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Editorial: Gallup Diocese re-abuses victims with settlement

The Diocese of Gallup drives a hard bargain – one in which truth is a casualty.

In the case of the $21 million settlement to victims of priest sexual abuse it’s a deal that essentially re-abuses the victims by making them fear they might lose their hard-fought settlements if they reveal details of their abuse. In one case, a victim was so afraid of court sanctions he did not dare to look at the one record that pertained to his abuse.

The court-approved settlement agreement allows a victim just a one-time “eyes only” access to a single file pertaining to that victim’s abuser. It strictly prohibits sharing or duplicating the password-protected electronic contents, which will be destroyed after a year.

The diocese threatened to withdraw the settlement when attorneys for the victims sought to have the church publicly release personnel files of accused priests.

Such a bully tactic certainly seems to indicate a lack of contrition. But it appears to be business as usual for the church, whose leadership for years kept hidden from its faithful members the abuse visited on innocent children by some clergy.

Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester, whose areas of oversight includes the Gallup Diocese and who has said he won’t tolerate abuse, should use his influence to correct this poor treatment of past victims.

The church routinely stakes out what it believes is the high moral ground on issues ranging from abortion to immigration to end of life. That’s not the case when it comes to the past misdeeds of its clergy and the impact on finances. Its position on these records shows that maintaining secrecy about abuse and how it was handled are its top priorities.

An undated letter posted on the diocese’s website from Gallup Bishop James S. Wall states his “ongoing commitment to protection of children and to further my goal of transparency within this Diocese, we have determined that there are additional priests against whom there have been credible allegations of child abuse who worked in various places within the Diocese.” It states that their names, places and dates of service and those of previously named priests will be posted on the website.

Wall’s letter also states that the “survivors who have come forward should be commended for their bravery and courage, and I express my deepest apologies for the actions of those who violated the trust of the survivors and the parishioners within the Diocese by committing these terrible acts.”

Despite those promises of transparency and support for victims, the diocese’s hypocritical take-it-or-leave-it deal is punitive, essentially re-abusing the victims. So when Bishop Wall ascends to the pulpit to lecture on the moral topic of the day, he should reconsider the church’s policy of continuing to conceal decades of predatory criminal activities.

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.

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