Gallup Bishop's Trail of Broken Promises
August 10, 2012
James S. Wall has lost his golden opportunity to be the kind of bishop the Diocese of Gallup sorely needs.
When Wall arrived here in 2009, he was widely welcomed by everyone - Catholics and non-Catholics alike. There was hope that Wall would clean up the troubled Gallup Diocese, address its important problems, heal its divisions, and institute a new policy of honesty and transparency. The Gallup chancery made much of the fact that Wall, a non-Indian, was born on the Navajo Nation and lived there briefly as a baby - as if that would somehow make him a good bishop of this diocese.
But after more than three years, it is clear Wall has fallen short of all those hopes. The Gallup Diocese still needs an internal cleaning, it's still facing the same problems it faced when Wall arrived, its divisions are still unhealed, and Wall's chancery has demonstrated less honesty and transparency than the chancery of the late Bishop Donald E. Pelotte.
On a personal level, Wall is a nice guy who rides mountain bikes, talks sports, and offers warm handshakes and hugs like any good politician. But the Diocese of Gallup needs more than just a nice guy or a good politician as its bishop. It needs a strong spiritual leader with real moral courage.
Through Wall's actions and inaction, it is clear he is neither a strong leader - spiritually or otherwise - and he has shown no moral courage. Instead, he has failed to fulfill a long line of broken promises.
• Soon after he was installed as bishop, Wall issued a news release promising to conduct a thorough review of the Gallup Diocese's personnel files to determine which clergy, living or deceased, were sexual abusers. He promised to make public the results of that review and publish the names of abusers on the diocesan website. Wall has failed to fulfill that promise.
• Wall also promised to make public the results of the investigation into accused abuser John Boland, which he has failed to do. Wall is reportedly now trying to laicize Boland, a move that doesn't sit well with Gallup priests who believe Boland's rights were trampled by Wall's backdoor, under-the-table deals with alleged victims.
In a September 2009 interview, Wall said the "best practice" in facing clergy abuse allegations is to make public announcements in all the priest's former parishes to help other abuse victims come forward.
Wall has had the opportunity to make those announcements, but he - has failed to do so.
• For more than two years, Wall has repeatedly refused to answer media questions about Thomas R. Maikowski, Gallup's reigning dysfunctional priest who has brought a series of scandals to the diocese.
Wall has turned a blind eye to Maikowski's countless ethical and boundary issue violations and ignored the many complaints lodged against Maikowski by devout Catholic parents and community members. Apparently, Wall believes Maikowski's church in Page, Ariz. is a throwaway parish that deserves the "pass-the-trash" treatment.
Wall has also not fulfilled any of the promises made by the previous chancery, such as the promise to report newly made allegations against living priests to local law enforcement. Had Wall tumed over the Boland allegations to Arizona law enforcement officials, Boland's guilt or innocence might have legitimately been determined. Instead, Wall placed Boland on ice in a house in Gallup for more than a year and then allowed Boland to flee back to Ireland.
• Wall also has not fulfilled the Gallup Diocese's 2005 promise to conduct a "search and rescue mission" to locate and assist victims of clergy abuse, particularly Native American victims on the seven Indian reservations located within its boundaries: Hopi and White Mountain Apache in Arizona, Acoma, Jicarilla Apache, Laguna,and Zuni in New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation in both states. When three Navajo men came forward with their allegations, the Gallup chancery didn't offer them any assistance nor did it request an investigation by the Navajo Police or FBI. Instead, diocesan attorneys battled the Native abuse victims in tribal court for several years before finally signing monetary settlement agreements with them. Wall presumably, on the advice of his attorneys, couldn't even muster an apology to the victims.
But like the politician that he is, Wall excels at empty promises and superficial gestures. With the upcoming canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American woman to be named a Roman Catholic saint, Wall is busy trying to "honor" Native Americans.
Last month Wall celebrated a special Mass on Tekakwitha's Feast Day. In October, he will lead a pilgrimage group, including some local Native American Catholics, to Tekakwitha's canonization
in Rome. Those Native people who accompany Wall on the trip should be wary that they don't allow themselves to be exploited like the Natives that were hauled back to Spain as curiosities by Columbus.
If Wall sincerely wanted to honor Native Americans in the diocese, he would fulfill the promises he made when he became bishop: He would be good to his word, stand up for what is right, and tell the
truth about the diocese's abuse victims - mostly Hispanic boys from devout Catholic families and Native children living near reservation missions. And Wall would actually try to live out the teachings of Jesus, who leveled his harshest criticism at the hypocritical religious leaders of his day.
But after three years, it is clear that isn't going to happen. Wall doesn't have the moral courage or strength of character to buck the pricey advice of his diocesan lawyers or the dubious advice of the inner circle he inherited from Pelotte.
With his friendly politician's demeanor, empty promises, and superficial gestures, Wall is a man who truly missed his calling by being born at the wrong time. Had Wall been born a century earlier, he
could have negotiated treaties with unsuspecting Indian tribes. Those treaty negotiators were just like Wall: smooth-talking nice guys making empty promises to vulnerable people - and just following the orders of their superiors back East.