Accused Ex-Priest Relieved of Duties
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Albuquerque Tribune [Albuquerque NM]
October 10, 2005
Retired Albuquerque priest Ronald Bruckner has been relieved of remaining churchly duties a decade after he was first accused of sexually abusing minors.
An attorney for Bruckner says the Archdiocesan Permanent Review Board, which made the recommendation, hasn't had time to consider the underlying facts in the case. But an advocacy group for victims of priest abuse is asking why it took the board and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe so long to chastise Bruckner.
Bruckner, 72, was placed on restricted status effective Sept. 16 after a unanimous recommendation from the review board.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan said the board concluded "there were credible allegations" of sexual abuse of minors.
Under restricted status, Bruckner will not be allowed to wear a Roman collar or exercise priestly duties, but Sheehan said Bruckner still will receive his pension.
Bruckner has been on paid leave from his duties as longtime pastor of Our Lady of the Annuciation Church since March, when a new allegation of misconduct surfaced.
The alleged events are said to have occurred 30 years ago.
Bruckner retired from the priesthood in May but had still been allowed to perform priestly duties and wear the clerical garb of a priest.
News of Bruckner's status was made public in a one-paragraph statement in the October issue of the archdiocese newsletter, People of God, passed out in churches during the weekend.
Bruckner's attorney Terry Guebert said today the board has never made a finding that the allegations were credible.
Guebert also asked any of Bruckner's former parishioners who have information about his conduct and character as a priest to contact the archdiocese "to provide relevant information."
Bruckner received two letters from the archbishop regarding the findings of the Permanent Review Board, including one in June that recommended that Bruckner voluntarily participate in an evaluation process because of the "questionable nature and credibility of the allegations" and to give the board more time to evaluate the information, Guebert said.
Bruckner received a second letter in September, but Guebert said the letter again does not indicate that the board found the allegations credible.
"Rather, the letter states that the board recommended that he be placed on restricted status because Father Bruckner had not completed the evaluation process," Guebert said. "We are unaware of any finding by the Permanent Review Board that the allegations were credible."
Guebert said he learned from an "undisclosed source" that the board did not consider the underlying facts of the case in making its recommendation.
Review Board Chairman Don Kawal rebutted Guebert's information.
"When we looked at the allegations, we found credible allegations that were supportive of our recommendations," he said.
The board began investigating the latest allegations in March and began requesting further information on previous allegations, he said.
"It was a tough, somewhat painful process," he said. "It wasn't clear-cut. We kept on asking for more information and got it."
Bruckner is accused of making a male teen rape victim disrobe in front of a mirror to re-enact the rape and then engaged the teen in sexual contact.
The accuser said the incident occurred in the 1970s when the teen lived in Los Alamos and the priest was pastor at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church there.
The accuser, now in his 40s and living out of state, said he came forward in March after his wife saw a Web site run by the New Mexico chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, that detailed other sexual allegations against the priest.
Bruckner had also been the subject of two previous Review Board investigations.
Those investigations centered on six letters sent to the archdiocese in 1995 involving five men who said they were physically and sexually abused by Bruckner when they were attending Our Lady of the Assumption Middle School in Albuquerque in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The letters allege the priest made the boys sleep in his bed with him so they could "bond," wrestled with them in underwear and watched R-rated movies such as "The Blue Lagoon" during sleepovers at the church rectory.
The men also say he made them look at themselves naked in the mirror for therapy, fondled them or spoke about their genitals.
Sheehan said at the time that the board found no credible evidence of sexual misconduct against the priest, although he called the priest's actions "questionable but not sexual abuse."
New Mexico SNAP Director Steven Rabi said Sheehan's decision to place Bruckner on restricted status is a good start but one that comes far too late.
"It could have happened a long time ago, especially in light of the fact that allegations were brought in the mid-'90s and nothing really constructive was done," Rabi said.
Rabi challenged Sheehan and the other two New Mexico bishops to go forward with sustaining reforms that will protect children in the future and encouraged other victims to come forward to receive counseling, support and compensation.
"God knows there are priests who would never abuse children," Rabi said. "They are stigmatized by the evil that has perpetrated their ranks."
1965: Ordained as priest.
1965-71: Faculty, St. Pius X High School.
1971-72: Chaplain and lecturer, College of Santa Fe.
1972-80: Pastor, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Los Alamos.
1980-87: Pastor, Our Lady of the Assumption Church.
1987-2005: Pastor, Our Lady of the Annunciation Church.
1995: Permanent Review Board hears case, takes no action.
2004: Permanent Review Board hears case for second time, takes no action.
March 2005: Bruckner placed on paid leave from Annunciation.
May 27, 2005: Retires from priesthood.
Sept. 16, 2005: Restricted status takes effect.
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