Diocese still withholding docs
Attorneys claim release of info would violate federal law

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
October 19, 2018

GALLUP — Several attorneys connected to the Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy case are disputing Bishop James S. Wall’s stance for not producing documents for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ investigation into clergy sex abuse.

Balderas had sent a demand letter to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the Diocese of Gallup and the Diocese of Las Cruces on Sept. 5, requesting thousands of pages of information concerning clergy sex abuse, misconduct and cover-up over a nearly 70year period of time. The submission deadline was Oct. 5.

The Gallup Diocese has posted a number of statements, press releases and a letter by its attorneys on its website, claiming the diocese would be in violation of federal law if it turned over documents pertaining to clergy sex abuse and cover-up as requested by the Office of the New Mexico Attorney General.

“While the Diocese of Gallup is wholly committed to cooperation with law enforcement agencies and to protection of minors and our parishioners, many of the records recently requested by the New Mexico Attorney General are sealed through federal courts, following the conclusion of our recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy process,” Suzanne Hammons, a spokeswoman for the Gallup Diocese, said in a statement released Oct. 12.

According to Hammons, Wall was inviting the attorney generals of New Mexico and Arizona “to review files relevant to investigations into clergy abuse,” following federal court permission.

“We encourage the offices of both Attorneys General to seek permission from the Federal Bankruptcy Court to be allowed access to confidential files,” she said. “If the request is granted, we invite the Attorneys General to visit our offices in Gallup to review files relevant to any investigations they may undertake, as the majority of records kept by the Diocese of Gallup are available in physical format only, and could take many months to process for digital delivery.”

In contrast, officials with the Diocese of Las Cruces have told the media they are in the process of scanning at least 100,000 pages of documents for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.

Attorneys dispute diocese claim

The “confidential files” in question are believed to be the personnel files of credibly accused clergy sex abusers. During the Diocese of Gallup bankruptcy case, members of the unsecured creditors committee, all survivors of clergy sex abuse, requested the public release of the personnel files. In response, Wall and his attorneys refused the request and threatened to scuttle the Chapter 11 settlement agreement with abuse claimants if the committee pushed the issue.

James Stang, the lead bankruptcy attorney who represented the unsecured creditors committee, disputed Wall’s position that he can’t voluntarily share copies of the personnel files with New Mexico’s attorney general. Stang has represented more than 13 creditors’ committees in bankruptcy cases involving sexual abuse, including a dozen involving Catholic dioceses and religious orders. Stang and his law firm are currently representing the unsecured creditors committee in the Weinstein Co. bankruptcy, which includes alleged victims of former film producer Harvey Weinstein.

“I’m not aware of any court order that restricts access to those personnel files,” Stang said Thursday by telephone.

Stang said the only documents sealed under court order by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David T. Thuma were the “proof of claims” forms filed by clergy sex abuse claimants in the Gallup Diocese bankruptcy case. Information about those claimants – their names, addresses and details of their allegations – were sealed by Thuma.

Priest abuser files

Meredith Edelman, a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University and a former bankruptcy attorney, was also contacted Thursday. As part of her academic research, Edelman followed the Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy case.

In an email, Edelman said the Diocese of Gallup’s plan of reorganization allowed copies of priest abuser personnel files to be provided to the lawyers for the victims/claimants, and the claimants could view those files at the lawyers’ offices. However, she explained, the abuse claimants couldn’t make copies or keep any of those records, and the lawyers were required to destroy their copies of the documents after a certain time period.

“Those limitations are placed on the victims and their lawyers, however, and not the diocese,” Edelman said. “The court order confirming the plan would indeed prevent any of the victims or their counsel from distributing these records, but I do not see any reason the diocese would be prevented from turning its files over to state attorneys general by the bankruptcy plan.”

‘Wall not committed to transparency’

“There is nothing that prohibits the Bishop of Gallup from voluntarily releasing the files of pedophile priests,” agreed Phoenix attorney Robert E. Pastor, who represented 18 abuse claimants in the Diocese of Gallup bankruptcy case.

“Bishop Wall’s decision to hide behind an order from the bankruptcy court is proof that Bishop Wall is not committed to transparency nor is he committed to healing the wounds caused by clergy sexual abuse,” Pastor said. “Bishop Wall is committed to protecting the reputation of priests; keeping intact the culture of clericalism. Unfortunately, the faithful Catholics of the Gallup Diocese will have to keep waiting for a true shepherd who will exercise real leadership.”




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