Priest says he was put on leave for speaking out on sex abuse settlement

Santa Fe New Mexican

July 27, 2022

By Sean P. Thomas

The Rev. Vincent Chávez, pastor of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus Catholic Church in Albuquerque, said he has been placed on a leave of absence after publicly criticizing the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s request that its parishes contribute $12 million to a $121.5 million sexual abuse settlement.

Chávez said after he spoke out publicly in a July 3 story in The New Mexican, he was called into a tense meeting that ended with the priest being placed on leave.

Chávez, 59, said the leave will last four to six months starting Aug. 1. During this time, as Chávez understands it, he will not be able to attend archdiocese events but can still see and socialize with parishioners outside of parish buildings.

Chávez said the leave could be “for multiple reasons,” noting he has faced a few health issues that crept up last summer. However, when asked if he believed he was being placed on leave after his comments, he responded with an emphatic “yes.”

“I poked the bear too much,” he said.

“I’ve taken sabbaticals before,” he added. “This one is being forced upon me. It will be fine; it will be an opportunity to just rest and be free of responsibilities.”

The archdiocese sent a letter last month that asked its 93 parishes to contribute a combined $12 million to help close the gap between what the archdiocese’s insurers will pay and the $75 million the archdiocese is responsible for covering.

Chávez questioned the fairness of the archdiocese’s ask of individual parishes in July.

“Catholics all over the Archdiocese should be angry,” Chávez he wrote in an email.

The settlement with 375 claimants is one of the top five payouts in abuse litigation involving the Catholic Church in the United States, according to online watchdog, which tracks abuse cases against the church.

In an email in early July, Chávez wrote he didn’t believe victims — and church members — should have to pay the cost of their own settlements.

He also noted St. Therese of Infant Jesus already owes the archdiocese about $150,000 for a loan the church had to take out to replace its faltering roof. He feared the payout would push the parish into harsher economic uncertainty.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chávez is an often-outspoken pastor who has acted as a whistleblower by cooperating in past criminal cases against pedophile priests. He said when he was told he was going to need to take a leave of absence, it reminded him of a similar instance during the mid-2000s, when he was placed on leave after speaking publicly about the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse cases in Boston.

“I was sent to priest prison for seven months on official charges of arrogance,” he said.