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Gallup diocese ordered to pay settlements to abuse victims

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For nearly 60 years, he kept the memories of his rape a secret, not telling his parents or later a string of wives and children that when he was 8, his priest raped him.

That act and more by the Rev. Clement Hageman in a Catholic church in Gallup in 1949 stayed buried, surfacing in his life as a struggle to maintain marriages and a struggle to shed a haunted sexuality.

But in 2008, the memories finally burst out and he became one of the first in Arizona and New Mexico to file a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church’s Diocese of Gallup.

He and his girlfriend drove from Phoenix to Albuquerque on Tuesday to hear a federal bankruptcy judge order the Diocese of Gallup to pay settlements to him and about 55 other victims of predatory priests.

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U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David T. Thuma’s ruling ends the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case against the diocese, which will reorganize to pay $21 million in settlement payments to the victims.

Most victims will likely get an average $350,000 payment. And attorneys have agreed to cap their total payment at about $3.5 million.

Thuma said the settlement was “monetarily a good resolution for the abuse victims” in what he called a “kind of catastrophe for the abuse victims and the church.”

Many of the victims have struggled with depression, addiction, prison or homelessness.

Diocese of Gallup’s Bishop James Wall told the court that he intended to do “all that I can” to make sure that “something like this … never happens again.”

“Bad men committed bad and sinful acts against good people, and there’s no excuse for that,” he told the court and the victims. He said he will work toward a “sense of healing and sense of peace.”

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The money indeed is some consolation, said victim Prudence Jones, who is in her 40s. But what she and other victims also want, she said on Tuesday, is for the church to release the predatory priests’ files to the public.

“For many folks, they couldn’t talk about what happened to them. If they could see these records, it gives survivors of abuse the proof they need, even just for themselves, an immediate validation and can give courage to open a dialogue to heal,” Jones said.

But the Diocese of Gallup has no plans to release the records, diocese communication director Suzanne Hammons told the Journal Tuesday afternoon. She said she understands the victims’ request and frustration.

“But those will not be made available to the public. It’s not because we are trying to hide something. It (the file) doesn’t just contain information about that particular priest or clergy member. A lot of time there is a lot of information about other parties, other names that didn’t have anything to do with abuse cases. It is an attempt on our part to leave other people out of it,” she said.

That choice, she said, is the choice of each diocese and is not a directive from the larger Roman Catholic Church.

The common practice of the Diocese of Gallup cases has been to allow the victim to see the church file on the individual perpetrator, but to not release the documents to the public.

But some documents on Hageman and other predatory priests who raped children in the Diocese of Gallup area have been collected by the group BishopAccountability.org, a group that documents abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church. Documents on the site show that rumors of the Rev. Hageman’s pattern of raping young boys were officially known for years before he was moved to the Diocese of Gallup, where he molested and raped more boys, sometimes singling them out during their time in the confessional booth.

Hammons called Hageman “one of the worst of the time” noting “unfortunately there were quite a few” predatory priests. The diocese has confirmed 31 rapist and molester priests active in its region between 1939 and 2005, according to the diocese website.

Hageman was a priest in the Gallup diocese from 1940 until his death in 1975, and was assigned to parishes in Thoreau, NM, and three Arizona parishes in Winslow, Holbrook and Kingman.

One victim in court Tuesday testified that he was initially scared of confession time with Hageman and later had his “fear confirmed.” Hageman treated the boy, who had expressed interest in being a priest, to a special trip out of town, buying him dinner and comics and letting the boy play at the pool.

That night, Hageman raped the boy in the hotel room, according to his testimony. The boy was 10. Hageman continued in the weeks and years later to manipulate and assault the boy, who as a teenager ran away from the church, abandoned his dream of being a priest and instead joined the military. He recalled a trip to a seminary as a teen.

“A tour of Vietnam was more appealing than a few days at a Catholic seminary,” he told the court.

The trauma of the abuse reverberated through his life, he said, setting up destructive patterns that kept him from happiness, peace and success. He condemned the church.

“They do not worship God. They worship money, their land, their buildings, the cathedral,” he said.

His wife said she and her husband, like most of the other victims present in court on Tuesday, hadn’t attended all of the hearings but felt compelled to attend on Tuesday as part of their healing process and for closure.

The settlements end a three-year case against the Diocese of Gallup region of the Roman Catholic Church. The diocese has separately settled other lawsuits with other victims.

Part of the settlement money will go into a fund for any future lawsuits brought against the Diocese.

Funding will come from 11 sources, the largest share – $11.55 million – from Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, a nonprofit that insures many Roman Catholic dioceses. Catholic Mutual insured the diocese from 1977 to 1990, when some of the abuses occurred. The Diocese of Gallup will contribute $3 million and may have to sell its chancery offices in Gallup, subject to the terms of a loan agreement with a bank. Other sources include money from the Diocese of Phoenix, some parishes and Catholic foundations.

In November 2013, the Diocese of Gallup became the ninth Roman Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy in response to a growing number of lawsuits filed by people alleging that, as children, they had been sexually abused by clergy members. More than a dozen of the 195 dioceses in the nation have been sued.

Hammons said the hearing on Tuesday closes what she expects to be the last of suits against the diocese because of the efforts made to reach all possible victims. She said the church chose to go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy to settle the mass of cases at once instead of the civil suit route in which each individual victim would have to pursue his own case and possibly have to testify.

“The whole purpose of this, the whole reason is not at all to dodge the responsibility. It was to actually bring them (victims) all, all of the past possible people, to make sure they receive something to help them move forward with healing,” Hammons said. “This will hopefully cover all their needs … This ultimately is a good thing. It’s good we were able to find so many people. Now they get to get counseling. They have their voices heard.”

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