N.M. diocese releases list of 17 Arizona priests ‘credibly accused’ of child sex abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Gallup, N.M., this week released an updated list of priests, including at least 17 priests who worked in Arizona, who it says were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.
Many of the cases date back decades and led to investigations and criminal charges, said Suzanne Hammons, a spokeswoman for the diocese.
“We still feel a sense of responsibility because it happened in our church,” Hammons said.
An Arizona lawyer who represents accusers praised the diocese for its transparency, saying it will help bring “healing” to the Catholic Church. But Robert Pastor also said that “credibly accused” is an arbitrary term.
“In that context, the Catholic Church acts as judge and jury,” he said. “Historically, the Catholic Church and its managers have used the phrase ‘credibly accused’ to justify hiding pedophile priests. … The Catholic Church needs a cultural shift in which no parent, grandparent, teacher or layperson should feel afraid or otherwise second-guess themselves when a child discloses sexual abuse.”
A spokeswoman for a support group said that the list is a step in the right direction but that the church needs to do more.
Founded in 1939, the diocese encompasses Arizona’s Apache, Navajo and Coconino counties as well as counties in northwestern New Mexico.
The 17 priests worked in Arizona as recently as 2013 and as far back as 1951. At least six of the Arizona priests are listed as deceased.
The list of 30 clergy members and one layperson includes the names, places and dates of service of what the diocese said were credibly accused personnel, but it does not outline any criminal charges, sanctions or the number of sexual-abuse accusers.
Hammons said some sanctions were imposed on “a few of the priests,” but she did not have further details.
Some of them were removed by Catholic leadership or later left the priesthood, she said.
Hammons said the details can be difficult to determine because the process for dealing with credibly accused priests “has changed throughout the decades.”
Some of the priests worked in areas now under another diocese, including Prescott, Kingman, Clarksdale, Flagstaff, Seligman and Yarnell, Hammons said.
Bishop James Wall of the Gallup Diocese was not available for comment.
Under Wall, Hammons said, any priest with a credible accusation made against him “is suspended from ministry, and law enforcement is notified, and the priest remains suspended until the investigation concludes.”
“Credibly accused” means an investigation was conducted, particularly by outside law-enforcement authorities, who determined there was a credible accusation, Hammons explained. The diocese does not know how many or which cases were prosecuted by law enforcement, she said.
In some cases, the priests were sent out for rehabilitation, the spokeswoman said.
“Basically, it’s not just someone saying, ‘This person abused me,’ and we immediately put their name up,” Hammons said. “If their name is on there, it means there is evidence.”
Wall wanted to release the names “ever since he became bishop of Gallup” in 2009, Hammons said. Wall previously worked as a parish priest in Phoenix, according to previous reports in The Arizona Republic.
In a statement on the diocese website, Wall said he sent letters to each parish, mission and school within diocese territory where a ministering priest was found to have “credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”
With most of the cases, the accusations are old and not necessarily ongoing anymore, Hammons said.
“What is ongoing is determining if there were any more credible accusations on top of those that are already on the list, and we may add more names in the future,” she said.
Pastor, the attorney for abuse accusers, said the disclosure is “a long time coming.”
“It is a first step that will hopefully help those who were sexually abused by Catholic priests,” he said. “I also hope it will help bring healing to the greater church as a whole.”
The list isa first step in the right direction for the church, said Barbara Dorris, outreach coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
Still, Dorris said, bishops promised in 2002 “to be open, honest and transparent.” She argued that the Catholic Church has not done enough to address the sexual abuse of minors.
“It feels like they only do the bare minimum and only when forced,” Dorris said. “They have had years to do outreach, to try to find those people who have been hurt, to work with law enforcement to get to the truth in these cases, and yet they have done very little.”
The 2002 U.S. bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, known as the Dallas Charter, was an attempt to address the sexual-abuse scandal and protect children from abusive clergy members.
Dorris said many of the priests whose names were on the list are still alive “and, we fear, still have access to children.”
“We feel they have a moral obligation to do everything in their power to warn the community so children will be safe,” she said.
Richard Sipe, a former priest from La Jolla, Calif., who has written books about the practice of religious celibacy, said the release of the list is positive because it can encourage more accusers to step forward.
“The concern is about the victims who have come forward, and the victims who have not come forward, and who are out there suffering,” said Sipe, a certified counselor who was trained to deal with the mental-health problems of priests. “The truth frees us. … It is acknowledged when people have the courage to face the problem.”