N.M. Church Leaders Say They Kept Abusers on Board

By Paul Logan
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
June 16, 2002

Sheehan, Ramirez Explain Decisions

DALLAS Two New Mexico Roman Catholic prelates and about two-thirds of the church's top leaders allowed priests who had molested children to work in their dioceses, according to a three-month study of America's 178 dioceses by the Dallas Morning News.

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of the Las Cruces Diocese and Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe explained their decisions to keep the sexually abusive clerics on board in interviews with the Journal last week.

Ramirez confirmed he let an admitted molester serve in the diocese from 2000 until about two months ago, he said Friday. But Ramirez said he only allowed the priest to work in Las Cruces and in Deming after receiving assurances from another bishop and a psychologist and making sure the priest was "monitored and supervised very carefully."

Sheehan said the two incidents involving him that were noted in the Dallas newspaper story took place in the 1980s while he was the Lubbock, Texas, bishop and in the 1970s when he was rector of a Dallas seminary.

The archbishop said Thursday the decision as rector to admit Rudy Kos who, as a priest abused many boys and is serving three life sentences, was "one of the great sorrows of my life."

The two church leaders discussed their earlier actions in interviews during last week's semiannual assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops here. The Catholic hierarchy on Friday overwhelmingly approved a policy that says past and future abusers will technically remain priests, but that they will be prohibited from any work connected to the church from celebrating Mass to serving in a church soup kitchen.

Brief stories with photographs of Sheehan and Ramirez appeared in the Dallas newspaper Wednesday, along with those of 109 other church leaders, including eight cardinals the highest ranking prelates next to the pope.

The story, filling more than five pages, said that at least 111 church leaders allowed priests accused of sexual abuse of children and young adults to keep working.

The practice spans decades and in some placed continues into the present, the newspaper reported.

The leaders represented dioceses from at least 40 states, including most members of the bishops' committee that drafted the new policy.

Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Albany, N.Y., Diocese asked Ramirez if the Rev. David Bentley could work in Las Cruces, Ramirez said Friday. Hubbard also was among the prelates listed in the misconduct study.

"(Hubbard) assured me that father would be OK, even though he had been involved with minors 25 years ago," Ramirez said.

Ramirez said he received reassurance from the treating psychologist that Bentley could return to ministry. Bentley never faced criminal charges, according to the Dallas story,

Bentley, who had worked in Africa and elsewhere before coming to Las Cruces, served primarily in the diocese retreat house. For a period of time, he also was the part-time administrator in a Deming parish. Ramirez said Bentley was closely monitored in both jobs.

"We wanted to make sure he didn't hurt anyone while he was there," the bishop said.

Ramirez said he went to Deming and told the parishioners about Bentley. Throughout the time Bentley worked there as well as at the retreat house, there were never any complaints brought against the priest, Ramirez said.

He said that earlier this year, after Hubbard reviewed Bentley's files, the Albany bishop recalled the priest "in light of the national crisis" and removed him from ministry.

If the recently passed national policy had been in place, Bentley would not have been involved in any priestly ministry, he said.

Ramirez said he and his fellow bishops have been guilty of erring on the side of the priests in the past and being "too merciful" toward them instead of doing more to protect children and young people.

"Any sexual misconduct inflicted on a minor is, from a human standpoint, unpardonable," Ramirez said.

The incidents in Sheehan's career, which have been reported previously, involved the late Rev. Rodney Howell in Lubbock and Kos at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas.

After Kos became a priest, he became one of the nation's most infamous molesters of young boys. His 1997 civil trial resulted in the largest clergy-abuse verdict in America.

"One of the great sorrows of my life was being rector when Rudy Kos went through," Sheehan said last week.

"I think now we have better screening procedures than in 1978 when he started in the seminary. He fooled me."

The archbishop said Kos had a good record in the military and at the hospital where he worked before entering the seminary.

"I state emphatically, however, that I had absolutely no knowledge that he was a pedophile," Sheehan said in a prepared media statement he gave to the Journal.

In the other incident while serving in the Lubbock diocese, Sheehan said Howell had been abusing a family's two sons. When the family approached Sheehan in 1986 to tell him of the molestations that had happened in earlier years, he said they told him, "We want you to reprimand him, but we don't want him removed."

Howell admitted to Sheehan that he sexually abused the boys while he was drunk, Sheehan said.

"I sent him to treatment immediately," according to the prepared statement. "In 1987 shortly after returning from treatment, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And following the wishes of the family I let him stay in the parish until he died in January of 1993."

Sheehan's statement said that to his knowledge all the abuse took place before 1986. And in a lawsuit the family later brought against the church, the courts found in favor of the church, the archbishop wrote.

Sheehan said he and other bishops know so much more about pedophilia and ephebophilia a sexual attraction to pubescent children or adolescents now than they did years ago.

"At this point, I wouldn't have let him stay a day," Sheehan told the Journal, referring to Howell and the archbishop's current zero-tolerance policy.

Sheehan was interviewed on Thursday after four victims of sexual abuse by priests told their powerful stories before nearly 300 prelates. At the time, the archbishop said, "This is certainly a day of being very much ashamed and very humbling because of the pain the church has caused to people."


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