A Santa Fe man says he was defamed when the Archdiocese of Santa Fe last year published the names of 74 men it said were Catholic clergy who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in New Mexico.
Rudy Blea, in a state court lawsuit, says he has never been a member of the clergy and that Archbishop John C. Wester and other church officials have refused to correct the archdiocese’s September news release, which came after years of complaints by victims over a lack of transparency about the history of sexual abuse by priests in the state.
Blea says that in the archdiocese’s list of accused abusers, he was wrongly identified as a member of the Benedictine Order.
“By implication,” the lawsuit states, the archdiocese “announced to the world” that Blea “was a Benedictine priest who was a child molester.” The archdiocese list actually identified Blea as “Br. Rudy Blea” of the Benedictines, meaning as a “brother” or monk.
Blea says in the new lawsuit that he has never been a member of the Benedictine order or “employed by them or lived in residence with them at any time during his life,” nor has he ever been “a brother, monk, deacon or priest in any diocese of the Catholic church.”
Court records do show that Blea was accused of sexual abuse and of being a monk in a 1994 lawsuit that also named the archdiocese, the Benedictines and a former bishop as defendants. Blea was alleged in that case to have been a monk from the Benedictine monastery in rural Pecos, east of Santa Fe, where a minor male was allegedly molested.
While acknowledging that he gave talks at a religious retreat in Albuquerque that the accuser attended, Blea denied in a 1995 court filing that he was a monk or that he had committed any sexual molestation.
In their own answer to the 1994 suit, the Benedictines said Blea had no connection with them.
“Indeed, the Benedictines do no know who Blea is or that he ever existed,” a footnote in a court filing says.
This litigation was settled by agreement of all parties a few months later, without any determination in the court records about the accusations against Blea.
His new lawsuit against the archdiocese was filed Tuesday by Santa Fe attorney Pierre Levy. An archdiocese spokeswoman said Thursday the archdiocese typically doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The church’s list of accused clergy – priests, brothers and deacons – was published in the Journal and other New Mexico newspapers, and can now be found on numerous websites that follow cases of sexual abuse by priests.
Archbishop Wester said in September that the list was “a critical step” in the archdiocese’s attempt to improve transparency and promote healing. “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 in a statement introducing the list.
‘Cease and desist’ order
After the list of accused abusers came out, Blea’s new suit says, he was “horrified.” He contacted an archdiocese human resources official. She never investigated his protest that his name was wrongfully on the list, the suit says.
Instead, she ordered Blea to “cease and desist” any contact with the parish of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, whose church bulletins available online name him as a lay eucharistic minister or server, or with any other parish in the archdiocese.
He likewise was told to stay away from the Villa Therese Catholic Clinic near the cathedral, where the lawsuit says Blea was a volunteer member on the board of directors. A priest at the cathedral gave Blea the same directives, according to the suit.
Blea said he wrote to Wester and “explained his history in great detail” in an effort to clear his name, but no action was taken. He also had a telephone conversation with the archdiocese’s vicar general, who promised a citizen’s review board would take up his protest, but that never happened, the lawsuit says. It states the archdiocese made “vile and harmful public accusations” against Blea, but “never made a proper investigation of any past allegations.”
The lawsuit notes that when the archdiocese released the list of accused clergy, the news release said it had not included the names of “those clergy or religious where the accusations against them were withdrawn or were bound to be unsubstantiated after investigation” or those “who may have been the subject of an accusation, but where we never received any further information about or substantiation of those accusations.”
Along with defamation, Blea’s suit accuses the archdiocese of false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages.