes available.”

“It’s about time,” said Diana Abeyta, an Albuquerque woman who says she was in the second grade when sexually assaulted by a priest in her parish. “It’s such a shame and such a crime that the archdiocese didn’t release these names as the priests were being accused. That could have really saved a lot of children from being harmed.”

Abeyta said she is happy the archdiocese released such an accounting at last but added that the church should also release internal records on priests accused of abuse just as dioceses have done in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere.

Many advocates for survivors of abuse argue such documents would offer insight into how the church handled allegations against priests and how they decided which accusations were credible.

“How many people came forward to say ‘I was molested by him’? How many reports do they have?” Abeyta asked, offering up just some of the questions she argues could be better answered if the church would disclose more information.

Lawsuits against the archdiocese over the past two decades revealed that New Mexico is an epicenter of a national scandal.

Church officials around the country, for example, sent priests accused of sexual abuse to a retreat near Jemez Springs for “treatment.” Many of those priests went on to work in parishes around the state and claim more victims. A priest accused of sexual abuse even ran a ranch for at-risk boys in Northeastern New Mexico until the late 1960s, when one youth’s death while escaping in the snow prompted its closure.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe faces mounting pressure to come clean with what officials knew about sex abuse among its clergy and when they knew it.

Just a few weeks ago, a front-page Sunday story by The New Mexicanhighlighted efforts by other dioceses to account for past abuses by clergy.

And a lawyer for KOB-TV is asking a judge to allow Brad Hall, an attorney for Abeyta and dozens of other survivors, to share redacted documents concerning three of perhaps the most notorious ex-priests in New Mexico.

Despite opposition from the archdiocese’s lawyer, the judge said during a hearing earlier this month there is good cause to release the files and is reviewing them to determine what can be made public.

In his statement Tuesday, Wester said he decided shortly after becoming archbishop two years ago that a critical step for the church would be to publicly identify clergy who had sexually abused children. The Diocese of Tucson in Arizona was the first to take such a step in 2002. But Wester outlined in his statement what he described as several “countervailing principles.” The church has had to weigh the need for openness and the recovery of survivors against the rights of the accused, he wrote.

Meanwhile, advocates caution that such lists may not be complete.

The list released Tuesday names clergy and members of religious orders who worked within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and were found guilty under the church’s law or under criminal law of sexually abusing a child. The list also includes men stripped of their religious duties after allegations of sexual abuse involving a minor. And the list includes men accused of sexual abuse after they were laicized or had died.

Advocates argue such lists can omit men accused of sexual misconduct but never fully or properly investigated.

Still, advocates also say such lists can prove valuable.

“The church has a lot of influence in a person’s life. When you’re hurt by someone in the church, it affects you,” Elizabeth Terrill, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Gallup, said in an interview last month.

The sprawling, rural and impoverished diocese released a “credibly accused list” of its own in 2014, and Terrill said the move has addressed some of the denial as well as the doubt that many survivors have faced.

“It’s a beautiful and public way to say, ‘No, we believe you,’ ” Terrill said.

After representing survivors for years in courtrooms alongside Hall, lawyer Levi Monagle said Tuesday he applauds the archbishop’s decision and hopes the list represents a new willingness to account for sexual abuse in the church.

“The hope is this can represent some sort of corner that’s turned and that transparency is an objective that is pursued collectively, pursued together,” Monagle said. “Transparency and shining a light on this crisis is one of the objectives of so many survivors. One of the thing that damages people the most is not being believed.”

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford

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