LA Luz Priest Put on Leave

By Rene Romo
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
May 3, 2002

LAS CRUCES A Franciscan priest has been placed on administrative leave from his duties at a La Luz church while his religious order continues investigating a 20-year-old sexual misconduct allegation.

The Rev. Bruce Hausfeld, 67, is accused of engaging in sexual misconduct one time with a minor while assigned to an Arizona church.

Hausfeld, who was placed on administrative leave April 15 from his pastoral duties at Our Lady of the Light Church in La Luz near Alamogordo, has denied the allegation.

And Franciscan officials were unable to corroborate the allegation against Hausfeld after investigating the claim when it was first reported in April 2001, said the Rev. Jeffrey Scheeler, the Ohio-based vicar provincial for the order of Franciscan priests in the United States.

In a telephone interview this week, Scheeler declined to provide details of the claims made by Hausfeld's accuser, who is now 30 years old. No disciplinary action was taken against Hausfeld last year.

Church officials, however, decided to place Hausfeld on administrative leave after recently receiving a second letter, this time from the complainant's attorney, seeking "some resolution before a lawsuit was filed," Scheeler said.

In addition, the recent letter contained a new description of Hausfeld's alleged misconduct, Scheeler said.

The national controversy over the church's handling of sexual misconduct allegations against priests, especially involving minors, also played a role in the decision to place Hausfeld on administrative leave, Scheeler said.

On the advice of church legal counsel, Scheeler said, Franciscan officials have not turned the allegation over to civil authorities since the complainant is now an adult and the incident is alleged to have occurred two decades ago. Church officials would have been required to report the allegation if it involved a recent or ongoing activity with someone now a minor, Scheeler said.

"At this moment, Father Bruce has our support," Scheeler said. "We've not found any independent verification of the allegation."

In a statement read to parishioners of Our Lady of the Light during Masses late last month, Scheeler also said there have been no other allegations of misconduct against Hausfeld during his years of service as a priest. The Diocese of Las Cruces says it supports the priest, according to a written statement.

Hausfeld, ordained a priest in 1961, was assigned to Our Lady of the Light in 1993 after working in Ohio, Scheeler said. Hausfeld could not be reached for comment.

"We are continuing to investigate with the help of our legal counsel. We are doing this with the help of the representative of the person, their attorney, to see if we can shed any light on the situation," Scheeler said.

Scheeler said La Luz parishioners reacted with "disbelief" when he announced Hausfeld's leave of absence on April 20 and 21.

"I would say it was disbelief, surprise, and in fact when I greeted people at the door of the church, I had a number of people who said it was just incredible to them," Scheeler said. "It did not sound like the Father Bruce that they knew, they did not believe it and they would support him."


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