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Archbishop of Santa Fe: ‘Sadness and shame over betrayal of trust’

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has received only two allegations of clergy sexual misconduct involving children since 1993 due to the numerous strict measures the church has implemented to prevent further abuse, Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester wrote in an op-ed piece published in today’s Sunday Journal.

Archbishop John C. Wester

Psychological screening and background checks for prospective clergy and other zero-tolerance policies, such as training programs and workshops, are among steps taken, Wester said in the public letter and apology addressed to “My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.”

As a result of the measures, “the Archdiocese has received only two reports of clergy sexual misconduct with a minor where the incident was reported to have occurred later than 1993,” he wrote.

Wester also expressed “sadness and shame over the betrayal of trust” by clergy “who were supposed to love and protect our children,” and for the suffering of abuse survivors.

“I offer my sincere apology on behalf of the Archdiocese to survivors and their families and my continued commitment to support and assist you on your road to healing and recovery,” Wester wrote.

The letter follows the recent release by the archdiocese of a list of 74 clergy credibly accused of abuse and more than 1,000 pages of documents that shed light on how the church allowed three pedophile priests to continue to prey on New Mexico children more than 20 years ago.

Brad Hall, an Albuquerque attorney who has filed more than 70 lawsuits against the archdiocese on behalf of clergy abuse victims, said he welcomes any steps the archdiocese takes to prevent abuse and help survivors.

“Certainly those are all steps in the right direction,” Hall said of the measures listed by Wester.

Some steps taken by the archdiocese, such as the release last month of a list of 74 clergy, were measures demanded for years by victims and long resisted by the archdiocese, he said.

Hall also said that not enough time has passed to know whether clerical abuse in the archdiocese ended in the early 1990s.

“There is an average of 30 years between sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust and the first time the survivor discloses it,” Hall said. “Hopefully, these days kids would report much sooner, but we don’t know.”

Wester listed a variety of steps taken by the archdiocese to prevent sexual abuse. In 1993, the archdiocese adopted a “zero tolerance” policy that removes any priest credibly accused of sexual abuse.

“Of the 74 names on the Archdiocese’s list of accused clergy, those who are still living have been permanently restricted from public ministry or removed from the priesthood,” he wrote.

Wester listed other measures the archdiocese has taken. They include:

⋄  Seminary candidates must undergo extensive psychological examinations before they are admitted to a seminary, and clergy receive ongoing sexual abuse awareness and prevention training.

⋄  Counseling is provided for victims of clergy abuse at the archdiocese’s expense.

⋄  The archdiocese provides annual children and youth protection classes at every grade level in the Catholic school system.

⋄  The archdiocese has formed an institutional review board to advise the archbishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse. The archdiocese participates in an independent audit conducted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to measure compliance with that body’s guidelines for protecting children.

Wester also said he personally meets with and apologizes to victims of clergy abuse, as did his predecessor, Archbishop Michael Sheehan.

Last week, the archdiocese announced a series of panel discussions scheduled from Nov. 7 to Jan. 31 at five parishes around the New Mexico.

The goal of the panels is “to promote further transparency and healing,” and obtain ideas about how to protect children, he wrote.

The announcement came less than a week after a court-ordered disclosure of church records about three former archdiocese priests: Arthur Perrault, Sabine Griego and Jason Sigler.

“Although their crimes were committed decades ago, it is my hope that the release of these documents to the public will further aid in the healing process for past victims and their families,” Wester wrote.

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