|Local Clergy-abuse Survivor Writes Memoir
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
November 8, 2011
[note: This article is reproduced in its entirety and does not link to the Gallup Independent.]
Published in the Gallup Independent newspaper, Gallup, NM, Nov. 8, 2011
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
GALLUP — The Diocese of Gallup’s most public survivor of clergy sex abuse has written a book about his abuse.
Joseph M. Baca’s book, “Constant Reminder/A memoir of priest abuse and recovery,” recounts the sexual abuse Baca endured as a child and adolescent by Clement A. Hageman, the parish priest assigned to Baca’s Madre de Dios Catholic Church in Winslow, Ariz. The memoir was released in October by Wordclay, a self-publishing company.
With Baca’s birth in Winslow on St. Joseph’s Feast Day, March 19, 1958, his devout parents named him after the saint. Like many other Hispanic families originally from northwest New Mexico, Baca’s family life was rooted in the Catholic Church. Baca’s family regularly made religious pilgrimages to visit the Santo Nino statue in Zuni Pueblo, his father, Cresenciano, built a shrine to the Virgin Mary in the family’s front yard, and both Baca’s father and grandfather were members of Los Hermanos Penitentes.
Like other boys in Winslow’s Hispanic Coopertown neighborhood, Baca couldn’t wait to be an altar boy in church so he could ring the bells at Mass. What Baca and his parents didn’t know was that their parish priest, Hageman, had been sexually molesting young boys for decades as he was bumped from church to church from Texas to New Mexico to Arizona. Winslow was the last stop in the pedophile’s long career.
Town in denial
Perched on Hageman’s vinyl lime-green recliner, Baca began to be sexually groomed by the priest who drank Schlitz Malt Liquor, smoked Parliament Cigarettes with recessed filters, and had a penchant for taking local boys on rides in his blue Chrysler New Yorker. As the abuse began, Hageman showered Baca with gifts of money and toys. As the abuse developed, Hageman uttered creepy phrases in Latin while molesting Baca.
Although Hageman threatened Baca on at least one occasion, threats weren’t necessary to protect Hageman. Baca said he told his parents, a local doctor, and another priest about being molested, but none of the adults intervened on his behalf.
"I was trapped in a community where Father Clement Hageman sodomized innocent young males and the rest of the town — floundered in denial, didn’t know, didn’t want to know and worse — the Roman Catholic Church didn’t want the rest of the world to know, at any cost,” Baca writes.
According to Baca, his older brother Leonard was the only person who tried to help. At one point, Leonard Baca drove to Gallup and spoke to Bishop Jerome Hastrich, who promised he would take care of the situation. That didn’t happen. Leonard also turned to another Winslow priest, the Rev. James Lindenmeyer, who worked as both a priest and a Navajo County probation officer.
Instead, Baca writes, Lindenmeyer’s response was retaliation. Baca claims Lindenmeyer fabricated a story that Baca and three other Hispanic boys in Winslow raped two Anglo girls. Baca said the story was a lie and no criminal charges were ever filed, but Lindenmeyer succeeded in smearing the boys’ reputations and Baca’s credibility.
Hageman then moved on to other Winslow victims until his death in 1975. Baca moved on to a life that spiraled out of control with three decades of alcohol and drug abuse.
The book’s title, “Constant Reminder,” comes from the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction twist that Baca’s parents are buried in cemetery plots next to Hageman. Baca’s mother purchased the burial plots next to her son’s abuser. According to Baca, Hageman’s grave has since become a constant reminder to him of the sexual abuse he endured because of his parents’ unyielding loyalty to their church.
Baca says he repressed memories of the abuse until 2003. That year, he and his wife signed up for foster parenting training, which ironically was being offered by a Catholic organization in Phoenix. After watching a film about sexual abuse, Baca was flooded with memories of his own abuse and he suffered an emotional meltdown.
In addition to the support Baca received from his wife, Shawna, and his own parish priest, the Rev. Joe Hennessey, Baca credits his emotional recovery to becoming clean and sober, to 18-months of counseling paid for by the Diocese of Gallup, and to his efforts to support other clergy abuse victims. He went on to receive a financial settlement from the Gallup Diocese.
Baca has positive things to say about Gallup’s late Bishop Donald E. Pelotte, who Baca believes reached out to him with compassion and sincerity. Others church officials do not fare so well. Baca says Phoenix’s Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted (whose name Baca misspells throughout the book) lacks compassion, claims Gallup’s current bishop, James S. Wall, has repeatedly ignored Baca’s efforts to contact him, and he offers critical memories of former Winslow priest, Lawrence J. O’Keefe, now of Gallup’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Baca is not a professional writer, and like many self-published books, “Constant Reminder” is not highly polished. The narrative is sometimes disjointed and difficult to follow, and more editorial attention should have been given to grammar, attribution of information, the correct spelling of proper nouns, and the layout of the text. But despite those flaws, Baca’s unvarnished story stands as a frank testament to the hellish abuse one child endured and then managed to survive.
“Constant Reminder” can be purchased online for $12.67 from Wordclay or Amazon. Autographed copies can be purchased directly from the author for $15 by e-mailing Baca at firstname.lastname@example.org
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