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Editorial: Sheehan led archdiocese through abuse scandal

It’s hard to believe that what became a worldwide scandal involving Roman Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children largely got its start here in New Mexico more than two decades ago. But more than in other places, the issue has been dealt with directly and openly, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is stronger for it.

Credit that to Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who was placed in charge in 1993 as the scandal was unfolding. Sheehan recently announced he has submitted his letter of resignation. In July he turns 75, the age at which the church requires his offer to step down.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe was fortunate Pope John Paul II selected a strong leader and no-nonsense cleric who dealt firmly with the problem. In a 2003 audit the archdiocese received commendations for transparency and for its programs to prevent such crimes from reoccurring. Sheehan reported then that none of the 44 credibly accused priests or deacons remained in active ministry; the archdiocese had provided counseling to 193 people; and it had paid out $30.8 million in settlements and legal fees and for victim counseling. He raised the money largely by selling church properties.

Sheehan instituted strict rules to protect children and required training for priests, deacons and volunteers; and he made sure children in Catholic schools and parish religious education classes were taught about proper interactions with priests and adults in general.

At the same time, he also focused on increasing the number of men committing to priestly vocations and expanding the number of parishes in the archdiocese.

His retirement will be a loss for the archdiocese and for New Mexico, where Sheehan has been a voice on life and social issues. He will be missed.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.