Published in the Gallup Independent, Gallup, N.M., June 22, 2016
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
ALBUQUERQUE – The Diocese of Gallup’s Chapter 11 case took a dramatic and emotional turn during a confirmation hearing at U.S. Bankruptcy Court Tuesday.
The first hour of the hearing was devoted to walking the court through all the legal details that comprise the diocese’s plan of reorganization, which will be funded in excess of $21 million. However, the second hour of the hearing featured an apologetic statement by Gallup Bishop James S. Wall to survivors of clergy sex abuse, followed by emotional remarks by several abuse survivors from Arizona and New Mexico.
“I want to first begin by acknowledging the reason why we’re here today, and the reason is because bad people, bad men committed bad and sinful acts against good people,” Wall told the small group of abuse survivors in the courtroom. “And there’s no excuse for that. There never was and there never will be an excuse for that.”
“These are men who are supposed to represent Jesus Christ and draw people into a deeper relationship with him,” Wall added. “And they did the complete opposite. So I want to start by saying I’m sorry for that.”
Wall, who repeatedly referred to clergy sex abuse survivors in the Gallup Diocese as “our survivors,” thanked the abuse claimants in the courtroom.
“Thank you for your courage to stand up, to come forward to tell your story,” he said. “I know it wasn’t easy. I know it was very difficult, but I’m grateful for your courage, so thank you very much.”
The bishop said he wanted to do all that he could do to heal past abuse, harms and hurt. He also said he was “personally looking forward to having healing services” throughout the diocese, as well as writing letters to abuse survivors.
“And the reason why I want to do that is I want to bring the light of Christ into this in order to help our survivors heal,” he said
Attorney James Stang, legal counsel for the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which represents the interests of abuse claimants in the case, asked for and received permission from Judge David T. Thuma to allow abuse survivors to gather around a table usually reserved for attorneys so they could support one another as they made statements to the court.
Stang noted that this has not been a regular bankruptcy case where the claims are paid, the ledgers are cleared and people simply move on.
“These folks will live with this experience, obviously, the rest of their lives. And I refer what happened to them as a generational crime,” he said, explaining the lifelong impact clergy sex abuse has on the survivors, their parents and their children.
“I want to apologize,” Stang added. “I want to apologize because our system doesn’t do justice to these folks.”
Four of the abuse claimants, two women and two men, stood to deliver remarks to the bishop and the court. All agreed to be publicly identified.
Prudence Jones, of Gallup, who was molested as a child on the Navajo Nation by Brother Mark Schornack, a Franciscan friar, was the first to speak.
“Bishop Wall, I want you to know that I accept your apology,” an emotional Jones said. “But I also want you to know that the amount of suffering I endured because of Brother Mark is immeasurable and lifelong. The pain he caused me reverberated through my family, and sadly my daughters were raised in the shadow of that pain.”
Jones told the bishop he could further her healing process by releasing the files of abusive clergy — something Wall has declined to do.
“I had been opposed to approving the reorganization plan because the non-monetaries did not include releasing these documents,” Jones said. “Bishop Wall, the first time we met, I told you I forgave Brother Mark because it was the right thing to do. And I asked you to do the right thing. I’m still waiting.”
“The misdeeds of the clergy and the suffering to those we represent is not illusory, it is real,” Criss Candelaria said. “I have seen it. People must believe that it is true because it is true.”
Candelaria, an attorney in Pinetop, Arizona, is a former longtime Arizona prosecutor. He has been public in the past about being targeted as a child for grooming by the Rev. James Burns. During Tuesday’s hearing, Candelaria called clergy abusers “unrepentant criminals.”
Candelaria, who has served as chairman of Stang’s committee, said he was disappointed that Gallup diocesan officials rejected some of the non-monetary provision proposals the committee made that would enhance the protection of children and vulnerable adults. Candelaria asked the diocese to reconsider those recommendations.
“Please do more, not less,” he said.
Candelaria, however, gave credit to some in the diocese.
“And I’d like to thank some clergy — almost all unknown — who took action to protect children and vulnerable people through the years,” Candelaria said, specifically citing the Rev. Tim Farrell, the pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Farmington, who was not in attendance at the court hearing.
JoAnn Stoltenberger, a resident of the Farmington area, also credited Farrell’s support.
“He helped me through this whole process,” she said. “If it wouldn’t have been for him, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Stoltenberger, who was abused as a child by the Rev. Julian Hartig, a Franciscan friar, talked about her healing process.
“But through all this I’ve learned forgiveness, especially toward myself,” she said. “I felt so much guilt over the years even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. And Father Julian, I forgive you. You can’t have another day of my life.”
Phoenix resident Larry Hellman was the final abuse survivor to speak. Hellman shared how his abuse by the Rev. Clement Hageman, which started with a horrific rape when he was 11, destroyed his childhood dream of becoming a priest, left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and set him up for years of self-sabotaging behavior.
More recently, he said, the Diocese of Gallup reneged on its commitment to pay for the psychological counseling that was assisting him.
“The Catholic Church promised to cover the cost of these visits,” Hellman said. “Ultimately, I was released because guess what? The Catholic Church refused to pay the bill. I know how it feels to be violated 50 years after the first assault.”
In spite of those criticisms, Susan Boswell, the lead bankruptcy attorney for the diocese, reported to the court that the abuse survivors in the case voted to approve the diocese’s plan of reorganization. From the 57 claimants, Boswell said, 50 “timely ballots” were filed by the voting deadline. Of those, 46 claimants voted to approve the plan. Four claimants did not vote either way so their ballots were not counted. Three more ballots arrived after the voting deadline. Although those ballots weren’t counted, the claimants had voted to accept the plan. The remaining four claimants who didn’t cast a vote signed certifications and releases.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, Thuma agreed to confirm the plan, which is slated to have an effective date in July.