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Editorial: Painful documents help in church, victims’ healing

It took a court order, but the Archdiocese of Santa Fe last week released nearly 1,000 pages from its personnel files that shed additional light on the unconscionable actions of three pedophile priests over three decades – and the extraordinary efforts taken by the church to cover up the crimes they committed against young New Mexicans.

Accompanying the documents was a letter of apology from Archbishop John C. Wester to the survivors “for the pain and suffering you have endured.”

“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,” Wester wrote. He pledged “to support and assist you on your road to recovery.” He has written an even more detailed letter scheduled to be published in the Sunday Journal.

The documents are painful reading for victims, their families, parishioners, church officials and anyone who cares about them and the church. But they help bring the problem into the open, which, had it happened decades earlier, would have spared many victims. It also widens the path to closure, healing and renewed vigilance against future abuses.

To its credit, the archdiocese continues to pull the problem out of the shadows – a direct reversal of decades of denial, obfuscation and refusal to acknowledge the problem, let alone attempt to address it and its aftermath.

For New Mexicans, lawsuits and victims’ stories began to emerge in the early 1990s, but the archdiocese released few details of those cases. In December 2014, the Diocese of Gallup released of a list of credibly accused clergy, along with letter of apology to victims from Bishop James S. Wall.

Last month, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe published a list of 74 priests, deacons and religious brothers who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in New Mexico. Wester has promised to update that list with names of the parishes where the 74 worked, and we urge him to include when they were at those parishes as well.

These are encouraging actions, hopefully indicative of a new approach the church will take with problem clergy and their victims. It’s expensive – numerous lawsuits and settlements lhave been addressed, and there will likely be more – but these difficult steps must be taken to make victims, and the church, as close to whole as humanly possible.

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.