Bishop Photos Expose Lies

Gallup Independent
August 11, 2008

[See also the lead article on this matter, with photographs and additional links.]

For the past year, two top officials of the Gallup Catholic Diocese have been involved in a sustained and deliberate program of lies and intimidation to convince members of the Diocese of Gallup that the injuries Bishop Donald Pelotte received before the afternoon of July 23, 2007, came as a result of a fall down carpeted stairs at his home.

The police photos from that day were made public this past week and they clearly show that the statements made by Deacon Timoteo Lujan, chancellor for the Diocese, and The Rev. James Walker, the Diocese's vicar general, were lies and were part of a cover-up by Diocesian officials to keep the truth from coming out that Pelotte was beaten.

The truth is that the bishop was the victim of a savage attack. He might have been thrown down the stairs but the photos show that he was beaten repeatedly on the face, shoulders and legs by one or more persons. The photos of his knuckles also show that he put up a fight, possibly in fear for his life.

Lujan knew that. He discovered Pelotte that afternoon at his home, locked up in his bedroom and bloody all over, and Lujan's first statement to the Independent was the truth — it looked as if the bishop was the victim of an attack.

Within a couple of days, after being censured by his superiors for telling the truth, Lujan joined Walker and others in putting out the official version that there was no attack — just a tragic fall down the stairs.

To perpetuate the cover-up, Diocesian officials had their attorney send a letter to the city requesting that the photos not be released to the media. It's obvious now that Lujan and Walker knew that once the photos were released, their lies would be uncovered and they would have to come up with more lies to explain their actions.

Pelotte, after seeing the photos for the first time, recently told KRQE's investigative reporter, Larry Barker, that his injuries were obviously not caused by a fall from the stairs. He then reverted to Plan B the one that Diocesian officials will probably expound in the future — saying he doesn't remember what happened.

We would like to believe that. We may have if he had said that in the beginning but he couldn't say that on July 23. If he had, the Gallup police would have begun an investigation and could have had a chance to find out who was responsible for the beating and why it occurred.

This whole year-long cover-up has been conducted to keep one thing from the public who beat up the bishop and why. That "why" scares Diocesian officials who are worried that the reason may embarrass the Church. So the solution was to lie.

That's something that has been disregarded in this whole matter. The actions by Walker and Lujan allowed someone who committed attempted murder to go unpunished. There was no police investigation; there is no prosecution. Only a cover-up.

The Church lucked out by the fact that George Kozeliski, a loyal member of the Church and a friend of the bishop, was the city attorney and had the power to keep the photos from being released to the press. Instead, he became part of the cover-up.

Kozeliski immediately saw that his first duty was to the Church and not his employer, the City of Gallup, or to the public. As city attorney, his job was to protect the city. It was obvious that under the state's Inspection of Public Records Act, the police photos had to be released to the press. He should have informed Church officials of this and given them 10 days to go to court to try and stop the release if they so desired. Kozeliski instead chose to have the city fight Pelotte's battle.

Instead, Kozeliski sued the television station. Ultimately, it meant that we taxpayers and not the Church would have to pay for KRQE's attorney fees in this matter.

The only person who has been acting in an honest manner in this whole matter has been Pelotte's temporary replacement, Bishop Thomas Olmsted. Since taking over in January, Olmsted took action that separated the Diocese from Pelotte and ultimately paved the way that ended in the settlement that finally made the photos public.

This still doesn't excuse the fact that Walker and Lujan lied and a former city attorney, Kozeliski, decided that his duty to his church was more important than his duty to his employer. He betrayed a public that depended on him to follow the law. The public has a fundamental right to public documents. The public has a fundamental right to know.

Lujan and Walker need to issue a letter of apology to Church members and the public for their actions for the past year.

As for Pelotte, he's no longer bishop and has no authority. He left a Diocese that is in far worse shape than when he took it over two decades ago. In that time, he alienated many priests in the Diocese and did nothing as the number of priests declined and parishes had to be shut down.

Pelotte has already been punished, having lost his seat of authority. On his departure, the overall feeling was not that the Gallup Diocese lost one of its great leaders but one of relief and a hope by many that his replacement would be able to repair the damage he has done to the Diocese over the years.

It may be too late for either Lujan or Walker to regain the credibility that they have lost because of their actions. We can hope, however, that whoever comes in to take Pelotte's place realizes the need to be truthful to both Diocesian members and the public in all future endeavors.

As for Kozeliski, he probably still feels that his primary duty was to his Church and not the taxpayers who paid his salary as city attorney. He is guilty of malfeasance and we urge city officials to go after him to reimburse the city for the cost of not only the amount they had to pay KRQE but the fees they paid to their attorney to try and keep the photos from the public.

At one point, the public had faith that their religious leaders would tell them the truth. After a decade of admitting they failed to tell the truth when it came to child abuse, Catholic leaders promised to do better in the future. Once again they have failed and once again, church members and the public have to wonder: What else are they covering up?


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