Completing a settlement between victims of clergy sexual abuse and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is crucial for Roman Catholics in New Mexico.

First, the people injured by an institution that allowed its priests to harm children are owed reparations. The damage to these victims is incalculable; money is the least the church can do to compensate for the sins of the past.

As many New Mexicans know too well, the church that nurtured their faith and fed their souls also turned a blind eye to repeated reports that its clergy were molesting children. Preserving the church’s reputation was all that mattered.

For decades, accused priests were moved from parish to parish despite credible accusations of abuse. To make things worse, pedophiles from across the nation were sent for treatment to a center in Jemez Springs; like so many before them, these priests were captivated by New Mexico. They remained here and continued to molest children.

The scandal of an institution covering up for pedophile priests became widely known in the 1990s, with lawsuits, settlements and acknowledgement of the grievous harm done to hundreds of young people.

More recently, additional cases of past abuse have surfaced, with victims seeking justice by the only means remaining — civil lawsuits seeking millions in damages.

This current settlement could be more than $150 million, according to a federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 case filed three years ago.

That leads us to this reality: The people helping raise funds for the settlement — current parishioners across the diocese — have little to do with the actual crimes.

They were not running the show when past diocesan leaders moved pedophile clergy from parish to parish. Archbishop John C. Wester had no hand in it, either; these abuses date back decades, some occurring before he was ordained as a priest, much less running the diocese.

Yet it is the faithful of today who must put things right.

The archdiocese is selling property and asking for increased donations to gather enough money to settle these claims. In Santa Fe, the former St. Francis Cathedral School a few blocks from the Plaza and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center near Museum Hill are being sold to help increase the settlement fund. St. Pius X High School and the archdiocesan offices on the west side of Albuquerque potentially could be put on the market. The situation is dire.

A conditional settlement is near, although any agreement will have to be approved by a federal bankruptcy court. That agreement is critical, or victims could begin suing individual parishes, putting churches, schools, parish halls and other property at risk. The sins of the past are shadowing the future.

A federal judge has ruled victims still can pursue claims that the archdiocese transferred property and cash to its 93 parishes over the past decade, making it harder for victims to access them. Those lawsuits are on hold for now but could be revived should parties fail to settle.

If there is any good news in this mess, it is this: Settling the cases generously will begin to clean the slate.

And going forward, strict protocols are in place to prevent harm to children. We’ve heard that before, of course, but it’s imperative the church ensure no children are harmed. That means its actions — or inactions — can never be hidden ever again. Claims of sexual abuse must be investigated immediately. Alleged crimes must be referred to police.

This shameful chapter could be closing. Meanwhile, the reckoning continues. It is long overdue.

(7) comments

Frances Robinson

This is for The SF NM: Let's get real. There will NEVER be a clean slate for The Church or its victims -- particularly its victims. For the victims, there will be no "chapter closing". The Church will move on to this extent: when people really believe in Church teachings and really believe that they could go to Eternal Punishment after they die (if they don't "pay, pray and obey"), The Church will move on somewhat. Parents who didn't have a child abused -- they will be willing to "forgive and forget" -- to an extent. (After all, The Inquisition lasted 600-700 years and ended in only 1900. I bet the vast majority of lay Catholics even know that.) When Catholic dioceses, here in NM and around The US, have shielded and hidden assets in order to appear less 'opulent', in order that they don't have to pay out more, the sins of the past won't be the sins of the past for most people (and believe me, pedophilia and coverups will continue in The Church to the extent that pedophile priests and their bishops think they can get away with it) -- this "chapter" will be part of the future for a LONG time. How much trust in The Church do you really think that laity will really have? Some of the laity will remain -- out of fear of Eternal Punishment, if nothing else. But they won't be quite so trusting for many, many years to come. And rightfully so. At least one would hope that they not have blind trust anymore. (I find it amusing that my use of the word 'H' would not allow me to post this. So I resorted to "Eternal Punishment". :-) )

