Bankruptcy motion names alleged abusers, prompts objection
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
December 03, 2014
ALBUQUERQUE — As the Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy case enters its second year, seven Franciscan friars have been named as alleged sex abusers in court documents, and one Franciscan province is battling to not be pulled into the case.
On Oct. 30, attorney James I. Stang, the legal counsel for the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, filed motions with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court requesting financial and insurance documents from two of the three Franciscan provinces that have provided the Diocese of Gallup with Franciscan clergy for decades. Stang’s committee, made up of clergy sex abuse survivors, represents the interests of abuse survivors who have filed confidential claims with the court.
Stang’s recent motions provided the first information regarding clergy who have been named as alleged abusers by the 56 individuals who filed confidential proof of claims in the case.
According to Stang’s motions, seven Franciscan friars who once worked in the Gallup Diocese were identified by claimants as alleged abusers.
Two friars, the Rev. Julian Hartig and Brother Mark Schornack, had previously been publicly identified as alleged abusers. Five others, all believed to be Franciscan priests, were also named as alleged perpetrators. Most of those named, Ephrem Beltramea (listed as Ephraim Beltremea), Eugene Botello, Crispin Butz, Finnian Connolly and Clementin (listed as Clemetine) Wottle, are believed to be deceased.
According to the Official Catholic Directory, during the years claimants cited, 1970-1972 for Beltramea and 1960-1963 for Butz, those two priests were assigned to Gallup’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Connolly was assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in Cuba, N.M. in 1960-1963, and Wottle was assigned to St. Isabel Mission in Lukachukai, Ariz., 1965, and Sacred Heart Parish in Waterflow, N.M., 1966-1970.
Neither Botello’s name nor his assignment history in the Gallup Diocese could be located in the Official Catholic Directory for the years 1962-1965.
Espelage and Torisky
In addition to requesting Franciscan financial and insurance records, Stang requested documents on the seven accused Franciscan clergy, and he also requested documents on two well-known Franciscans, Bishop Bernard T. Espelage and Brother Duane Torisky, both of whom went on to serve in prominent positions in the Diocese of Gallup.
Espelage was a Franciscan priest in Santa Fe and the rector of Santa Fe’s cathedral when he was named the first bishop of the Diocese of Gallup. He served as Gallup’s bishop from 1940 to 1969, before his death in 1971. Torisky, who is currently the secretary for the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque, served as the Diocese of Gallup’s chancellor from 1990 to 2000. Contrary to information included in the motions, Torisky was never the vicar general for the Gallup Diocese.
Stang requested documents related to the relationship between the Franciscans and the Gallup Diocese because he asserted at least 22 “sexual abuse claims were filed alleging abuse perpetrated during the tenures” of Espelage and Torisky in the Gallup chancery.
Based on Franciscan responses to drafts of his motions, Stang said, “the Committee does not believe that the Franciscan Friars … will voluntarily produce the requested documents without a court order.”
But which Franciscans should produce the documents – if U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David T. Thuma decides such documents should be produced?
Stang’s motions were directed at the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Franciscan Province Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque. A third Franciscan province, the Province of St. Barbara, Calif., which has traditionally sent Franciscan friars to the White Mountain Apache reservation, has thus far stayed out of the bankruptcy court fray.
The Cincinnati province, which has not yet responded to Stang’s motion, assigned Franciscan friars to work in the Gallup Diocese for more than four decades. In the mid-1980s, however, the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe formed in New Mexico, and most of the Ohio friars working in the Gallup Diocese became members of the Albuquerque “daughter” province.
Phoenix attorney John C. Kelly, representing Albuquerque’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Franciscans, argued that the New Mexico province should not be drawn into the case.
In his objection to Stang’s motion, Kelly noted that all the listed claims of abuse allegedly took place under the Ohio Franciscans’ tenure, before the New Mexico province was formed.
According to Kelly, “not one abuse claimant has alleged that any misconduct occurred during a time period for which OLOG could be held responsible.”
“There is no need to produce documents to determine the legal validity of claims that do not exist,” Kelly added. “This is an impermissible fishing expedition, and nothing more.”