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Roman Catholic Bishop Oscar Cantu, a former Las Cruces bishop, is under investigation by the Vatican for the alleged mishandling of “clerical sexual abuse and misconduct” complaints at the Diocese of Las Cruces from 2013 to 2018, according to a news report by the Catholic News Agency.
The investigation into Cantu is being carried out under Vos estis lux mundi, a law established by Pope Francis in 2019, the News Agency reported. Cantu is being investigated under articles of the sexual abuse law concerning: “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious regarding the derelicts” of sexual abuse.
Cantu is currently a bishop in San Jose, California.
In a statement posted on the Dioceses of San Jose Twitter page, Cantu said, “I support the Vos Estis protocols to ensure the accountability of bishops and to bring justice and healing to victims/survivors, and I intend to cooperate fully with any inquiry.”
Vatican officials close to the investigation stressed that this is not a trial, the Catholic News Agency reported.
“The bishop has every presumption of innocence and remains in office, as is proper. The process will continue and develop as is appropriate,” an official said, according to the News Agency.
Instead of the investigation being overseen by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, it will be handled by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix.
The Diocese of Las Cruces has had a history of sexual abuse accusations since its foundation in 1982, according to documents released by the Diocese. The most recent complaints filed against clerics there came in 2019, and involved Juan Montoya and Forest McAllister. Montoya died in 2013, and McAllister died in 1997. At least 60 priests there have had “credible claims” of sexual abuse made against them, according to the documents.
From 2013 to 2018, during Cantu’s time in Las Cruces as bishop, at least 13 priests had “credible” complaints brought against them in terms of sexual abuse.
After Cantu left the Diocese of Las Cruces, the diocesan office released thousands of pages of reports concerning 28 priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
In February, the Diocese of Las Cruces voluntarily shared personnel files with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and was able to identify an additional 13 priests accused of sexual abuse while serving at another diocese.
The Diocese of Las Cruces declined to comment on the investigation. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the Diocese of Phoenix did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.