Frances Robinson

This is from Wikipedia. It could be wrong, of course, but it doesn't appear to be. "Wester was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of San Francisco on May 15, 1976.[1] He was appointed Associate Pastor at Saint Raphael Parish in San Rafael. In 1979, he became a teacher and Director of Campus Ministry at Marin Catholic High School. Wester later became President of the high school and eventually Assistant Superintendent for High Schools. In 1988, he became Assistant to the Archbishop." Since I was familiar, for decades, with the dioceses of LA, Orange County and San Diego, on more than just a superficial level, and I was and am aware of just how widespread the abuse and coverups were there, not to mention that I followed The Boston Globe's expose (Pulitzer-Prize-winning expose) about abuse and coverups in Massachusetts, and since Archbishop Wester was ordained in 1976, I'm willing to bet BIG money that he has been aware of The Church's abuse and coverups from the time he was ordained -- and, quite possibly, while he was in seminary. So, please, don't tell me that he is somehow innocent. More than likely, beginning with his elevation to auxiliary bishop, in San Francisco, he probably participated in coverups in The Archdiocese of San Francisco. And somewhat as an aside, if it hadn't been for The Boston Globe (in approx 2000), child sexual abuse and coverups in The US would probably still be going on. The BG was the catalyst in making the abuse and coverups throughout The US public. I'm not calling for Archbishop Wester to be tarred and feathered. I'm saying that he -- and his clergy peers -- are not exactly 'innocent'.

Raymond McQueen

It is indeed sad that most of the New Mexican's reporting on this both local and international crisis in this so-called “religion” glosses over the salient points of how both the local diocese and those throughout the U.S under the national bishops’ conference would devise schemes to shelter their assets from attachment to make sure that their victims – our children – would be assured the most minimal of settlements for their egregious crimes. Good Bishop Wester can make token gestures by calling for a day of prayer and atonement for the victims, all the while heading out to lavish banquet meals as proof of his personal atonement.

All of this criminal organization’s assets should be sold to pay these settlements and the bishop and his clergy should get “real” day jobs to support themselves and also pay for the crimes of their brethren.

As has been said many times before: SAVE THE CHILDREN, END CATHOLICISM

Frances Robinson

I'm not a big fan of The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Archbishop Western, The Vicar General Glennon Jones, and, at this point, The USCCB, but there are a few things you've said that need rebuttal. First of all, I have never heard "Save the children, end Catholicism"; and, so, it can't have been said "many times". Secondly, I'm the product of a Catholic school education, and, at age 72, I'm still very grateful for it. Almost all my childhood friends went to public school, and I (and my fellow students) were WAY ahead of them academically. Thirdly, approximately 50,000 public school children are sexually abused each and every year, through The US, but no one calls our public school system "criminal" and calls for it to be shut down. Fourthly, the percentage of pedophile priests is pretty much the same as it is in all walks of life, and, consequently, The Catholic Church is not exactly a hot bed of pedophiles. Yes, it appears that, for a fact, this Archdiocese transferred assets to shelter the assets, and, yes, I know, for a fact, that this has happened also in The Diocese that I originally came from in coastal Southern CA. I just cannot let you say things that are not quite true. Sexual abuse has occurred in Buddhist sanghas and in Jewish communities and, as I said, the public school system. I understand your anger -- I'm angry also -- religious institutions and schools should be safe places. Of all places, they should be the safest places. And they are not, unfortunately.

zach miller

Why would anyone want to be part of a parish that molests it members, even if that parish claims they only did that in the past. Seems like the best option is to close the doors of a corporation that used religion as a way to hide their crimes.

Chris Mechels

And, where was the New Mexican while all this was going on??? Investigating and exposing the problem?? Or avoiding it, as today they avoid reporting on police abuses.

The New Mexican should also be sued, for impersonating a newspaper.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Mr. Mechels, I can concur with you to a degree. In all Reality, Newspapers are first and foremost, businesses. Although, our Founding Fathers and Horace Greely alike would be turning in their respective graves, like all businesses Newspapers know their clientele, their target audience -if you will. They also know who or what in the community writes the really big checks, so, their extremely careful about who's tree they're shaking.

Anyway, I know of a Catholic church in Southern New Mexico that started a Boy Scout troop in the late-70's. A wealthy and prominent doctor in the congregation volunteered to give all the boys physicals (a pathologist??), of course the church gladly agreed. 10-years-later, the "good doctor" and prominent Catholic , was accused of child-molestation in another town a couple of hours east.

Ah, "Corporate Christianity".

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