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  Bishop Talks with Victims of Abuse
Outreach to Native Victims Is Discussed

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent
May 9, 2005

GALLUP — Four Arizona men, all victims of clergy abuse, gave Bishop Donald E. Pelotte of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup generally high marks for his response to them during a meeting held last week in Gallup.

Joseph Baca, Mark Kennedy, Criss Candelaria, and Adrian Ortiz met with Pelotte on Wednesday, May 4, to discuss sexual abuse in the Gallup Diocese. Afterwards, the men met with The Independent to discuss their reaction to the meeting.

And according to the group, the need to reach out to possible victims within Native American communities was one of the topics of conversation.

Baca and Kennedy, both from the Phoenix area, are members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Baca, originally from Winslow, Ariz., received a financial settlement from the Gallup Diocese last year for the abuse he was subjected to as a minor by the late Father Clement Hageman. Baca now is the SNAP representative for northern Arizona and western New Mexico, the area covered by the Diocese of Gallup. Kennedy, whose abuse did not occur in the Gallup Diocese, is the Volunteer Director of Arizona SNAP.

Candelaria, originally from Springerville, Ariz., and Ortiz, of Winslow, are among a number of adults who claim they were sexually victimized by James Burns, a former priest of the Diocese of Gallup. Burns is currently serving an 18 month prison sentence in Arizona for the abuse of a boy in Winslow in the 1980s. Candelaria, the County Attorney in Apache County, Ariz., submitted a statement to the Navajo County Superior Court about his own alleged abuse during the September 2004 sentencing hearing for Burns. Ortiz said he is currently negotiating a settlement with the diocese through the efforts of a private attorney.

According to the men, Pelotte was joined at the meeting by Deacon Timoteo Lujan, the chancellor of the diocese, and Sister Mary Thurlough, the Victims' Assistance Coordinator for the diocese.

The Independent provided an opportunity for Pelotte to comment about the meeting. Early Thursday The Independent e-mailed questions to Lujan, Pelotte's frequent spokesman, and left a voice mail message on Lujan's telephone. By Friday evening, the diocese had not responded.

Pelotte and Lujan have not responded to any questions from The Independent since November of 2004, when the newspaper asked for a formal, taped interview about the attempted murder charge filed against Derek Kolb, a young man who had a close association with Father Thomas Maikowski. The diocese's former director of education, Maikowski resigned from several prominent positions within the diocese after criminal charges were filed against Kolb.

'Search and rescue'

"I was very happy," said Ortiz of the meeting with Pelotte. "Very satisfied."

"We've got a big mess here we need to clean up," Ortiz added. Winslow and several other small towns in northern Arizona have had numerous parish priests that have been publicly confirmed by church leaders to have had credible allegations of sexual abuse made against them.

Based on Pelotte's comments during Wednesday's meeting, Ortiz believes the Gallup bishop is willing to work with SNAP to reach out to other clergy abuse victims.

According to the men, Pelotte apologized to them for the sexual abuse that has occurred in the diocese, he agreed to hold a special Mass in Winslow for victims and their families, and he agreed to speak to each victim personally, if that is something the victim wants.

In addition, they said, Pelotte agreed to publish information about how to contact SNAP in The Voice of the Southwest, the diocesan newspaper, and he offered the use of the Catholic Indian Center as a meeting place for any upcoming SNAP meetings in Gallup.

Kennedy said Pelotte expressed a willingness to work with SNAP to coordinate a "search and rescue mission" to locate and assist other clergy abuse victims. Kennedy added that Pelotte even spoke about the need to get the information to Native American communities, particularly on the Navajo Nation.

However, the men said that they did not discuss the idea of other special Masses and meetings for victims in any parish other than Winslow's, nor did they discuss the idea of the diocese attempting to reach out to clergy abuse victims through tribal and regional newspapers with much larger circulation numbers than the small Catholic newspaper.

During the meeting, Baca gave Pelotte a list of 19 names of men who formerly worked in the diocese as either diocesan or religious order priests. The 19 have all had some sort of allegation of sexual abuse made against them, said Baca.

Pelotte agreed, said Baca, to research the list and determine which allegations are credible. Once that is done, Pelotte agreed to release the list to SNAP and publish the names of credible offenders.

"His intentions are to do this as soon as possible," said Kennedy, who added that Pelotte recognized the majority of the names on the list as confirmed sexual abusers.

Pelotte also agreed to arrange a meeting between Baca and the Gallup Diocesan Review Board on Juvenile Sexual Abuse in July, after Baca returns from SNAP's national conference.

On Nov. 30, 2003, Pelotte issued a statement to all Gallup parishes saying that between 1950 and 2003, eight known individuals from the diocese had credible accusations of sexual abuse, there were 11 known victims, and the diocese had paid $190,000 in settlements to victims. To The Independent's knowledge, diocesan officials have not publicly updated those figures. According to research by the newspaper, just the number of James Burns' victims could easily exceed more than a dozen.

Those figures also only pertain to the sexual abuse of minors. They do not involve allegations of sexual assaults, abuse, or harassment of adult victims by diocesan personnel.

Promises to honor

Although Baca, Kennedy, and Ortiz were optimistic over Pelotte's response, Candelaria was more cautious in his reaction. "I'll wait and see what happens," he said. "Time will tell."

Candelaria, a longtime Arizona prosecutor, said he "didn't try to provoke" Pelotte with his comments, but said he did talk frankly to the bishop. "The leaders of the church need to take it on the chin and be responsible," he said. According to Candelaria, he holds church leaders to be just as responsible for the abuse as the perpetrator priests themselves.

To Pelotte's credit, Candelaria said he did appreciate the fact that Pelotte didn't put a time limit on the meeting in order to listen fully to what was being said to him.

Kennedy said his "genuine gut feeling" is that the Gallup bishop will honor his promises.

"I thought he was real sincere," agreed Baca of Pelotte. "I just hope he follows through." For Baca, the meeting with Pelotte was very significant. "I think it was real healing for me..." he said.

According to Candelaria, the healing of clergy abuse victims is an important personal goal. Although he is not an official member of SNAP, the county attorney said he shared the goal of helping other victims heal. Candelaria, who has remained a devout Catholic, said he was also interested in possibly helping reconcile other victims with their spiritual faith and with the Catholic Church.

 
 

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