Editorial: Records of alleged priest abuse should go public
March 15, 2016
Catholic Church leaders often take public positions, staking out what to them is the high moral ground and calling for action on a wide range of social issues ranging from immigrant rights to climate change to abortion to food stamp rules.
But their high road has developed a significant pothole from the refusal to make public the church records involved in the Gallup diocese’s bankruptcy case, including personnel files of alleged pedophile priests.
In 2013, Gallup was the ninth Roman Catholic diocese in the U.S. to file for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in response to civil lawsuits filed by alleged victims of clerical sex abuse.
A Phoenix attorney who has filed 13 such lawsuits against the Gallup diocese says the records are critical to reaching a settlement in the bankruptcy case in which 57 people have filed claims.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe also has kept under wraps most records in hundreds of clerical abuse lawsuits that have been filed that could shed light on decisions by church leaders that protected pedophile priests in New Mexico.
Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall, who represents a number of alleged victims of priest abuse, has said the archdiocese has made a practice of marking “confidential” virtually all records it produces in lawsuits under a confidentiality order approved by state District Judge Alan Malott.
Last week, a Pennsylvania state grand jury report detailed the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests from the 1950s through the 1990s and the alleged coverup in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese by church officials.
Abuse of children by religious leaders with great influence over them certainly should qualify as a social issue that could be cleansed by the sunshine of public openness.
The Gallup diocese has published a list of 30 priests and one lay teacher accused of “credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor” assigned to parishes in New Mexico and Arizona.
But, so far, the personnel file of only one, the Rev. Clement Hageman, has been disclosed publicly in response to a 2010 lawsuit, according to attorney Robert Pastor.
Hageman worked in the diocese for 35 years and has been identified as the abuser of 16 people who have filed claims in the bankruptcy case. He died in 1975.
Of course, from the church’s viewpoint, defending the case and bankruptcy are about the cost of the settlements.
Too bad. The church spent decades shipping child-abusing priests from parish to parish or, in some cases, to rehab at the now closed Servants of the Paraclete center in Jemez Springs, instead of reporting allegations of pedophilia to the proper authorities for investigation and possible prosecution.
Pope Francis, when in the U.S. last fall, had this to say to bishops about the scandal: “The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors cannot be kept secret any longer. I commit myself to the zealous watchfulness of the church to protect minors, and I promise that all those responsible will be held accountable.”
It’s time to do just that by releasing the records, fairly settling with the victims and continuing on in the spirit of the pontiff’s message.