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Archbishop warns about potential trauma from ‘Spotlight’

SANTA FE, N.M. — The upcoming release of a movie detailing the Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of clergy abuse may bring up “horrific memories” for New Mexico victims of sex abuse, Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester said.

Archbishop John Wester has released a letter about potential strong reactions to the movie "Spotlight," which tells the story of a 2002 investigation of clergy child abuse

Archbishop John Wester has released a letter about potential strong reactions to the movie “Spotlight,” which tells the story of a 2002 investigation of clergy child abuse. (The Associated Press)

In a recent letter to Archdiocese of Santa Fe priests and parishioners last week, Wester said that the movie “Spotlight” is a chance for the faithful to pray for abuse victims.

“The film will undoubtedly touch a raw nerve for those abused by the clergy, opening old wounds and triggering horrific memories that continue to haunt and disturb them,” Wester wrote.

However, Wester said, it was up to church leadership to reach out to those who were victimized. “The Archdiocese of Santa Fe and I are resolutely committed to seeking the forgiveness of those who have been abused by Roman Catholic clergy and at the same time dedicated to the aid in the reconciliation and healing process,” he said.

New Mexico was at the center of similar scandals years before the Boston stories. The Servants of Paraclete facility, formerly known as Via Coeli in northern New Mexico, served for years as a place to treat priests accused of sexual abuse. But those priests were later assigned to parishes across New Mexico and Arizona, where they continued to abuse children, according to various lawsuits.

In addition, Santa Fe Archbishop Robert Sanchez resigned in 1993 amid allegations of sexual relations with women.

Wester said that, since the crisis, the archdiocese has adopted a number of reforms including required background checks and “safe environment” training.

His letter comes as high-ranking leaders of the Catholic church have sent talking points to U.S. dioceses in advance of the wide release of “Spotlight.”

The Boston Globe reports that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formulated the guidance, complete with statistics, in September in anticipation of the film’s Nov. 20 U.S. release.

Diocese of Gallup spokeswoman Suzanne Hammons said the diocese has not sent a diocesan-wide letter, but that it is using USCCB resources for anyone who might contact the Gallup chancery offices with questions related to the film.

The Diocese of Gallup, which serves a large part of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona, filed for bankruptcy in 2013 as lawsuits mounted over claims of clergy sex abuse.

“Similar to the Archdiocese of Boston, though, all Dioceses in the U.S. have undertaken big changes in the last decade, and this includes the Diocese of Gallup,” Hammons said. “Every single employee and volunteer, for example, must undergo yearly training on how to spot and prevent abuse.”

Like the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the Diocese of Gallup plans on using the movie to talk about various reforms adopted, such as background checks and confidentially reporting.