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Two new lawsuits accuse Jesuit priests of sexual abuse

A man carries a cross in front of Immaculate Conception Church. Two lawsuits accuse Jesuit priests from the church of molestation. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Allegations of clergy sexual molestation of children struck at the heart of a Downtown Albuquerque church Friday with the filing of two lawsuits claiming abuse by three Jesuit priests who once ministered there – one as recently as 2011.

In one of the two cases, the alleged victim, now 25 years old, contends he was sexually abused eight years ago at Immaculate Conception Church in Albuquerque. His lawyer says he is one of the youngest survivors to come forward in recent years.

In the other lawsuit, a woman contends she was molested by two Jesuit priests from Immaculate Conception Church, beginning in 1968, when she attended first grade at a nearby school. Sometimes both priests abused her at the same time, and often she was forced to drink large amounts of alcohol beforehand, her lawsuit alleges.

The defendants, including Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province, denied the allegations through a spokeswoman, Toni Balzano, who said their investigations did not support the claims.

Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall told the Journal that, despite the ongoing bankruptcy filing of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, clergy abuse cases are continuing to surface involving priests in religious orders, such as the Jesuits. The orders are not covered by the bankruptcy action, Hall said.

“The community at large should know that the priest abuse crisis in our state is not over,” Hall said, noting that the two new cases against the Jesuits are the result of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe advertising earlier this year to notify potential abuse survivors of their rights to file claims in its bankruptcy action.

The two alleged victims in the Immaculate Conception cases saw the ads and have filed proofs of claims against the archdiocese as well. Hall said his firm expects to file more lawsuits in the coming months against religious orders.

Last year, Immaculate Conception Church helped celebrate 150 years of the Jesuits’ presence in Albuquerque, with the parish celebrating 135 years as a Jesuit parish community, according to a Jesuit website. The parish offers meals to homeless people, outreach for single mothers, a direct service to immigrants who need help and a “ministry at a juvenile detention center,” the website says.

As part of the parish’s outreach to juveniles at the center, “John Doe 124” was permitted to perform “community service” on the Immaculate Conception church premises at age 17, his lawsuit says.

His family approved of his being sent to Immaculate Conception Parish by the New Mexico state probation system. Once there, his lawsuit says, he was to perform “community service, trusting that the defendants could keep Plaintiff safe from harm caused by sexual predation.”

But the lawsuit faults the parish and the Jesuits for permitting the Rev. J. Patrick Hough to “have unsupervised access to the (boy) through his status as staff and priest.”

Hough spent his first year as a priest at the Albuquerque church, but he moved on to other assignments after that.

The lawsuit contends that the Jesuits and the parish knew Hough was “professionally” interested in teenage boys and knew that the priest had “gone to the juvenile detention facility to volunteer his ‘assistance’ in the cases of teenage boys like Plaintiff.”

Hough allegedly knew that the “substantial power(s) of his priesthood were only amplified with respect to Catholic minors who needed his cooperation and assistance to fulfill the terms of their juvenile detention through ‘community service’ options as the teens wouldn’t want to otherwise be locked up.”

The Jesuits are alleged to have caused the abuse by permitting priests like Hough to hold positions of “substantial power over vulnerable minors, even in the face of waves of publicity that pedophiles remained hidden within Catholic organizations such as the Jesuits.”

“Our John Doe is the youngest plaintiff we’ve had,” said Hall, whose firm has filed claims for nearly 200 people alleging clergy abuse in New Mexico. “He’s still a young man.”

Social scientists say victims of clergy sexual abuse may take several decades to come forward.

But the average age “is getting lower and lower,” Hall said. Both alleged victims in the cases say they only came to understand last year the nature of the harm of their abuse.

Jesuit spokeswoman Balzano said, “Father Hough categorically denies this allegation. The Province has investigated the facts alleged and based on objective information obtained from witnesses, fully supports Fr. Hough’s denial and will work to defend his good name. Until this matter is resolved, Fr. Hough will not engage in public ministry.”

Apart from the complaint in this lawsuit, Hough has never been accused of abuse of a minor, Balzano said.

“When claims are found to be credible, the Province is committed to resolving them and to providing assistance to those who have been harmed. However, we also have an obligation to defend the truth when claims are believed not to be credible,” she added.

The other lawsuit is filed against two Jesuit priests who have since died, the Rev. Gerald Armstrong and the Rev. Alvin Pilie.

The lawsuit filed by “Jane Doe P.” alleges she attended an elementary school physically adjacent to the church at Copper and Sixth. She alleges the priests periodically summoned her from school or they pulled her aside during various breaks to “bring her to secluded areas of the parish where they would sexually abuse her.”

There were also times when the two priests took the girl to a mountain cabin and sexually assaulted her, the lawsuit alleges.

“Upon information and belief, this cabin in the mountains was owned by (the Jesuits and/or the parish),” the lawsuit says.

The alleged abuse ended when the girl switched schools for third grade.

Balzano told the Journal the Jesuit province has been aware of the claim since 2009, when it was first reported and investigated by a professional third-party investigative firm engaged by the Province.

“This report was found not to be credible at that time and no new information has been learned which changes that finding,” Balzano added.

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