Las Cruces Bishop Releases Results of Investigative Audit

Associated Press
December 27, 2003

The Diocese of Las Cruces is in compliance with national church standards for addressing child abuse allegations, according to results of an audit released by the Roman Catholic Diocese.

The audit was part of a nationwide effort to determine dioceses' compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly adopted the charter last year in response to a series of child abuse allegations.

Compliance audits have been conducted in 195 dioceses nationwide, and those results will be announced Jan. 6.

"I think a lot of people feel we haven't done very much," Las Cruces Bishop Ricardo Ramirez said Friday during a news conference to announce the results. "But there is a lot being done - maybe not as much as some people would like to see, but we've done a lot."

The Las Cruces audit was conducted Sept. 15-17 by the Gavin Group, which audited all U.S. dioceses, Ramirez said.

He said auditors reviewed documents and conducted interviews and found his diocese went beyond some of the charter's requirements.

For instance, one requirement calls for background checks on all employees and volunteers who work with children.

"In this diocese we expanded this requirement to people who minister to vulnerable populations, such as those ministering in hospitals, nursing homes and to the homebound," Ramirez said.

Auditors also evaluated how the diocese responds to victims and their families and how church officials deal with law enforcement, the judicial system and legal rights of the accused.

"Of particular interest to them were the workshops which deal with sexual abuse that have been a requirement for all employees and volunteers since 1993," Ramirez said.

The bishop reiterated that his diocese is committed to protecting children and offering assistance to victims.

There have been no reported allegations concerning Catholic churches in Las Cruces. However, two priests within the Las Cruces diocese have been removed because of allegations of abuse at other churches.

Rev. Denis J. Tejada, a priest at St. Genevieve Catholic Church in Las Cruces, was removed in July 2002 after a 40-year-old Texas man accused him of sexual misconduct 29 years ago when he was a priest at an El Paso church. No charges were filed after investigators from both Las Cruces and El Paso cited the statute of limitations and lack of evidence.

The church said in a statement that he was undergoing spiritual and psychological evaluations at an out-of-state facility.

The Rev. David Bentley, a Deming priest accused of sexual misconduct with minors nearly 25 years ago, was recalled to his diocese in New York in April 2002. The move was due in large part to other allegations that had began to surface around the same time.

"We want victims to know that they are not alone and that the Catholic church and this diocese have not abandoned them," Ramirez said. "I extend my hand in apology for what has happened in the healing spirit of Jesus Christ."


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