Settlement with church victims is long overdue

Santa Fe New Mexican

May 18, 2022

Settling hundreds of clergy sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is essential — both for those who suffered and for a Catholic Church still needing to make amends for the damage it caused children over decades.

No dollar amount ever could make these victims whole, but restitution is long overdue. Some accusers are in their 80s; they have waited a lifetime for justice.

That wait could soon be over.

This week, the archdiocese tentatively came to a $121.5 million agreement with at least 375 accusers — who must approve the deal — as part of resolving the archdiocese’s 2018 Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. It will be one of the largest such settlements involving the Catholic Church in the United States.

The deal was months in the making, with a third mediator helping the parties to the finish line. For victims, the wait must have been excruciating.

Still to be determined is whether third-party groups, such as Servants of the Paraclete, will contribute to the settlement or face a separate reckoning. The views of accusers should be weighed heavily in making that decision. They, after all, are the ones who suffered because church leaders failed to protect children from pedophiles. The Servants of the Paraclete played a key role in that failure.

Since 1947, the order operated a treatment center in Jemez Springs until it closed in the 1990s. There, priests were treated for a variety of conditions, including men already known to be child molesters.

During treatment, the priests began to work in various parishes, and after treatment, a number stayed in New Mexico only to abuse again and be passed from parish to parish.

As a result, what was a worldwide sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church particularly damaged New Mexico.

Part of the tentative agreement — almost as important as reparations — will be the creation of an archive of information about the history of abuse and other elements of the tragedy within the archdiocese.

A factual, public record of abuse, continual cover-ups and a church hierarchy that refused to face evil and protect children is necessary for reparations. An honest account can help prevent something so heinous from ever occurring again.

Any abuse of children is evil; abuse from those professing to love and serve God is particularly foul.

Archbishop John C. Wester said in a statement that he hopes the settlement “is the next step in the healing process of those who have been harmed.” If approved, cash could be distributed as soon as September or October.

The settlement would close an ugly chapter in the history of the Catholic Church in New Mexico. Leaders broke faith, putting the reputation of the church ahead of the good of children. There must be honesty about past abuse, true remorse and a commitment to protect children, not clergy — always. Any new accusations of clergy abuse must be reported as crimes, with alleged abusers prosecuted through the legal system.

No hiding cases or protecting abusers. Never again.