Diocese Fights to Limit Lawsuit Witnesses
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
July 31, 2012
The year 1952 is a pivotal year to the Diocese of Gallup’s Clement A. Hageman “Route 66” priest abuse case.
It’s the year, diocese officials concede, Hageman most probably sexually abused the plaintiff when he was a child in Holbrook, Ariz. The plaintiff, a man in his 70s, filed the civil clergy abuse lawsuit nearly two years ago in Arizona’s Coconino County Superior Court.
Prior to 1952, diocesan records indicate Hageman abused a number of Catholic boys in the Diocese of Corpus Christi in Texas, and he abused more boys in the Gallup Diocese’s Catholic church in Holbrook. According to church records, 1952 is the year a group of Catholic men in Holbrook confronted Hageman and Gallup’s Bishop Bernard T. Espelage with allegations the priest had sexually molested boys in the parish. The bishop’s response was to allow Hageman to lie to parishioners that he was leaving Holbrook for health reasons. After his transfer from the parish in late 1952, Hageman went on to sexually abuse Catholic children in Arizona churches for the next 23 years in Kingman, Camp Verde, Humbolt and finally Winslow, where he died in 1975.
In the Hageman lawsuit, none of that is in dispute.
What is in dispute, however, is if Robert E. Pastor, the Phoenix attorney representing the plaintiff, will be allowed to interview witnesses he believes has information about Hageman and/or sexual abuse in the diocese after the pivotal year of 1952.
In April, Keith Ricker, one of the attorneys representing the Diocese of Gallup, filed a motion for protective order asking Superior Court Judge Mark R. Moran to limit who Pastor can interview in deposition interviews and limit what topics those witnesses can address. The diocese is asking permission to “designate the appropriate person(s) with knowledge who are authorized to speak on behalf of the Diocese.”
In other words, the diocese is asking the judge to let church officials hand-pick witnesses for Pastor to interview.
In the motion, Ricker argues that Pastor not be able to conduct deposition interviews that ask about “sexual abuse allegedly committed by Fr. Clement Hageman or other Catholic clergy” after 1952, what the Gallup Diocese “knew or allegedly should have known” about post-1952 incidents of sexual abuse, or the diocese’s post-1952 “policies and procedures for addressing clergy sexual misconduct.”
Ricker admitted that “evidence of other bad acts committed by Fr. Hageman subsequent to” the plaintiff’s abuse “serves no legitimate evidentiary purpose, but rather, would only improperly inflame the passions of the jury and unfairly prejudice” the Diocese of Gallup.
The primary issue surrounding the motion is the concept of “fraudulent concealment.” Pastor has argued that Arizona’s statute of limitations for civil lawsuits should be put aside because the Diocese of Gallup fraudulently concealed information about Hageman’s sexual abuse of children for more than 60 years. Hageman came to the Gallup Diocese in 1940 and abused at least two dozen children during a period of 35 years; however, diocesan officials did not publicly acknowledge Hageman’s abuse until 2003.
Attorneys for the diocese are arguing that fraudulent concealment doesn’t apply to the case and doesn’t justify any post-1952 discovery. They are also arguing post-1952 sex abuse is not relevant to the plaintiff’s punitive damages claim.
According to Ricker, Pastor has provided a list of more than 30 individuals he wants to call as witnesses. Calling Pastor’s list a “wide-ranging fishing expedition,” Ricker is seeking to prevent Pastor from interviewing at least 14 individuals because he claims they “have no personal knowledge about Fr. Hageman and/or the circumstances” of the plaintiff’s abuse.
To the contrary, many of the potential witnesses are individuals who have documented knowledge about Hageman and/or the plaintiff’s abuse. At least seven of the potential witnesses are post-1952 sexual abuse victims of Hageman. Another potential witness, Sister Mary Thurlough, was the diocese’s former victims’ assistance coordinator who personally talked with the plaintiff and arranged therapy for him. Another, Margie Trujillo, was the first chair of the diocese’s Sexual Abuse Review Board, and she personally met or talked with at least one Hageman abuse victim.
Tachias and Walker
Two of the proposed witnesses, the Rev. Alfred Tachias and the Rev. James Walker, are probably the church officials that have the most personal and detailed information about Hageman. Tachias served as Hageman’s assistant pastor in Kingman, where Hageman is known to have abused at least six children. According to church documents, when stories of Hageman’s sexual abuse started to leak into the community, Hageman devised yet another lie about needing to leave town so he could obtain medical treatment. In documented correspondence with Bishop Espelage from the early 1960s, Tachias admitted he passed the false story along to Kingman’s Catholic parishioners and the local newspaper.
“The clipping from the newspaper is from a story that I gave our local paper,” Tachias wrote the bishop. “This too was devised before Father left, and again it leaves me in a position where I can’t say too much.”
Tachias, who lives at Villa Guadalupe, the Little Sisters of the Poor senior care facility in Gallup, maintains a low profile in the Gallup Diocese because of his own sexual misconduct. In an interview in 2002, Gallup Bishop Donald E. Pelotte admitted that Tachias had attempted to sexually assault an adult male, a member of Gallup’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, in an Albuquerque motel room after the church member had agreed to accompany Tachias on a trip. According to Pelotte, Tachias apologized to the victim and received mental health treatment. Tachias stepped down from his ministry position and moved into Villa Guadalupe, where he has since served as a chaplain.
Walker, who recently resigned as the diocese’s vicar general, is the diocese’s expert on every abusive priest who has served in the Gallup Diocese. In a May 12, 2009, diocesan news release, Bishop James S. Wall gave Walker the responsibility of conducting an exhaustive review of each priest personnel file in the diocese, including active and inactive, living and deceased clergy. The bishop promised the results of Walker’s review would be made public, just as the bishop promised the investigation results into accused priest John Boland would be made public.
More than three years later, Wall has yet to fulfill either of those promises, just as he has failed to fulfill earlier promises made by chancery officials that new sex abuse allegations against living clergy would be turned over to local law enforcement officials for investigation.
In Pastor’s June 13 response to the diocese’s motion for protective order, he argued the Diocese of Gallup “hopes to turn back the clock on Arizona’s discovery and disclosure rules.”
Citing Wall’s failure to publish the promised results of Walker’s file review, Pastor said the diocese was continuing the policy of concealment: “The Diocese of Gallup refuses to publish the names of pedophile priests and their assignment history. Gallup’s refusal to reveal information is part of the on-going practice to keep the sexual misdeeds of Catholic priests absolutely secret.”
On July 13, Moran heard oral arguments on the motion. A date for Moran’s ruling has not been set.
Reporter Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 870-0745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.