OF EL PASO TX
Accused Priests: 25
Total Priests: 507
Cost: $4,600,000 for the benefit of victims, settlements, and legal costs
Ash Wednesday Press Statement
By Bishop Armando X. Ochoa, D.D.
It is in this spirit of repentance and conversion that I address you today. As many of you have heard, in two days, February 27th, the results of a national study on clergy sexual abuse conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the request of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and our National Review Board will be released. I want to take this opportunity once again to assure you that the Diocese of El Paso fully cooperated with this study, which covered the period from 1950 to June 2002.
Over the past two years or so, the church in the United States and here in El Paso, has focused on the grave sin and crime of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. Regrettably, some members of the clergy assigned to this diocese were involved in the sexual abuse of minors. Most of the cases relate back to the time when this diocese was geographically much larger and included most of Southern New Mexico.
Between the years of 1950 and 2002, 507 ordained clerics served in the diocese. During that same period the diocese received 56 complaints against 25 members of the clergy. For all cases, the average lapse of time between the alleged occurrence of the abuse and the reporting of the abuse was 23 years, with the exception of one case reported immediately. Consequently, it has not been possible to prove the vast majority of allegations. Nonetheless, appropriate action was taken against all members of the clergy who were found to have committed sexual misconduct, and all the individuals who made complaints were offered the opportunity to participate in the pastoral response process which is designed to promote healing for the victims. Many of the accused are deceased. None of the members of the clergy who were found to have committed sexual misconduct with minors are in the active ministry.
Over the 52 year period, the financial impact of these accusations has been significant. The Diocese of El Paso has expended about 4.6 million dollars in direct payments to or for the benefit of victims, settlement of lawsuits and related legal costs. A portion of the total has been paid by insurance carriers. No funds donated to the Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso or to the annual Progress appeal have been used to pay for these expenses.
We as a Diocese cannot change what happened twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty years ago. However, the diocese has taken a proactive stance. In 1993, the diocese formed the pastoral response committee to address allegations of sexual misconduct. This committee is composed primarily of mental health professionals, the vast majority of whom are not employed by the diocese. This exceptional committee has offered its professional expertise to assist the diocese in investigating allegations, recommending appropriate assistance for victims, and establishing policies regarding sexual misconduct by clergy or any diocesan personnel. Our written sexual misconduct policy has been in place since 1994, well before the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented. We can and must continue to be pro-active and devote our time and resources to implementing the S afe Environment Program which includes training programs for employees, volunteers, parents and youth, and background checks for employees and volunteers who work with children and youth. All of the priests and diocesan school personnel have had their backgrounds checked. We continue the process of doing background checks on employees and volunteers who have contact with minors.
It cannot be overemphasized that even one instance of sexual abuse of a minor is one too many. I again take this opportunity to encourage anyone who becomes aware that sexual abuse of a minor has taken place, to report it to the proper authorities as well as to the diocese. I once again extend an invitation to any victim survivor of past abuse, regardless of how long ago that abuse might have happened, to come forward if they feel the need for assistance and healing.
In closing, I apologize with a deep sense of sorrow, to any victims of past abuse, and to their families and extended families. As we begin our Lenten season, I will continue to pray for their healing and I offer my continuing concern for their total well-being. I regret the pain and deep hurt that the entire Catholic faith community and society in general, has suffered during the course of this tragedy and crime of abuse. In a most special way, I include the vast majority of my brother priests who have served, and continue to serve God’s people, under the weight and burdens of the declining number of priests. My prayer is that all of our efforts at prevention will renew confidence in our dedication to building up God’s kingdom in this part of our border region.
1 in 20 EP priests accused of abuse
Ochoa said he made the announcement on one of Catholicism's holiest days in the Lenten spirit of repentance.
"Over the past two years or so the church in the United States and here in El Paso has focused on the grave sin and crime of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. Regrettably, some members of the clergy assigned to this diocese were involved in the sexual abuse of minors," Ochoa said.
This is the first full disclosure by the diocese of the problem, which the church has been reluctant to discuss openly until recent years. The full national report examining the sexual misconduct of priests will be released Friday.
CNN reported Wednesday that a preliminary draft of the national survey indicates 4 percent of priests have been accused of molesting children.
About 5 percent -- or 25 -- of the 507 priests working for the El Paso diocese between 1950 and 2002 were accused of sexually abusing children, Ochoa said. A total of 56 sexual abuse complaints were made against these 25 priests, including one who accounted for 20 of the allegations. Many of the accused have died and none of these priests are in the active ministry, Ochoa said.
Lower Valley resident Albert Montelongo, who on Wednesday attended the Lenten service at San Jose Catholic Church with his wife and children, said the El Paso diocese had to look into the problem to "bring everything to light."
"They had to show if things were happening here and not just in other parts of the country," the 37-year-old said.
Montelongo said that when national reports of priests molesting children started being highlighted by the media, it did not rattle his faith, but did make him uneasy about leaving his children alone with clergy even for catechism classes.
"It really makes you wonder if you should or if you shouldn't do that. In the end, you go ahead and do it because you trust your church, but you can't help but think if the pastor there or the pastor over there has had a complaint against him. It just makes you uneasy," Montelongo said.
He has four children ranging in ages from 8 to 18.
Ochoa said most of the abuse complaints involving the local diocese occurred in the 1960s and 1970s when the diocese was geographically larger and included most of Southern New Mexico.
The local diocese included Southern New Mexico until October 1982, when the Diocese of Las Cruces was created, according to church officials.
Ochoa said the problem has cost the diocese about $4.6 million in legal fees, including payments to victims as part of settlements. These costs exceed the current annual operating budget of the diocese, which is $3.4 million.
Specific information about the victims was not available Wednesday. However, Ochoa said, the victims were both boys and girls, and the youngest was in the first grade.
The survey by the diocese revealed that only one of the victims came forward immediately after the alleged abuse. Most of the victims waited several years before reporting the abuse. The average time lapse between the alleged abuse and when it was reported was 23 years.
Patricia Campos, a Lower Valley resident, said she disregards the allegations of sexual abuse by priests and questioned why the victims did not report the abuse sooner.
"It's something that should not matter if this is something that happened so many years ago," Campos, 50, said. "Why didn't they come out earlier? Why did they wait so long?"
As part of his announcement to unveil the study's findings, Ochoa also used the opportunity to encourage victims to report the sexual abuse regardless of how much time has lapsed since the incidents.
"It cannot be overemphasized that even one instance of sexual abuse of a minor is one too many," Ochoa said.
Ochoa also talked about initiatives taken by the diocese to prevent the sexual abuse of children. The diocese has a pastoral response committee, which since 1993 has investigated allegations of sexual abuse, recommended assistance for victims and established policies regarding sexual misconduct by clergy and other diocesan personnel.
Criminal background checks are another aspect of the diocese's attempt to prevent further abuse. Ochoa said all priests and diocesan school employees have had their backgrounds checked. The background checks are now being conducted on its other employees and volunteers who have contact with minors.
"I apologize with a deep sense of sorrow to the victims of past
abuse and to their families and extended families," Ochoa said. "As
we begin our Lenten season, I will continue to pray for their healing
and will offer my continuing concern for their total well-being. I regret
the pain and deep hurt that the entire Catholic community as well as society
in general has suffered during the course of this tragedy and crime of
The diocese reported that it is unknown when six of the complaints were reported.
The Catholic Diocese of El Paso encourages anyone who has been abused
by a member of the clergy to notify law enforcement and to call the diocese's
chancery office at 872-8407.
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