If confession is good for the soul, then the Archdiocese of Santa Fe recently took a significant – and past-due – step toward cleansing the soul of the Roman Catholic Church here. For the first time, the archdiocese last week published a list of 74 clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in New Mexico. Archbishop John C. Wester also issued an apology to the survivors “for the pain and suffering you have endured.”
In a statement accompanying the list of accused priests, deacons and religious brothers, Wester wrote: “It is my deepest hope that our publication of this list will serve as an important step in healing for survivors, their families, and our Church and communities.” He also pledged “to support and assist you on your road to recovery.”
The public cleansing opens the gates for healing and closure, validating the claims of the then-children and teens who reported they were abused at the hands of men they once revered.
The archdiocese’s list contains the names of the clergy, their order or diocese and whether they are alive or deceased. Of the 74 named, 38 were reported as deceased. The archdiocese says it will be updating its list with names of the parishes where the 74 worked; when it does it should include when they were there as well.
The disclosure by the archdiocese has been long in coming, and was preceded in December 2014 by the Diocese of Gallup’s release of a list of credibly accused clergy there. That is posted on the diocese’s website, along with a letter of apology from Bishop James S. Wall.
Within the Catholic Church, knowledge of the abuse goes back at least three decades, but little was done to address the issue. However, allegations of clerical abuse became widely known in New Mexico in the early 1990s when lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese. In 1993, “60 Minutes” coverage revealing that then-Archbishop Robert Sanchez had sexual relations with several teenage girls led to his resignation. And the Albuquerque Journal published a series of stories about the breadth of the problem in New Mexico, in part because so many priests were sent for treatment to the Servants of the Paraclete center in Jemez Springs and then transferred to parishes throughout the state. Nationally, the breadth of clergy abuse burst into the public eye in 2002 when the Boston Globe published a series of articles on the scandal that rocked the church.
Many victims have had the courage to come forward. Many have filed lawsuits against the church and some have received settlements. But money alone can’t heal the damage done to young people at the hands of pedophile priests. Publication of the names and the apologies may help to mitigate the years of pain and shame victims suffered. Many likely are still dealing with their anguish in the shadows.
The blame and shame is not just on the clergy who did their criminal deeds in secret, but also on church officials who covered up for the predators and moved them from parish to parish or sent them to institutions to try to curb their sexual urges.
Is the listing and apology too little? Yes, but it’s an important step and the archdiocese has promised more information, and its counterparts in the Church should follow suit. It is never too late to step up and be accountable or try to make things right. Owning up to – and most importantly changing the culture that allowed the crimes to occur – are significant steps in the right direction, ones that hopefully will bring closure to those who were harmed.
Now, the examples set by church officials in Santa Fe and Gallup should resonate throughout the Catholic Church globally so the healing can begin in earnest.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.