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  Priest Wanted to Go to Court
Abuse Allegations Not True, He Says

Associated Press, carried in New Mexican
July 3, 1993

Albuquerque — A priest accused of sexually abusing three sisters when they were children said he wanted to go to court to defend himself, but the Archdiocese of Santa Fe settled with the women.

"I'm not saying I'm a saint, but the allegations they brought forth are simply not true," said the Rev. Lionel Augustine "Augie" Abeywickrema.

"I told the archdiocese I was ready to go to court because , before God, I did not do what they accused me of," the 66 year-old priest said Thursday.

The out-of-court settlement was announced in a news release Wednesday by the archdiocese and an attorney for the women. The details of the settlement were not disclosed.

Abeywickrema said he was told the archdiocese chose to settle the case to avoid legal expenses.

Archdiocese officials said they removed Abeywickrema as an assistant pastor at Queen of Heaven parish in Albuquerque earlier this year after the allegations and barred him from any public ministry.

"These sisters in question were treated by me as members of my own family," Abeywickrema said in a letter to the Albuquerque Journal. "As usual in a family, our relationships may have been a little more familiar than with total strangers."

But he added" "According to any 'normal' way of judging things, none of these actions can be interpreted as of a sexual nature or content."

He conceded that certain affectionate gestures "could have been misinterpreted."

The women allege Abeywickrema sexually abused them for several years beginning in the mid-1960s when he was assigned to St. Bernadette's parish in Albuquerque. The sisters ranged in age from 6 to 14 when the alleged abuse began. Allegations ranged from improper touching to sodomy.

"I have never that word, sodomy I've never done that in my whole life," the priest said.

If the allegations had been true, he asked, then why did the family continue to seek him out on subsequent social and religious occasions?

"I was invited to perform most of the baptisms, marriages and anniversaries in the family until three years ago," he said.

Abeywickrema, a native of Sri Lanka, served at a number of New Mexico parishes, including St. Bernadette's in the 1960s, Our Lady of Fatima in Albuquerque in the 1970s and Sacred Heart Church in Albuquerque in the early 1980s. He also was assigned to Immaculate Conception Church in Los Alamos and ST. Alice church in Tucumcari in the mid- to late 1980s. He was in Mountainair in the early 1990s, then was transferred to Queen of Heaven.

 
 

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