Sex Abuse Victims Seek Help from New Mexico Archbishop
July 30, 2004
Support Group Calls For Removal of Accused Priest
SNAP Wants Sheehan to Seek Anyone Who May Have Been Molested
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is asking Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to help them reach out to anyone victimized, or has knowledge of sexual crimes by Father Ronald Bruckner. Bruckner has been accused by six men who allege they were sexually abused as minors by Bruckner in the 1970s and 1980s.
In a letter to Archbishop Sheehan, leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) are asking that the archdiocese actively and aggressively seek out victims who may be suffering in silence, by placing ads in the diocesan paper, "People of God," and church bulletins encouraging anyone who has been abused, witnessed abuse or suspected abuse to contact law enforcement officials.
"Sheehan and his brother bishops have repeatedly promised to be open about sex abuse allegations, and to temporarily suspend accused priests while accusations are being investigated. In this case, he's apparently violating his promises" said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's national director. "Archbishop Sheehan therefore owes it to his flock to spread the word that six allegations have been made against this priest. Parents should ask their children about any inappropriate actions this priest may have made towards them."
"The allegations were brought to Archbishop Sheehan's attention in 1995. He said they were investigated. Then why are six men saying that nothing was done? There appears to be a lack of transparency here," said SNAP founder and President Barbara Blaine of Chicago. "Knowing that abusers rarely stop abusing, we need to aggressively reach out to anyone who may have been hurt by this priest -- and do it immediately."
"There is one obvious, quick, simple, common sense way to get closer to the truth here," Clohessy said. "Sheehan needs to make public announcements in each parish where Bruckner has worked, saying 'This priest has been accused. If you have any information that might prove his innocence or guilt, it's crucial that you come forward' Until he does this, his conduct in this case will continue to be questionable."
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is the oldest and largest support group for clergy sexual abuse victims in the country. It is based in Chicago and has just over 5,000 members. SNAP has an active New Mexico Chapter with outreach covering areas served by the three Roman Catholic
dioceses in New Mexico.
July 30, 2004
Most Reverend Michael J. Sheehan
Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe
4000 St. Joseph's Place, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87120-1714
Dear Archbishop Sheehan:
We are writing to you on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). SNAP is the nation's largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). We wish to bring to your attention a matter of serious concern and ask for your help.
In a letter you addressed to the priests of the Santa Fe Archdiocese on June 23, 2004, you acknowledged that allegations of sexual wrongdoing have been made against Fr. Ronald Bruckner, who is pastor at Annunciation parish in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by Dr. David B. Heard, a local clinical psychologist, who has had professional interaction with those claiming abuse by Fr. Bruckner. Dr. Heard has written to you on several occasions and alleges a cover-up of this abuse -- as well as false testimony given under oath regarding another issue regarding Fr. Bruckner.
We need your help in notifying your flock that some of their children may have been exposed to a dangerous predator. We also need your help in urging anyone who experienced, suspected, or witnessed abuse to contact law enforcement immediately.
As you are aware, child molesters rarely stop abusing children. The odds are high, we fear, and that if Father Bruckner sexually abused these men who have written to you as minors, he actually abused even more children. This means there may be hurting and troubled survivors of Father Bruckner who need support and counseling in your diocese and in New Mexico.
We ask you to do everything in your power to urge survivors to come forward, seek help and contact the police-make appeals from the pulpit, announcements in parish bulletins, and notices in your diocesan newspaper and website. We believe it is imperative that you also notify the media of Fr. Bruckner's parish assignments in New Mexico in order to reach as many survivors as possible.
We at SNAP are more than willing to offer assistance in this outreach campaign.
You know fully well that, where there is smoke, there is usually fire -- why take any risk when it comes to prtecting children.
Patrick Schlitz, Dean of the law school at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, is the church's foremost defense attorney. He has represented more than 500 accused priests over the pat 20 years. In a New York Times report of August 2002, Schiltz admitted that "fewer than 10" of those 500 priests were falsely accused. So, the question becomes: "What are the possibilities that all of those men who have accused Father Bruckner of sexually abusing them as minors are falsely accusing him?"
You have an obligation to the more than 300,000 Roman Catholics that comprise the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to act immediately. Remove the priest in question while a full and proper investigation, preferably by civil authorities, is done. At a bare minimum, remove Father Bruckner from the advisory board at St. Pius X high school in Albuquerque. We have no doubt this will be an unpleasent experience for you -- but it pales in comparison to the pain felt by survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
We remind you that as Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops you are especially under scrutiny to fully meet all of the criteria set forth by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People To do less, frankly diminishes your credibility and can only inflict greater harm on survivors and your Catholic faithful.
Archbishop Sheehan, now is the time to do the right thing. Santa Fe archdiocesan Catholics deserve complete disclosure about Father Bruckner's past. Survivors need to know they are not alone. We urge you to do your civic and moral duty, and aggressively spread the word about Father Bruckner and these allegations.
We look forward to your prompt response.
National Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis, MO 64143
314 566 9790 314 566 9790cell, 314 645 5915314 645 5915
Steven M. Rabi
Director, SNAP New Mexico
PO Box 92652
Albuquerque, NM 87199
505 280 3369 505 280 3369
July 28, 2004
Testimony sought on priest conduct
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Archbishop Michael Sheehan could be forced to testify about allegations of sexual misconduct against a longtime Albuquerque priest if the judge in a lawsuit against the archdiocese so orders.
But Sheehan said the allegations are not "sufficiently credible" and have no relevance to the lawsuit, which was filed by parents over counseling advice given their daughter.
An attorney for the accused priest says the new motion should be sealed to protect the identity of an innocent man.
"It's one thing to raise this as part of a lawsuit without bringing names into it; it's another to defame someone," lawyer Don Bruckner said.
"All it takes is putting his name out there once, and his reputation of 40 years is destroyed."
Because no criminal charges have been filed, The Tribune is not naming the priest or the parish with which he is affiliated.
The sexual misconduct allegations, detailed in six letters sent to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1995, predominantly involved boys who attended a Roman Catholic middle school in Albuquerque in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The letters allege the priest made the boys wrestle with him clad only in their underwear and watch R-rated movies such as "The Blue Lagoon" during sleepovers at the church rectory.
They claim he asked them to sleep in his bed so they could "bond," made them look at themselves naked in the mirror for therapy, fondled them or spoke about their genitals.
"My innocence and trust was taken away from me as a youth," one letter states. "I do not want to see this happen to anybody else."
Bruckner said the priest, now 71, has denied any wrongdoing and has been cleared twice by an Archdiocese Review Board, which investigates such allegations.
A June 23 letter written by Sheehan to clergy in the archdiocese confirms the priest was investigated twice by the review board and also passed a psychological evaluation.
"Since there was not credible evidence of sexual abuse, the review board indicated there was no reason to remove him from ministry," Sheehan wrote.
The archbishop's letter does call the priest's actions "questionable," especially in light of the sexual abuse allegations that rocked the archdiocese in the late 1980s and early '90s and cost it an estimated $50 million in settlements before Sheehan took the helm in 1993.
None of the six men who sent the letters ever filed lawsuits, officials say, and have declined to speak publicly about their accusations.
Attempts to reach the men were unsuccessful.
Attorneys for the archdiocese say the allegations are irrelevant to the ongoing lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed last year by Terry and Betty Anne McDermott, involves their daughter's treatment by a counselor at St. Pius X High School where she attended.
"The archdiocese believes that this line of questioning is so far afield from any issue in the McDermott lawsuit that it amounts to abuse and harassment of the archbishop," Charles Reynolds, general counsel for the Archdiocese, said in a written response issued Tuesday.
But lawyer Sam Bregman, who represents the McDermotts, said that while the allegations have no direct relation to his clients' case the issue speaks to whether Sheehan testified truthfully during a deposition taken May 18 in the McDermott case.
"It's clear to me based on the deposition answers that the credibility of the archbishop has certainly come into play," Bregman said.
According to Bregman's motion filed late last week, Sheehan testified no allegations of sexual misconduct had ever been lodged against the priest.
"No, no, not in the - the answer would be no," Sheehan states in a portion of the deposition included in Bregman's motion.
Sheehan later states "some third party references, an unsigned letter" had been received in connection with the priest.
A second deposition of Sheehan, taken July 14, also is mentioned in Bregman's motion.
In the deposition, Bregman attempts to question Sheehan about the June 23 letter to archdiocese priests, but Sheehan declines to answer after his attorney, Arthur Beach, advises him not to.
"This is a common theme of the archdiocese, that is, to try to shut people up and not let the truth come out," Bregman said.
Sheehan, in a written statement issued Tuesday, said he continues to maintain a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse of minors by any personnel of the archdiocese.
He reaffirmed the allegations against the priest were deemed by the review process "not to be sufficiently credible to warrant the priest's removal from ministry."
It will be up to state District Judge Robert Thompson in Albuquerque, who is presiding over the McDermott case, to decide whether to compel Sheehan to answer Bregman's questions.
In the meantime, the priest's attorney said he will ask Bregman to withdraw his motion. If Bregman refuses, the attorney said he could ask Thompson to either seal Bregman's motion or blacken out his client's name in the legal documents.
The McDermott lawsuit itself centers on Katie McDermott, who was 15 when she sought counseling from St. Pius X counselor Patricia Carlton-McQueen in September 1999, apparently over problems concerning her sexual orientation and ideas of suicide.
The lawsuit claims Carlton-McQueen suggested McDermott probe her sexuality by looking at an X-rated Web site, predominantly of women, and by visiting an adult nightclub.
Besides Sheehan, the lawsuit names Carlton-McQueen, former St. Pius X official Mary McLeod and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which operates the Catholic high school on Albuquerque's West Side.
Sheehan, in his statement Tuesday, said the archdiocese believes the McDermott lawsuit is motivated by the family's personal religious ideologies.
"This is not a dispute that should be litigated in the courts of the state of New Mexico," Sheehan said.
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