Gallup clergy sex abuser dead at 76

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
July 16, 2018

GALLUP — Douglas A. McNeill, one of the first Diocese of Gallup priests to be publicly identified as a credibly accused clergy sex abuser, died earlier this month on the East Coast.

McNeill, 76, an early founder of St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School in Thoreau, was found deceased in his home in Maryland July 3, according to a diocesan email sent to priests Wednesday. McNeill’s funeral Mass was held in Staten Island, New York, also Wednesday.

An online obituary, which contains sparse biographical information, states McNeill was born March 6, 1942. The website includes a couple photographs of McNeill as a young priest, presumably during his years in the Gallup Diocese.

“We ask for prayers for the repose of his soul and comfort for his family,” Suzanne Hammons, the diocese’s communications director stated in the email. “McNeill was a priest named on our Credibly Accused list,” she continued. “Prior to his death, his priestly faculties had been removed, and he subsequently retired and moved away from the Diocese of Gallup. Please also pray for survivors of abuse, as they seek healing.”

According to the diocesan website, which still does not list McNeill as deceased, McNeill was assigned to the two Catholic parishes in Winslow, Arizona, from 1969-1970, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Holbrook, Arizona, in 1969, 1970-1971 and 1973-1974. McNeill was transferred to Thoreau in 1974, where he helped establish St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School and was its director for 20 years.

Arrest and lawsuit

McNeill was one of the first Diocese of Gallup priests to be arrested by law enforcement, one of the first to be civilly sued in a public clergy sex abuse lawsuit and one of the first to be named as a credibly accused abuser by the diocese.

A clergy sex abuse lawsuit, filed in Albuquerque’s District Court in July 1994, included information that McNeill had been arrested in Arizona in 1971, after taking two minor brothers on a camping trip. After that alleged abuse incident, McNeill was assigned to duty outside the diocese at Fordham University in New York, according to the Official Catholic Directory.

The lawsuit was filed by an adult man, alleging he had been abused by McNeill when he was a student at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School in the 1970s. The lawsuit alleged McNeill tried to pay off the victim in the 1990s, with $15,000 in cash from the mission and a written release statement drafted by a local attorney. The lawsuit also listed the boys from the camping trip, then adult men, as deposition witnesses, along with their father.

The Diocese of Gallup settled the lawsuit in 1995, and Bishop Donald E. Pelotte later released the amount of the settlement – $135,000 – the only time the Gallup Diocese has ever publicly disclosed a clergy sex abuse settlement amount.

Years later, some priests from the diocese have continued to maintain that McNeill was not guilty of sexual abuse.

Review Board admission

In May 2003, the Gallup Diocesan Review Board on Juvenile Sexual Abuse issued a news release “regarding all known allegations of sexual abuse by priests” in the Gallup Diocese. The news release, which stated only five priests had been accused of sexual abuse of a minor, included McNeill’s name.

“Douglas McNeill was accused of sexual abuse several years ago,” the release stated. “He was relieved of his faculties within a month of the complaint in March of 1994. A settlement was reached with the victim. McNeill is presently living in the greater Washington DC area. Though he is forbidden to conduct priestly ministry, he has attempted to do so against the wishes of Bishop Pelotte.”

Much has changed since 2003. The Diocese of Gallup’s list of credibly accused sex abusers now includes 34 names. The Gallup Diocesan Review Board, which used to issue news releases to the media and publicize board member names, is now a secret board comprised of individuals whose identities are kept confidential by current Bishop James S. Wall.

In 2016, the former St. Bonaventure student who filed the successful lawsuit against McNeill attended one of the Diocese of Gallup’s Chapter 11 court hearings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. After the hearing, he spoke with the Gallup Independent about McNeill. The man alleged that he knew of several other male students who had also been allegedly sexually abused by McNeill but would not come forward.

McNeill’s work with St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School brought him national recognition and remains his most lasting positive contribution to the diocese. Acclaimed author Tony Hillerman, a benefactor of St. Bonaventure, dedicated his Navajo murder mystery “Sacred Clowns” to McNeill and included St. Bonaventure in the plot of the book.

Unanswered questions

In an email to the Independent, Hammons declined to answer a number of questions about McNeill. The Diocese of Gallup has never provided a full accounting of the number of known sex abuse victims in the diocese, and Hammons would not provide the number of known victims who have accused McNeill of abuse.

Hammons also declined to say if McNeill or any of the other 11 living credibly accused abusers have been receiving a pension or any other retirement benefit from the Gallup Diocese. She was also asked if the diocese had monitored McNeill’s whereabouts, and if church and law enforcement authorities in Maryland had been informed of McNeill’s status as a credibly accused sex abuser.

“It’s important to make the distinction between being deemed as credibly accused by our review board vs. convicted or charged criminally or civilly,” Hammons responded. “If convictions were never brought against one of the persons listed, once their faculties have been removed, we cannot force them to report to us or even to tell us their location if they move away from the Diocese.”

McNeill, of course, had been criminally charged in Arizona in 1971, according to the lawsuit. In addition, the Gallup Diocese had settled the civil complaint against him in 1995.

Hammons was also asked why she hadn’t issued a news release about McNeill’s death.

“Bishop Wall asked me to make the public notice, and it was my decision – not chancery officials’ – to first inform our priests, then social media, and finally to post a statement on our website and newsletter next week,” she said.



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