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Financial records sought from Franciscan Friars

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An attorney representing alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Gallup bankruptcy case is seeking insurance and financial records from the Franciscan Friars, which for years posted members at parishes in New Mexico and Arizona.

Twelve sexual abuse claims filed as part of the bankruptcy identify seven Franciscan priests as the alleged abusers, according to court records.

In addition, many of the sexual abuse claims allegedly took place during the tenure of Bishop Bernard Espelage, a Franciscan priest who served as the first bishop of the Gallup diocese from 1939 until 1970, records said.

The Diocese of Gallup filed for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in November 2013, making it the ninth U.S. diocese to file for bankruptcy in response to sexual abuse lawsuits.

James Stang, a Los Angeles attorney representing 56 alleged abuse victims who filed claims in the case, filed motions asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma to order two Franciscan provinces to provide records in the case.

In July, Thuma ordered the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, to turn over insurance and financial records to claimants in the case.

Stang sought the records from the Texas diocese because the late Rev. Clement Hagaman was transferred to Gallup from the Diocese of Corpus Christi in 1940, court records said.

Hagaman, who served as pastor in several Gallup parishes until his death in 1975, is alleged to have sexually abused 18 people who filed claims in the bankruptcy case, Stang said in a recent interview.

The diocese ultimately must rely on revenue from insurance policies and real estate sales to pay bankruptcy settlement costs, including legal costs and payments to victims, Stang said.

Stang is seeking records from two provinces of the Franciscan Friars – the Ohio-based Province of St. John the Baptist, and the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe, based in New Mexico and Arizona.

Before 1985, all Franciscan priests serving in the Diocese of Gallup were members of the Province of St. John the Baptist, according to court records.

Since the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe was formed in December 1984, virtually all Franciscan priests serving in New Mexico and Arizona have been members of the new province.

In a motion filed on Monday, an attorney said that the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe should not be required to turn over records because the alleged abuses occurred from 1960 to 1979, ending several years before the province was formed.

Thuma had not ruled on the motions as of Tuesday.