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AG seeks records on potential abuse from all dioceses in state

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is seeking all documents related to potential abuse by priests and other clergy from all Catholic dioceses – Santa Fe, Gallup and Las Cruces – in New Mexico.

“Attorney General (Hector) Balderas has sent investigative demands to all three dioceses in New Mexico requiring full disclosure and full transparency,” AG spokesman David Carl said. “The Catholic Church in New Mexico needs to fully reconcile and support survivors by revealing the magnitude of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by church leaders in order to restore faith and trust in the community,” Carl said.

The Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces confirmed it received a letter from Balderas requesting documents in a review of possible cases of sexual abuse.

“We welcome this opportunity to cooperate with Attorney General Balderas,” Bishop Oscar Cantú said. “Having an independent authority reviewing our files can foster greater confidence in the transparency and accountability of the Diocese of Las Cruces.”

The attorney general sent letters Tuesday to Las Cruces Bishop Cantú, Gallup Bishop James Wall and Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester seeking the documents.

“I am writing to express my continued concern and assert that it is time to demand full disclosure and full transparency, I am focusing my efforts on assisting the victims of clergy sexual abuse,” Balderas said in the letter.

The attorney general said the demand was “in contemplation of litigation” and insisted that “all documents and/or data” related to the investigation of sexual abuse by priest or clergy members be preserved.

The letter sought access to diocesan personnel files, including those of clergy members who had previously served in the diocese, to review any possible material related to the sexual abuse of minors, according to the Las Cruces Diocese.

The Las Cruces Diocese “has begun the process of cooperating with their review of the files,” according to a statement released by the diocese Wednesday.

The Diocese of Gallup said in a statement issued Wednesday that it is also cooperating.

“In order to be proactive in the protection of children, the Diocese of Gallup is also reaching out to other potential interested parties, such as the Arizona Attorney General, as the diocese is located in both Arizona and New Mexico,” the statement said.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe said in a statement issued late Wednesday that it “intends to fully cooperate with legitimate authorities. We look forward to working with the Office of the Attorney General.” The statement also listed four “significant reforms” to ensure clergy abuse does not recur, including since 1993 “removing priests with credible allegations from ministry” and publishing a list of the names of “priests, deacons, religious and seminarians credibly accused of sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese.”

The inquiry in New Mexico follows a recent Pennsylvania grand jury investigation concluding that 300 priests had sexually abused children over seven decades. The grand jury reviewed more than 2 million church documents and reported that at least 1,000 children were victims of sexual abuse by clergy members. It also said several church leaders were involved in a cover-up.

The Pennsylvania investigation spanned 18 months and included six of the state’s dioceses. In his letter to bishops in New Mexico, Balderas noted the Pennsylvania grand jury report had revealed ties to New Mexico.

The report said bishops in Pennsylvania used the Servants of the Paraclete treatment center in Jemez Springs as a “laundry” for priests accused of sexual abuse so they could return home to their parishes.

The Law Offices of Brad D. Hall, LLC, in Albuquerque, which has represented more than 100 survivors of clerical sexual abuse, had asked Balderas to follow the lead of Pennsylvania’s attorney general and impanel a grand jury to investigate the alleged cover-up of clergy sexual abuse.