LAS CRUCES (NM)
Las Cruces Sun News [New Mexico]
August 28, 2021
By Damien D. Willis
[Photo above: Rose Marie Wiseman is pictured with her cousins at her first Holy Communion at Our Lady of Health Parish in Las Cruces in 1978.]
Rose Wiseman grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. She’d attend Mass at Our Lady of Health Parish on Mesquite Street with her grandmother, and her mother would take her to bingo night there. The church served as the hub of her community.
She no longer believes in God, and no longer trusts those in authority.
“I was forced to keep a secret for a long time,” she told the Sun-News last week. “And I’m just not going to do it anymore.”
‘Las Cruces is home’
Born in New Hampshire — because her dad was in the U.S. Navy — Wiseman moved to Las Cruces in 1971, when she was 3 years old. Las Cruces has always been “home.”
“I’m from here,” she said. “Every time I go away, I come back. You know where the Sunshine Grocery is? That’s where I grew up. I smoked my first cigarette in that old firetruck at Klein Park.”
Her mother was Catholic and Hispanic; her father was white and Jewish. She grew up going to the Catholic Church with her grandmother; her mom did not attend church, she explained — “but she thought it was important that I go. My mom wouldn’t go to church, but she’d go to bingo.”
If you drive past Our Lady of Health today, it looks very different than it did in the late 1970s, when Wiseman attended. The big, beautiful, white cathedral — with the fountain, statues and the spires — was not there. That was a parking lot. The main church, which still stands, was south of that building; the rectory, to the north, was where the priest lived. It remains there to this day. That’s where Wiseman says she was raped by the church’s priest.
Enter the magician-priest
Around the time that Rose turned 7, the church brought in a new priest. Father Joaquin Resma arrived from the Philippines. He was an amateur magician, and the church hoped he could help engage younger parishioners.
“They hired a priest who was a magician, who they felt would get the kids more involved,” she said. “So I’d go to bingo with my mom, and the priest would come from the rectory and get all of the kids. He’d take them over to the rectory and do magic.”
Resma, she said, installed a Slush Puppie machine at the rectory. Sometimes, on her way home from Washington Elementary, she and her friends would stop in for a Slush Puppie. Resma also stocked the rectory with Jolly Rancher sticks, Laffy Taffy and pickles — which he gave freely to children of the parish.
Rose’s Girl Scout troop met at the church’s parish hall. It seemed her whole life revolved around that church.
On several occasions, Father Resma would take Rose and other young girls from the parish out to eat at China Temple. Sometimes, she said, it was a small group of girls from the parish; other times, it was just the priest and Rose. He would also take them to play tennis.
The alleged rape
Even before Wiseman claimed she was raped, she said that Resma would pin her against the wall and “kiss me like I was an adult — kiss me passionately.” She was 8 or 9 years old, she said.
She said Resma would have girls from the parish spend the night sometimes. She only spent one night in the rectory; that’s when she says she was raped.
“Spending the night meant camping out in the living room (of the rectory),” Rose told the Sun-News. “And then he would take us, one at a time, while everyone was asleep.”
Ordinarily, there might be three or four girls staying the night at the same time, she said.
“A lot of times, it was the same girls. Everyone has been molested by him,” Wiseman said.
The one night Rose spent in the rectory, she said Resma came for her in the middle of the night. That’s when he raped her, she says. Afterward, she returned to the living room — but she could not go back to sleep. The following morning, she left the rectory and stopped attending Our Lady of Health.
She was 10 years old.
“I never went back,” she told the Sun-News.
Crisis of faith
The experience shook Rose’s faith. Having just completed her first Holy Communion — just weeks earlier — she left the church. It wasn’t the last time she’d spend time in a church, though.
After her only child, Danielle, was born, Rose returned to the church, at the request of her grandmother. In fact, she was re-confirmed, as an adult. While attending New Mexico State University, she and Dani attended St. Albert the Great Newman Center, adjacent to the university.
That relationship, as a congregant, didn’t last long. She felt like her questions were not being answered.
“That’s just the way it is,” Rose says she was told, when asking questions she felt were important. “That just wasn’t good enough for me.”
She and Dani soon found a home at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Solano Drive. These days, Rose identifies mostly as a Buddhist, because “it’s more of a philosophy, and less of a religion.”
Settled out of court
Though Rose said she’s been in therapy for most of her life, she had not mentioned the abuse. She only told one person about the abuse, she said — her aunt Lupe, who was also her godmother. She wasn’t believed. She was 10, and it was before the alleged rape occurred.
Lupe, she said, was also a volunteer at Our Lady of Health.
Resma died in 1983. He never faced a criminal trial, and the church never admitted wrongdoing in his case.
After seeing a news report of a male victim accusing Resma of sexual misconduct, Rose contacted his attorneys and shared her story. Soon after, she became a party to that suit, identified only as “Jane Doe K.”
At the time of the alleged rape, Our Lady of Health was under the Diocese of El Paso; the Diocese of Las Cruces was not founded until 1982.
The lawsuit was settled out of court. Rose says she’s prohibited, under the terms of the settlement, from disclosing how much she received. But she said “it wasn’t much.”
To this day, she’s troubled that Resma is not listed on the Las Cruces or El Paso Diocese’s list of priests who’ve been credibly accused of sexual misconduct. She feels she’s been paid to “shut up.”
Rose said she’s certain that there are more victims out there.
“I want my story to help other people,” she said. “Dead or not, it needs to be acknowledged somewhere. He needs to be named for what he is — a rapist. A sexual abuser.”
She said she’s confident that there are more of Resma’s victims out there, because she had friends — who she has lost touch with — who also spent the night in the Our Lady of Health rectory. She is confident that what happened to her is not an isolated incident.
Four people, including Rose, joined the initial lawsuit. Another suit, recently filed, will soon be going to trial. Wiseman plans to testify.
“He abused the trust of the church,” Wiseman said.
Both the Diocese of Las Cruces — which was not named as a party in the lawsuit, since it didn’t exist at the time of the alleged rape — and the Diocese of El Paso urged other victims of sexual abuse to come forward.
“While we can’t comment on pending litigation, we CAN urge anyone who’s out there who has any information about any current cases — known or unknown — to come forward with their stories,” said Fernie Ceniceros, communications director for the Diocese of El Paso. “If there’s any instance of abuse — not just with the clergy, but with any member of the church, including deacons or laypersons — first call law enforcement, and then call our victims’ assistance line.”
Ceniceros said victims can call 915-872-8400 and ask for victims’ assistance.
“That is of the utmost importance to us,” Ceniceros said. “It doesn’t matter how far back it goes; we want to know about it, and we want to see that justice is done.”
Father Kevin Waymel, general vicar for the Diocese of Las Cruces, echoed those concerns.
“The diocese is sorry for the actions of priests who served in parishes that were in Las Cruces or formerly were in the diocese that is now Las Cruces,” Waymel said. “We want to make sure that we can do all we can to make sure that these sins which occurred do not reoccur, and that children are protected.”
In the past four years, the Las Cruces Diocese released the names and case files of at least 28 priests who face credible allegations of sexually abusing children, as well as 13 additional priests who have been the subject of credible allegations while serving in another diocese. Several other priests, and a nun, with ties to southern New Mexico have also been accused in recent years.
As to why Resma is not yet listed on the Las Cruces Diocese’s “credibly accused” list, Waymel says the answer is simple.
“The process of the diocese is to wait until the conclusion of the litigation before presenting it to the Abuse Review Board,” which is comprised, largely, of laypeople and current or former law enforcement officers, according to Waymel.
The situation with Father Resma has now been concluded, according to Father Waymel, so it’ll be presented to the review board this month, at which time he may be added to the credibly-accused list.
The review board is independent of the diocese, and the board reports to the diocese.
There is, however, a chance that the issuance may be delayed by the pending litigation against Resma and the El Paso Diocese. However, because the Las Cruces Diocese is not a party to the suit, the review board, Waymel said, is aware of the priest and the situation at hand.
“I think it would fall to the Las Cruces Diocese,” said Ceniceros. “The point of the list is so that if there are any other accusations or victims, we want them to come forward.”
Waymel said that Resma will be on the agenda for a hearing of the Abuse Review Board. He noted that Resma was added to that docket on July 8, and this was not prompted by any news coverage of these allegations.
It’s possible that Resma will be added to the credibly-accused list as early as next week. And that would give Rose some of the closure she’s been waiting for.
“This will provide some closure,” said Wiseman. “That’s really all I’ve wanted — for the church to acknowledge that this happened. And I hope that other victims will come forward. I know there are many more, and you’re not alone.”