Gallup diocese called on to release church records

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An attorney who filed 13 lawsuits against the Diocese of Gallup on behalf of alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse said the disclosure of church records will be an essential part of any settlement in the diocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.

Robert Pastor, a Phoenix attorney, said claimants and their attorneys in the case are adamant that the diocese must release church records, including the personnel files of accused priests.

Attorneys working toward a settlement told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma of Albuquerque last week that they intend to file a reorganization plan with the court later this month.

“Exposure of these facts is critical to why we bring these cases,” said Pastor, who filed suits against the diocese from 2010-13.

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“We are not going to settle unless those files are exposed,” he said. “There may be a delay in exposure, but those files are coming out. They must.”

The Diocese of Gallup in 2013 became the nation’s ninth Roman Catholic diocese to file for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in response to civil lawsuits filed by alleged victims of clerical sex abuse.

The Diocese of Gallup has published a list of 30 priests and one lay teacher accused of “credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor” assigned to parishes in New Mexico and Arizona, according to a statement written by Bishop James Wall.

To date, the personnel file of only one priest, the Rev. Clement Hageman, has been disclosed publicly in response to a 2010 lawsuit, Pastor said. Hageman, who worked in the diocese for 35 years until his death in 1975, has been identified as the abuser of 16 people who have filed claims in the bankruptcy case.

In all, 57 alleged victims have filed claims in the case.

Neither Jim Stang, a Los Angeles attorney who represents the claimants, nor Susan Boswell, a Phoenix attorney representing the diocese, responded to requests for comment last week.

Richard Fass, a Houston attorney who represents an undisclosed number of alleged victims, said the disclosure of documents pertaining to abuse has been part of other bankruptcy settlements.

Disclosures are among the “nonmonetary” issues addressed in bankruptcy reorganization plans, Fass said. Other nonmonetary issues may include changes in church policy, apologies and counseling for victims, he said.

Fass declined to comment on whether document disclosures are among the nonmonetary issues under discussion in the Diocese of Gallup settlement.

“Until the settlement is final, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on specifics,” he said.

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