Victim's Mother Says Church Abuse Figures Low

By Elva K. Osterreich
Alamagordo Daily News [New Mexico]
February 28, 2004

When Judy Francis saw her adult children come forth in the early 1990s and disclose their abuse 30 years earlier at the hands of St. Jude's Father David Holley, she was deeply wounded. Forgiveness has been a long road for Francis.

The National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel formed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued two studies Friday documenting sexual abuse allegations from 1950 to 2002.

The report says there have been 10,667 abuse claims nationwide. About 4 percent of all clerics who served during the years studied " 4,392 of the 109,694 priests and others under vows to the church " were accused of abuse.

"I think they are under estimating the 4 percent, mainly because there are so many kids who never ever came forward," said Francis.

The Holley incidents took place when Alamogordo was still under the El Paso diocese in the late 1970s. Francis- children were not emotionally able to come forward until 30 years after their abuse. Holley was charged in 1993 and is now serving a 275-year prison sentence.

"All I do is pray that nobody else has to go through what my family has had to go through and all I want to do is put it behind me and go on with my life," Francis said. "My children are moving on with their lives and I am trying to do the same."

Francis said she is trying hard in her heart to forgive the things that have been done to her children.

"I have refused to give up my faith because of sickness with these priests," Francis said. "I truly hope this publicity stops this (abuse). I hope it makes people smart enough to speak up and not bury this horror."

Holley accounts for 20 of the 56 sexual abuse complaints received by the El Paso diocese over the past 52 years, said the Rev. John Stowe of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso. He served as a priest for more than 20 years, after spending time in 1971 at a church-sponsored child abuse treatment center in Jemez Springs.

In the first church-sanctioned tally of abuse cases, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe reported about 200 victims. The Diocese of Gallup reported 11, and the Diocese of Las Cruces had one. The Diocese of Las Cruces includes Deming, Silver City, Lordsburg, Roswell, Alamogordo and Ruidoso, Carlsbad and Hobbs.

The Diocese of Las Cruces reported that two of its priests were removed from their duties due to allegations of sexual misconduct over the 22-year history of the diocese.

"It's still shocking, no matter what the number is," Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces said. "I want people to know how regretful I feel about the harm that was done to individuals over the years."

While two priests were removed from the Las Cruces diocese over the years, one case centered on a former priest who was implicated in connection with a Texas man in the Diocese of El Paso. It was not counted against Las Cruces in the tally.

Churches in Las Cruces and much of southern New Mexico were under the El Paso diocese until 1982, when the Las Cruces diocese was formed.

The Texas case involved Denis Tejada, a former priest at St. Genevieve parish in Las Cruces, who was removed after a 40-year-old Texas man accused him of sexual misconduct 31 years ago, where he served at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso as an associate priest from 1972 to 1975.

No criminal charges were filed because the victim did not want to testify.

In the other case, the Las Cruces diocese paid a settlement to one victim in connection with a priest who served in the diocese from 1985 to 1986, and who also served with the Catholic Diocese of Santa Fe.

Ramirez said at the request of the male victim, the settlement amount and the name of the victim and the priest were sealed.

He said no criminal charges were filed, but he said the priest is no longer with the ministry.

Ramirez said both priests under the Las Cruces diocese have been removed from the ministry, and both cases involve allegations made 20 years ago or more.

The damage from the scandal is two-way, said the Rev. Marcos Reyna of St. Francis Newman Center at Western New Mexico University in Silver City.

"It is very difficult, obviously we are concerned as priests that these things have happened," Reyna said.

"And it's not just the victims who are being affected by it, but there are a lot of priests who have been very good men and I fear sometimes that's the way people might look at it."

Ramirez said the Las Cruces diocese has spent $10,000 to support victims of sexual abuse, even if the abuse occurred outside of the diocese. Some of the counseling provided by the church has gone to victims in Alamogordo, he said.

?We didn't handle (the Holley case), but I have dealt with some of the victims," Ramirez said. "I have listened to them, I have listened to their pain, and I have wept in my own heart for the pain they have undergone, and still feel to this day."

"Ministers and priests are human beings and my faith in God hasn't changed," said Alamogordo resident Martha Reiersen. "The church is a group of people. The church is a building. For me my faith is in God."

Reiersen said when her children were little she never encouraged them to be altar boys but she encouraged them to have faith in God.

"Maybe in the back of my mind was that fear (of abuse)," Reiersen said. "You go to church to worship God, not the minister or priest. As long as I follow my Ten Commandments and my Bible, that's what's important to me."

"We all make mistakes, some of them are very unfortunate," said Aaron Kollars who is active with St Jude's Catholic Church in Alamogordo. "We respect our leadership but they are people just like we are and they are subject to the same temptations we are. Only one person that walked this earth was perfect and that was Jesus Christ."

Silver City Sun-News reporter Thomas Baird, Las Cruces Sun-News reporters Christopher Schurtz and Jennifer West and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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