Priests Id'd As Abusers; 5 Served in Ariz. Towns

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
August 14, 2003

Five of six priests recently named by the Gallup Diocese in New Mexico as sexual predators served in small Arizona towns.

Three of the five worked at churches in Holbrook and Winslow. Parishes in Springerville, St. Johns and Pinetop each had two of the priests.

The diocese named a seventh priest as the subject of an accusation.

Diocese officials said only two of the seven spent more than two years in New Mexico.

All were removed from priestly ministry, the most recent in 1999. Three have since died. No charges were filed, and diocesan officials said most of the incidents took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Charges could not happen now because of statute of limitation laws.

The Gallup Diocese covers four counties in northwestern New Mexico and Apache, Navajo and parts of Coconino counties in Arizona. It includes the vast Navajo reservation, the Hopi reservation and the White Mountain Apache reservation in Arizona.

None of the accused priests served Arizona reservations, although they did work in parishes that served native populations.

Deacon Timoteo Lujan, diocesan chancellor, said the abusive priests were concentrated in Arizona parishes because priests from religious orders, notably the Franciscans, staffed churches in New Mexico and those on Indian lands in Arizona for a long time. That left the non-reservation lands of Apache and Navajo counties and a sliver of Coconino County for diocesan priests.


Accused priests

The Gallup Diocese recently identified six priests who were suspended from ministry for sexual misconduct, and a seventh who faced accusations.

* Michael Aten: Accused of sexual abuse in the late 1980s and sent to treatment multiple times. He was removed from ministry in May 1991 and died 10 years later. He served at Catholic churches in the Arizona communities of Pinetop (1978), Winslow (1979) and St. John's (1979-1986).

* James Burns: After multiple allegations of abuse, he underwent treatment and returned to ministry, only to have another allegation made against him. No dates were given for the abuse. He retired and had his right to work as a priest removed in 1993. He worked in Flagstaff, Camp Verde and Humboldt before 1969, when those areas became part of the Phoenix Diocese. He also served in Holbrook (1965), Springerville (1969-74), Pinetop (1976-80), Page (1981-82) and Winslow (1983-1990), before his last assignment in Blanco, N.M. Burns retired to Wickenburg, the Catholic Directory indicates.

* Douglas McNeill: Accused of sexual abuse in February 1994 and removed from ministry a month later. He worked in Holbrook in the early 1970s, then moved to New Mexico. He was working at St. Bonaventure in Thoreau, N.M., when the accusation was made. McNeill is believed to be living in the Washington, D.C., area.

* Jose Rodriguez: Accused of sexual abuse in 1999 and removed from ministry. The incident took place in the late 1970s. He served in the Arizona towns of Winslow (1976), St. John's (1978), Springerville (1979), Show Low (1980-88), Holbrook (1991) and Overgaard (1995-99), as well as several New Mexico churches. His whereabouts is unknown.

* Francis Murphy: Retired to New Mexico from Anchorage, Alaska, where allegations were made against him. When he arrived in 1996, he was denied permission to function as a priest.

* John Sullivan: Sullivan worked in the Gallup Diocese from 1961-69, after several complaints were lodged against him in New Hampshire and Michigan. He worked in the Phoenix Diocese until 1982, when he retired. He died in 1999. He was accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl in 1979 at a church in Bullhead City and pleaded no contest. Allegations also were made by several other girls.

* Julian Hartig: A Franciscan, he was accused of abusing a young woman on the Jemez Apache Reservation in New Mexico. The accuser is now in her 40s. Hartig died more than 20 years ago. The case was turned over to the review board, Bishop Donald Pelotte met with the victim and she received counseling.


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