News Analysis
Gallup Diocese: In or Out of Compliance?

Part II of a five-part series

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Independent correspondent
Gallup Independent (Gallup, NM)
May 25, 2011

[See the complete series: 1. Diocese Fails to Deliver Answers (5/24/11); 2. Gallup Diocese: In or Out of Compliance? (5/25/11); 3. Gallup Diocese Still Mum on Payouts (5/26/11); 4. At Least 16 Abusers in Gallup Diocese (5/27/11); 5. Gallup Diocese's List of Known Abusers (5/28/11).]

GALLUP — Readers of the Diocese of Gallup’s official newspaper are always greeted with good news.

Certainly the upcoming issue will most likely feature an article about the Diocese of Gallup passing its 2010 audit and being deemed “in compliance” with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its Essential Norms.

However, like official news releases typically issued by large institutions concerned about their bottom line, information can be misleading. Details can be omitted.

The term “in compliance” sounds impressive. However, the term is not particularly exclusive as it turns out that church officials found every single Catholic diocese that participated in the 2010 audit to be in compliance. This includes the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which was recently targeted by a grand jury for failing to remove more than three dozen priests accused of sexual abuse or “boundary” violations and has seen a number of its church officials criminally indicted and arrested this spring.

The term is also misleading because the annual compliance audits of Catholic dioceses are conducted by “auditors” who have no authority to inspect church records, particularly the personnel files of clergy. As a result, those auditors are left to depend on self-reporting by diocesan officials and to depend on the officials’ truthfulness.

As a result, the Gallup Diocese was found “in compliance” by auditors who were not allowed to look at Diocese of Gallup records.


Local Catholics will also apparently have to depend on self-reporting by Gallup chancery officials concerning the details of the diocese’s 2010 audit report.

“As is the procedure in most dioceses, we will publish the appropriate information and reporting procedures in our May issue of the Voice of the Southwest, but it will not include a release of the full audit report,” diocesan spokesman Lee Lamb said in an April 29 email.

In other words, Gallup chancery officials will decide what is “appropriate information” for local Catholics to know. The early audit reports of 2003 and 2004, posted on the U.S. bishops’ website, included instructions, recommendations and commendations made to the dioceses by the auditors. The U.S. bishops, however, no longer post those audit reports online.

As a result, local Catholics won’t know if there are any problems cited by the auditors unless Gallup diocesan officials release that information. According to an April 11 news release by the U.S. bishops, 55 dioceses received “management letters expressing concerns about procedures which could result in non-compliance” — meaning more than a quarter of the nearly 200 U.S. dioceses received a management letter. That is an increase from the 2009 audit, which saw only 23 such letters issued. But the identity of those 55 dioceses remains a mystery.

Did the Diocese of Gallup receive such a management letter? Local Catholics will have to see if chancery officials tell them.

Victim outreach?

So the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been satisfied that the Gallup Diocese is in compliance with the Charter’s “letter of the law” for one more year. But what about the spirit of the Charter?

Article 1 of the Charter calls for dioceses to “reach out to victims/survivors and their families and demonstrate a sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being.” It also states, “Through pastoral outreach to victims and their families, the diocesan/eparchial bishop or his representative is to offer to meet with them, to listen with patience and compassion to their experiences and concerns.”

A recent report published by the U.S. bishops about the 2010 audit states, “Many bishops continue to respond by offering apologies, healing masses, and retreats for those harmed by abuse.”

It is not known if Bishop James S. Wall has met with any Gallup clergy abuse victims and their families because he and his chancery officials have never answered repeated media questions about such meetings. In contrast, the Independent knows of two mothers of victims whose meeting requests have been ignored by chancery officials.

Wall has never offered a healing Mass of Reconciliation for victims and their families — unlike his former mentor in Phoenix, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who offers them regularly — and he has certainly never offered a retreat for victims.

Non-functioning board

Article 2 and Norm 1 of the Charter, which concern the diocese’s policies and procedures regarding abuse allegations, is equally problematic. Provisions in Article 2 state dioceses are “to have a review board that functions as a confidential consultative body to the bishop” and the review board “is to advise the diocesan/eparchial bishop in his assessment of allegation of sexual abuse of minors.”

Along with Norm 1, the article requires the local review board to be composed of at least five persons, at least one board member should be a priest, and board members serve terms of five years, which can be extended for longer periods.

However, the Gallup Diocesan Review Board on Juvenile Sexual Abuse, which also does not have the authority to actually inspect diocesan records and personnel files, has never met with Wall in his two years as bishop, according to a source close to the diocese. In addition, the board hasn’t met in months, and its member priest, the Rev. Jerry Herff, has moved to California.

In response to questions about the review board, diocesan spokesman Lamb said the Rev. Frank Chacon would be replacing Herff, and claimed the review board “continues to fulfill its obligations.”

However, Lamb declined to name the current review board members, declined to state how many times the review board has met over the last two years, and declined to explain why Wall has never met with the board.

Those non-answers raise the question of how the review board “continues to fulfill its obligations” as a consultative body to the bishop.

Tomorrow: The Diocese of Gallup’s continuing confidential settlement agreements with abuse victims.

Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 863-6811 ext. 218 or















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