Editorial: the Bishop’s Bankruptcy Lessons
April 14, 2016
Although the Diocese of Gallup’s Chapter 11 case is finally heading toward a conclusion, it is apparent Bishop James S. Wall hasn’t learned the lessons that U.S. Bankruptcy Court should have taught him.
The lessons, of course, are that decades of sexual abuse of children by several dozen predators in the Gallup Diocese, accompanied by decades of cover-up by diocesan officials, led to more than a dozen clergy sex abuse lawsuits, countless out-of-court claims and now millions of dollars being funneled into a reorganization plan in bankruptcy court. The financial toll of this scandalous story doesn’t even begin to touch the human tragedy of individuals and families being harmed and sometimes even destroyed by these criminal acts.
So what should we expect of the Gallup bishop in light of this terrible legacy? That Wall would do everything possible to weed out anyone who has demonstrated inappropriate sexual interest in children or adults? That Wall would publish on the diocesan website all policies regarding codes of conduct and reporting procedures for abuse and misconduct allegations? That Wall would release truthful public announcements whenever an allegation of sexual abuse or misconduct has been made? That Wall would release similar public announcements at the conclusion of investigations and whenever credibly accused individuals have been removed from ministry? That Wall would regularly update his published list of credibly accused abusers to keep the information accurate?
Although most Catholic parents and grandparents and the general public might expect such common sense responses, Wall has demonstrated he hasn’t learned those simple lessons. Wall does none of those things. As the recently uncovered allegations against the Rev. Eugene Bowski demonstrate, Wall thought it best to keep Catholic parishioners and the public in the dark. That is exactly the kind of thinking that created the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Jason Berry, the Catholic reporter and author who exposed clergy sex abuse in Louisiana more than 30 years ago, recently commented about the ongoing abuse scandal. “The bottom line, where there is darkness there needs to be light,” Berry said. “Catholics are mature enough to accept the truth, but when people conceal the information, that is when people begin to lose faith in a given bishop or church.”
We have lost faith in the bishop of Gallup. We welcomed Wall’s arrival in 2009 because we thought he would make a clean sweep of the Diocese of Gallup. He certainly talked the talk. But seven years later, it is apparent Wall has just swept the truth under the rug.
The Diocese of Gallup needed light, but Wall gave more darkness. People in the diocese needed the truth, but Wall provided more concealment.
Let’s be clear: Wall did not file the Diocese of Gallup’s Chapter 11 petition because the diocese was truly facing a monetary crisis and could not meet its financial obligations. Wall filed the petition to conceal the true extent of clergy sex abuse and misconduct in the Gallup Diocese. The diocese had been named as a defendant in 13 clergy sex abuse lawsuits in Arizona, and the first jury trial was just three months away. Wall had already undergone a deposition in the case — which his attorneys insisted be sealed — and he and other diocesan officials were slated to submit to more depositions. One can only imagine what ugly truths would have emerged in those jury trials. Filing for bankruptcy made all that disappear — like sweeping dirt under the carpet.
Like a two-bit tyrant ruling a banana republic, Wall makes the rules and calls the shots in this unimportant, backwater diocese. He can keep concealing the truth about sexual abuse and misconduct in the Diocese of Gallup because no one below him can stop him, and apparently no one above him cares.
However, the Catholic bishops who oversee Catholic Mutual should care. Catholic Mutual is the Diocese of Gallup’s current liability insurer and the entity that is making the largest financial contribution to help the diocese emerge from bankruptcy court. As long as Wall is allowed to cover up the truth about sexual abuse and misconduct in the diocese, Catholic Mutual will continue to pay out more settlement money to silence more abuse victims.
So perhaps Wall has learned lessons from U.S. Bankruptcy Court after all. He has learned how to evade the accountability of jury trials and conceal past abuse. He has learned no one with any real power will hold him accountable for his current policies of concealment. And he has learned that Catholic Mutual will continue to subsidize his bad decisions.
In this space only does the opinion of the Gallup Independent Editorial Board appear.