Sex Suit Names Retired Priest

By Paul Logan
Albuquerque Journal
February 10, 2004

* Cleric living in Jemez Springs is accused of having 'inappropriate contact' with a boy years ago

A retired Catholic priest who lives at a Jemez Springs retreat house has been named in a court document involving suspected sexual abuse of a Dallas minor.

The Dallas District Court civil lawsuit lists the Rev. Thomas Behnke of the Carmelite Order, as well as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas and its bishop.

Behnke has been at the Servants of the Paraclete retreat house since the mid-1990s, said his attorney, Hal Browne of Dallas.

The Catholic retreat center was established more than a half century ago as a place to send troubled priests.

A man in his mid 30s, who claims to have been molested as a child by Behnke, brought the "John Doe" suit. The identity of the plaintiff is being withheld, the document said.

Behnke, in his early 80s, has never worked for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, archdiocese spokeswoman Celine Radigan said Monday.

The archdiocese was rocked by a pedophile priests' scandal in the 1990s. A number of priests from other states were treated at the Jemez Springs retreat house and then sent to work at parishes in the archdiocese, where they continued to molest children.

Credible allegations were made against 44 priests and two deacons, including 14 who were from other dioceses. The scandal cost the archdiocese $31.1 million, including about $1.1 million to counsel 193 victims of priestly abuse, according to the archdiocese.

Browne said Behnke only has "said some Masses just for the sisters." He said there have been "no complaints" brought against him during his stay in New Mexico.

During his retirement, Behnke has had heart surgery and experienced some illness, Browne said. The Journal left several messages for Paraclete officials on Monday, but no calls were returned.

The Sandoval County District Court in Bernalillo on Jan. 22 subpoenaed the Servants of the Paraclete to turn over documents pertaining to the "treatment, prognosis and diagnosis" of Behnke.

Lori A. Watson of Dallas, attorney for the plaintiff, said her client was attending a Catholic grade school in Texas at the time he was allegedly "a victim of sexual inappropriate contact" by Behnke.

Browne said Behnke is "a very cordial, elderly gentleman. ... An old-school priest who seems like a pretty pious guy."

The civil trial is scheduled for late this year in Dallas.


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