Priest on Leave Pending Sexual Abuse Allegations

The Associated Press, carried in Albuquerque Journal [Albuquerque NM]
March 21, 2005

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe is investigating a sexual abuse allegation against an Albuquerque priest, and has placed him on paid leave.

The Rev. Ronald Bruckner, pastor of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Albuquerque, will remain on leave "until the situation is resolved" and will not exercise any public ministry in the meantime, the archdiocese said in a news release.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, asked the archdiocese earlier this month to suspend the priest pending an investigation.

"This decision definitely makes kids safer but is long, long overdue," SNAP's national director, David Clohessy of St. Louis, said in a telephone call Monday.

The archdiocese, which covers the central part of the state, said Monday it was following its policy on sexual abuse in placing Bruckner on leave.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a charter in June 2002 aimed at preventing sexual abuse by priests. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth was adopted at the height of a scandal involving thousands of claims across the country.

New Mexico, however, faced a priest sexual abuse scandal a decade earlier.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan was named to head the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1993 after then-Archbishop Robert Sanchez resigned when three women accused him of being sexually involved with them in the 1970s and early 1980s when they were teenagers. At the time, more than a dozen lawsuits were pending against the archdiocese alleging sexual abuse by priests. A later audit put the price of the archdiocese's sexual abuse scandal at $31.1 million, but a 1993 archdiocese letter to parishes said it cost more than $50 million to settle more than 40 cases.

The settlements brought the diocese to "the edge of bankruptcy," Sheehan has said.

The archdiocese dealt with 187 lawsuits and claims during the 1990s, some alleging abuse as far back as the 1960s, he said in March 2002.

Sheehan removed more than 20 priests accused of sexual misconduct and established a zero-tolerance policy for offenders.

According to the audit, 44 priests and two deacons working in the archdiocese over the last 50 years had credible allegations made against them before 2002. Twenty-three were priests of the archdiocese.

Sheehan has said the number was high partly because priests came to New Mexico for treatment at the Servants of Paraclete in Jemez Springs and were placed in parishes. That center no longer treats pedophile priests