Report: Vatican Investigates San Jose Bishop’s Handling of Sex Abuse in Former Diocese
By John Woolfolk
November 18, 2020
San Jose’s recently seated Bishop Oscar Cantu is under investigation by the Vatican for his handling of clerical sex abuse cases in his former Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, according to a Catholic news agency report.
The Catholic News Agency reported Tuesday that the investigation was ordered in October under a zero-tolerance policy Pope Francis implemented last year to hold bishops accountable for their handling of past sexual abuse cases, particularly for actions or omissions intended to avoid or interfere with investigations.
The Catholic News Agency quoted two unnamed Vatican sources who confirmed the investigation but declined to comment on the specific accusations or whether they concern any clergy still in ministry. One of those officials stressed that the investigation is not a trial and that Cantu “has every presumption of innocence and remains in office.”
Cantu in a statement Wednesday morning acknowledged the reported investigation and said he supports the Vatican’s protocols “to ensure the accountability of bishops and to bring justice and healing to victims/survivors.”
“I intend to cooperate fully with any inquiry,” Cantu said in the statement.
The Diocese of Las Cruces, where Cantu was bishop from 2013 to 2018, and its current Bishop Peter Baldacchino had no comment on the allegations, said spokesman Christopher Velasquez.
“Bishop Baldacchino has made accountability and rebuilding trust with local Catholics his foremost priority since arriving in the diocese,” the Las Cruces diocese said in a statement. “In line with the provisions of Pope Francis, he is absolutely committed to ensuring every accusation is heard and investigated, and every victim cared for.”
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement that the list of “credibly accused” clergy released by Bishop Cantu in Las Cruces grew by 14 in the year after he left, when Las Cruces church officials added the names of 13 religious order priests and one lay teacher that had previously been excluded.
The organization said in the statement that it believes the investigation “is most likely related to hiding information about clergy abusers from the public and allowing men who had been accused of abuse — such as Fr. Roderick Nichols — to continue working despite allegations.”
“We suspect that Las Cruces underreported the extent of clergy abuse in their diocese on Bishop Cantu’s watch,” said SNAP Treasurer Dan McNevin. “Keeping people in the dark is part of the playbook bishops use worldwide, and, if true, we have no doubt Bishop Cantu is continuing this behavior in San Jose as well. The losers here are victims and children.”
The Las Cruces diocese’s list of 60 priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct with children indicates that as many as 13 were accused in the six years Cantu was bishop there. Only one of them involved conduct alleged to have occurred under his watch.
That case involved a volunteer teacher named Gary Vau, who was accused in 2016 of impropriety at Holy Cross School in Las Cruces the year before. Vau was subsequently convicted and released from the diocese, according to its list.
Most others, like Nichols, involved abuse said to have occurred decades earlier. Nichols, a retired diocesan priest, was accused in a civil lawsuit in August of abusing a then-13-year-old in the early 1990s when he was pastor of St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Silver City, New Mexico, according to the Las Cruces Sun News. He was not on the diocese’s list.
Another involved a priest named Kevin McDonald, accused in 2014 of misconduct in 2007 in Miami before he was ordained. The diocese’s list indicated he was removed from public ministry during Cantu’s last year in Las Cruces.
In most cases, the diocese’s list indicated that priests accused during Cantu’s tenure had long since died by the time the allegation was made.
The Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004 and considers itself an apostolate of the Eternal World Television Network, a Catholic cable channel.