Local Panel Names Sexually Abusive Priests
Public Asked to Contact Board with Questions and Concerns

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent
May 20, 2003

Gallup — The Diocese of Gallup's sexual abuse review board released the names of six former priests whose records include substantiated allegations of sexual abuse.

The Gallup Diocesan Review Board on Juvenile Sexual Abuse issued the press release on Friday and included brief information about each priest. The review board also published its mailing address and encouraged the public to contact the board with questions and concerns (see related story).

According to the review board's statement, it "requested and received a briefing regarding all known allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Gallup Diocese." Diocese officials provided the names of former Gallup priests Michael Aten, James Burns, Douglas McNeill and Jose Rodriguez.

John T. Sullivan, a priest in the diocese from 1961 to 1969, was also included in the list although the release stated the review board learned about allegations against Sullivan through news stories. The Independent published a two-part article on Sullivan on April 11 and 12, and other stories have appeared in New Hampshire newspapers, the Arizona Republic and the Washington Post.

Francis Murphy, a retired priest from the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, has never been incardinated in the Diocese of Gallup but has been living in Cuba, N.M., since the mid-1990s. The subject of several recent national news stories, Murphy is alleged to have sexually abused a number of boys in Alaska. According to Diocese of Gallup officials, Murphy has repeatedly been informed he is not allowed to act as a priest in the Gallup diocese.

On Monday, the Independent contacted two members of the five-member review board about the board's decision to release the information.

Margie Trujillo and Rev. Jerome "Jerry" Herff declined to comment, explaining the board had decided to publicly comment through press releases to the media rather than allowing individual members to be interviewed. However, Trujillo and Herff agreed the Independent was welcome to submit written questions to the board.

The Independent also attempted to contact the Most Rev. Donald E. Pelotte, the Bishop of Gallup, and Deacon Timoteo Lujan, the chancellor of the diocese. According to diocese officials, Pelotte and Lujan were not scheduled to be in the chancery office for the rest of the day.

Biographical details

The following information about Aten, Burns, McNeill and Rodriguez was gathered from a variety of sources: the review board's release, a published history of the Diocese of Gallup, and information annually published in The Official Catholic Directory. That information indicated several of the priests were assigned to many of the same diocese parishes, mostly in Arizona, and two of them Aten and Burns worked together at one time.

Most of the priests held a variety of prestigious positions during their years in the diocese, including duties with the Priests' Senate, the Presbyteral Council, the Diocesan Consultors, and the Episcopal Vicars.

Michael Aten received his ordination in the diocese in January of 1977, according to the book Diocese of Gallup Golden Jubilee 1939-1989. The review board's statement said Aten was accused of sexual abuse over 15 years ago, was sent to treatment facilities multiple times, and was removed from priestly ministry in May 1991. According to the Catholic directory, Aten's first parish was St. Mary of the Angels in Pinetop, Ariz., where he worked with James Burns (1978).

The directory then shows Aten at St. Joseph's in Winslow, Ariz., (1979) and St. John the Baptist in St. Johns, Ariz. (1980-86). He is listed as being on "special assignment" in 1988. The Independent could not locate Aten in the directory in 1987 or from 1989 until his death in June of 2001.

James Burns, ordinated in May of 1962, retired to Wickenburg, Ariz., according to the Catholic directory. The review board stated Burns had multiple allegations of sexual abuse leveled against him, he was sent to treatment, returned to priestly ministry, had another allegation made against him, and had his faculties removed in June of 1993.

The Catholic directory lists Burns in the following northern Arizona parishes: Our Lady of Guadalupe in Flagstaff (1963), the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Flagstaff (1964), Our Lady of Guadalupe in Holbrook (1965), St. Francis Cabrini in Camp Verde (1966), St. Lawrence in Humbolt (1966-69), St. Peter in Springerville (1969-74), Our Lady of the Angels and/or St. Mary of the Angels in Pinetop (1976-80), Immaculate Heart of Mary in Page (1981-82), and St. Joseph's in Winslow (1983-90). Burns was last assigned to the New Mexico parish of St. Rose in Blanco (1991-93).

Douglas McNeill received his ordination in May of 1970. According to the review board, McNeill was relieved of his faculties in March of 1994 after a sexual abuse charge was lodged against him, and a settlement was arranged with the victim. The Catholic directory lists McNeill at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Holbrook, Ariz. (1971 and 1973-74). He then is listed at St. Bonaventure in Thoreau, N.M. (1975-91), "special assignment" at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School (1992-94), Director of Catholic Charities (1995), and "absent on leave" (1996-2002).

Jose Rodriguez was ordinated in August of 1975. The review board's release states Rodriguez was accused of sexual abuse in 1999 concerning an incident that occurred more than 20 years previous, a settlement was reached with that victim, and Rodriguez was removed from priestly ministry in 1999. According to the Catholic directory, Rodriguez was at St. Joseph's in Winslow, Ariz., (1976), St. Jerome, south of Gallup (1977), St. John the Baptist in St. Johns, Ariz., (1978), St. Peter in Springerville, Ariz., (1979), St. Rita in Show Low, Ariz., (1980-88), the Good Shepherd Mission in Pinehaven, N.M., and St. Patrick's Navajo Mission in Chichiltah, N.M. (1989-90), Our Lady of Guadalupe in Holbrook, Ariz. (1991), St. Mary's in Farmington, N.M., (1993-94), and Our Lady of Assumption in Overgaard, Ariz., and Our Lady of the Snows in Snowflake, Ariz. (1995-99).

According to the review board's release, none of the named priests have been convicted of a crime, but all were eventually removed from their priestly ministry because of the nature of the allegations.


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