News Analysis
Gallup Diocese Still Mum on Payouts

Part III of a five-part series

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Independent correspondent
Gallup Independent (Gallup, NM)
May 26, 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 — When the topic is clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Gallup, the unanswered questions are not just limited to the identity of abusive priests and their victims’ allegations, they are also about money.

Money paid to victims of sex abuse, money paid to victims’ attorneys, and money paid to the diocesan attorneys who handle the claims of abuse.

An April 11 news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops contained a number of jarring national statistics about such costs. Sexual abuse-related costs to U.S. dioceses and Eastern rite eparchies increased between 2009 and 2010 by more than $19 million. Costs for settlements paid out in 2010 were $70,375,228, an increase of 28 percent over 2009. Legal fees increased by 18 percent.

But it is unknown how these figures played out locally in the Diocese of Gallup. In his two years in Gallup, Bishop James S. Wall has repeatedly refused to answer media questions related to sexual abuse allegations and financial settlements with abuse victims. Wall’s chancery officials don’t publicize how many sex abuse settlements they have made each year, how much settlement money they have paid out, and how much money Gallup diocesan attorneys have been paid for such legal work.

And they don’t publicize the source of this money. Are the Gallup Diocese’s insurance companies shelling out the settlement money? Is church property in Arizona and New Mexico being sold off to finance abuse claims? Or are local Catholics footing the bill when they drop their hard earned dollars in the collection plate each weekend?

Charter loophole

According to Article 3 in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, “Dioceses/eparchies are not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality unless the victims/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of the agreement.”

The key phrase, “unless the victims/survivor requests confidentiality,” has turned out to be a loophole for the Gallup Diocese. Diocesan attorneys have managed to find at least a dozen, if not two or three dozen, victims who have been willing to “request” confidential settlements.

Prior to the Charter’s adoption by the U.S. bishops in 2002, confidentiality agreements with sex abuse victims were the norm. Clearly, the intent of the Charter was remove that veil of secrecy so the public, particularly the Catholic public, could be fully informed about the cost of abuse — both human and financial — that had taken place in their church.

And certainly, if Gallup diocesan attorneys really wanted to honor the intent of the Charter, they could draw up settlement agreements that protect the identity of abuse victims but still publicize the victims’ credible allegations.

However, by allowing abuse victims and their attorneys to request confidential settlements — and it’s questionable who is actually doing the “requesting” — the Gallup Diocese is effectively going back to pre-Charter days and keeping church members and the general public in the dark about allegations and settlement payments.

Confidential payouts

It is not known how many of these confidential settlement agreements the Diocese of Gallup has negotiated precisely because the agreements are conducted behind closed doors and outside of public scrutiny.

In a recent telephone interview, one of the attorneys for abuse victims, James Zorigian, of California, confirmed he had obtained “in excess of a dozen” out-of-court, confidential abuse settlements from the Gallup Diocese in recent years and said he had more claims he was pursuing. Zorigian said that rather than file a public lawsuit, he notifies Gallup diocesan officials that he has another claim, he submits a statement by his client about the alleged abuse, diocesan attorneys conduct a deposition of his client, and then a settlement agreement is negotiated.

Zorigian said the settlement agreement itself is not confidential, but the actual amount of money his client receives from the Gallup Diocese is confidential because the diocese doesn’t want abuse victims to compare settlement amounts.

Another California attorney, who has reportedly made more than a half-dozen similar settlements with the Gallup Diocese, did not return a media request for comment.

The Diocese of Gallup has never publicly acknowledged making any of these settlement agreements, and only one of these abuse victims has ever talked to the media. That particular victim said he didn’t want to sign a confidentiality agreement, but did so at his attorney’s urging. In a phone conversation after the settlement, Deacon Timoteo Lujan, the former chancellor of the diocese, claimed that victim had violated the terms of his settlement by talking with the Independent.

No public reporting

In Article 4, the Charter also states, “Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor. In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right.”

Since the Charter was adopted, a number of alleged victims or their family members have come forward publicly with allegations against living priests who could possibly be criminally prosecuted, including James M. Burns, John Boland and Charles “Chuck” Cichanowicz.

However, no victim, attorney, law enforcement official, or Gallup diocesan official have ever indicated the Gallup Diocese reported any of those allegations to appropriate law enforcement authorities in Arizona, New Mexico or on Indian reservations.

The only diocesan official known to contact any law enforcement official was Jean Sokol, the former victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Phoenix. In 2009, during Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s tenure as Gallup’s apostolic administrator, Sokol met with family members of an alleged victim of Boland and read through Boland’s court file stemming from his 1983 arrest in Winslow, Ariz. Sokol was so concerned that Navajo County government corruption had possibly been involved in the 1983 case that she took her concerns to Rachel Mitchell of the Maricopa County Attorney’s office. The outcome of that meeting is unknown.

However, officials with the Diocese of Gallup lost their chance to cooperate with public authorities when Burns died last year and Boland reportedly returned to his native Ireland. And it is doubtful they want to cooperate with tribal or federal law enforcement authorities about Cichanowicz since the Gallup Diocese is waging tribal court battles against three Navajo men who claim Cichanowicz abused them while he served as a Franciscan priest on the Navajo Nation.

Tomorrow: An updated list of priests in the Diocese of Gallup with allegations of sex abuse.

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















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