Gallup Diocese Still Mum on Payouts
Part III of a five-part series
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent (Gallup, NM)
May 26, 2011
[See the complete series: 1. Diocese
Fails to Deliver Answers (5/24/11); 2.
Diocese: In or Out of Compliance? (5/25/11); 3.
Diocese Still Mum on Payouts (5/26/11); 4.
Least 16 Abusers in Gallup Diocese (5/27/11); 5.
Diocese's List of Known Abusers (5/28/11).]
GALLUP — When the topic is clergy sex abuse in the Diocese
of Gallup, the unanswered questions are not just limited to the
identity of abusive priests and their victims’ allegations,
they are also about money.
Money paid to victims of sex abuse, money paid to victims’
attorneys, and money paid to the diocesan attorneys who handle the
claims of abuse.
An April 11 news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
contained a number of jarring national statistics about such costs.
Sexual abuse-related costs to U.S. dioceses and Eastern rite eparchies
increased between 2009 and 2010 by more than $19 million. Costs
for settlements paid out in 2010 were $70,375,228, an increase of
28 percent over 2009. Legal fees increased by 18 percent.
But it is unknown how these figures played out locally in the Diocese
of Gallup. In his two years in Gallup, Bishop James S. Wall has
repeatedly refused to answer media questions related to sexual abuse
allegations and financial settlements with abuse victims. Wall’s
chancery officials don’t publicize how many sex abuse settlements
they have made each year, how much settlement money they have paid
out, and how much money Gallup diocesan attorneys have been paid
for such legal work.
And they don’t publicize the source of this money. Are the
Gallup Diocese’s insurance companies shelling out the settlement
money? Is church property in Arizona and New Mexico being sold off
to finance abuse claims? Or are local Catholics footing the bill
when they drop their hard earned dollars in the collection plate
According to Article 3 in the Charter for the Protection of Children
and Young People, “Dioceses/eparchies are not to enter into
settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality unless the
victims/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted
in the text of the agreement.”
The key phrase, “unless the victims/survivor requests confidentiality,”
has turned out to be a loophole for the Gallup Diocese. Diocesan
attorneys have managed to find at least a dozen, if not two or three
dozen, victims who have been willing to “request” confidential
Prior to the Charter’s adoption by the U.S. bishops in 2002,
confidentiality agreements with sex abuse victims were the norm.
Clearly, the intent of the Charter was remove that veil of secrecy
so the public, particularly the Catholic public, could be fully
informed about the cost of abuse — both human and financial
— that had taken place in their church.
And certainly, if Gallup diocesan attorneys really wanted to honor
the intent of the Charter, they could draw up settlement agreements
that protect the identity of abuse victims but still publicize the
victims’ credible allegations.
However, by allowing abuse victims and their attorneys to request
confidential settlements — and it’s questionable who
is actually doing the “requesting” — the Gallup
Diocese is effectively going back to pre-Charter days and keeping
church members and the general public in the dark about allegations
and settlement payments.
It is not known how many of these confidential settlement agreements
the Diocese of Gallup has negotiated precisely because the agreements
are conducted behind closed doors and outside of public scrutiny.
In a recent telephone interview, one of the attorneys for abuse
victims, James Zorigian, of California, confirmed he had obtained
“in excess of a dozen” out-of-court, confidential abuse
settlements from the Gallup Diocese in recent years and said he
had more claims he was pursuing. Zorigian said that rather than
file a public lawsuit, he notifies Gallup diocesan officials that
he has another claim, he submits a statement by his client about
the alleged abuse, diocesan attorneys conduct a deposition of his
client, and then a settlement agreement is negotiated.
Zorigian said the settlement agreement itself is not confidential,
but the actual amount of money his client receives from the Gallup
Diocese is confidential because the diocese doesn’t want abuse
victims to compare settlement amounts.
Another California attorney, who has reportedly made more than
a half-dozen similar settlements with the Gallup Diocese, did not
return a media request for comment.
The Diocese of Gallup has never publicly acknowledged making any
of these settlement agreements, and only one of these abuse victims
has ever talked to the media. That particular victim said he didn’t
want to sign a confidentiality agreement, but did so at his attorney’s
urging. In a phone conversation after the settlement, Deacon Timoteo
Lujan, the former chancellor of the diocese, claimed that victim
had violated the terms of his settlement by talking with the Independent.
No public reporting
In Article 4, the Charter also states, “Dioceses/eparchies
are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even
when the person is no longer a minor. In every instance, dioceses/eparchies
are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public
authorities and support this right.”
Since the Charter was adopted, a number of alleged victims or their
family members have come forward publicly with allegations against
living priests who could possibly be criminally prosecuted, including
James M. Burns, John Boland and Charles “Chuck” Cichanowicz.
However, no victim, attorney, law enforcement official, or Gallup
diocesan official have ever indicated the Gallup Diocese reported
any of those allegations to appropriate law enforcement authorities
in Arizona, New Mexico or on Indian reservations.
The only diocesan official known to contact any law enforcement
official was Jean Sokol, the former victim assistance coordinator
for the Diocese of Phoenix. In 2009, during Phoenix Bishop Thomas
J. Olmsted’s tenure as Gallup’s apostolic administrator,
Sokol met with family members of an alleged victim of Boland and
read through Boland’s court file stemming from his 1983 arrest
in Winslow, Ariz. Sokol was so concerned that Navajo County government
corruption had possibly been involved in the 1983 case that she
took her concerns to Rachel Mitchell of the Maricopa County Attorney’s
office. The outcome of that meeting is unknown.
However, officials with the Diocese of Gallup lost their chance
to cooperate with public authorities when Burns died last year and
Boland reportedly returned to his native Ireland. And it is doubtful
they want to cooperate with tribal or federal law enforcement authorities
about Cichanowicz since the Gallup Diocese is waging tribal court
battles against three Navajo men who claim Cichanowicz abused them
while he served as a Franciscan priest on the Navajo Nation.
updated list of priests in the Diocese of Gallup with allegations
of sex abuse.
Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 863-6811 ext.
218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.