Priest Removed Quietly in 2004

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent
February 13, 2009

GALLUP — Contrary to this week's public announcement about the removal from ministry of a Gallup diocesan priest for an old allegation of misconduct, the Independent has learned a Franciscan priest was removed from ministry in Gallup in 2004 without any local public announcement.

The Rev. Diego Mazon, a Franciscan priest who worked in the Diocese of Gallup for many years, was removed from his ministry in 2004 because of an old sex abuse allegation from the 1970s. Neither the Franciscans, nor officials with the Diocese of Gallup or the Archdiocese of Santa Fe made a local public announcement of the allegation, civil lawsuit, or legal settlement concerning Mazon.

Annette M. Klimka, the victim assistance coordinator for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, confirmed Mazon was removed from his ministry at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Gallup because of a clergy sex abuse allegation. Klimka was contacted about a 2005 civil lawsuit that was filed on behalf of an alleged female victim.

The suit was filed in Bernalillo County's Second Judicial District Court, and it named Mazon, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist as defendants. Attorneys for the plaintiff alleged Mazon sexually and psychologically abused the plaintiff while she was a child in his parish of St. John's in Roswell from 1974 to 1978. It claims Mazon began fondling the child when she was 9 years old, and the abuse escalated for several years until it "lead to nonconsensual sexual intercourse resulting in sexual penetration of the minor child."

The lawsuit was apparently settled three years ago with an Order of Dismissal with Prejudice that was entered into the court record on Feb. 21, 2006. Klimka declined to provide any details about the settlement, citing the victim's request to keep the terms and conditions of the agreement confidential. She said, however, all the parties in the lawsuit came to a "mutually satisfactory" agreement.

Klimka was asked why — in light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted in 2002 — an announcement of the allegation, the lawsuit, or the settlement was not made by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the Franciscans, or the Diocese of Gallup, where Mazon had been working for years.

"If the plaintiff wanted this confidential, we have to respect that," Klimka said. She declined to say if any other allegations have ever been made against Mazon, and she declined to say where he is living now. Although she was not the victim assistance coordinator at the time, Klimka said she assumed church officials had notified the district attorney in Roswell as per archdiocese policy.

A message left for District Attorney Janetta B. Hicks was not immediately returned on Thursday. No one answered the telephone at St. John's parish in Roswell.

Klimka referred all other questions to the Rev. Larry Dunham, the minister provincial of the Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque. The Independent left a message for Dunham, who is reportedly traveling out of town until late Saturday. None of the six attorneys involved in the case responded to faxed requests for information.

Lee Lamb, the communications director for the Diocese of Gallup, said he would seek future comment from Deacon Timoteo Lujan, the diocese's chancellor, who was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

David Clohessy, the national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, disagreed with Klimka's interpretation of the 2002 Charter. "That's just baloney," he said. "That is disingenuous, and self-serving, and immoral."

Clohessy said it is "ludicrous" for church officials to claim they can't announce they are facing clergy sex abuse allegations without still being able to protect the confidentiality of the alleged victim. "Their secrecy may well have enabled him to molest more children," he said.

"That is incredibly irresponsible."

Two parishioners from St. Francis of Assisi parish in Gallup said no announcement was ever made in the parish that Mazon's 2004 departure was because of an old sex abuse allegation. They said parishioners were told Mazon left for health reasons.

The Official Catholic Directory lists Mazon as working at Gallup's St. Francis of Assisi parish from 1995 to 2004 and at Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament in Fort Defiance, Ariz. on the Navajo Nation from 1991 to 1994. The directory also shows him working in the Gallup Diocese at St. Joseph's in San Fidel, N.M. in 1978, apparently after he left his assignment in Roswell.

Reporter Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 863-6811 ext. 218


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.