For three decades, a former priest church officials say admitted to sexually abusing dozens of boys lived freely in New Mexico. A Catholic diocese in Iowa had sent Jerome P. Coyle to a church-run treatment center in New Mexico in 1986. Then he stayed, potentially putting children at risk even as the church remained silent about a history they now say he disclosed in Iowa.
It’s not uncommon for the Ortiz family to invite a stranger in for a meal or even a night. They’re devout Catholics, and 12 years ago, Jerry Coyle seemed like he could use a friend.
"I was the choir director at Risen Savior Catholic Community," recalls Reuben Ortiz, "and after the mass, he came over and told me he liked my voice." His wife, Tania, recalls her first impression of Coyle as "a very meek, slumped-over, lonely old man."
They took him to lunch, and from then on they say "Jerry" became like part of the family. He was around for holidays and birthdays of their three young kids – daughters aged one and five, and a three-year-old son.
It wasn’t until they’d been friends with Coyle for a couple years that he even told them he’d been a priest. Eventually, he told them he had inappropriately touched a few children, but they say he downplayed it and assured them it was all in the past.
"My heart was speaking louder than my mind," said Tania. Both parents now regret allowing Coyle to get so close, but at the time she says "I was just trying to show him love."
In November 2017, Coyle was in a car accident, and the Ortizes took him in while he recovered. They say it was close quarters, with the girls sharing a room and their son Richard's room just ten steps down the hall.
While Coyle was still living with them, in February 2018, a letter came from the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa. Coyle was told that he shouldn’t be staying with a family with kids, that he’d get an increase in his monthly stipend to find a different living situation. And the Ortizes were shocked to learn from the letter that before Coyle moved to the Albuquerque area, he had revealed to his bishop a history of sexual contact with, not a few, but about 50 pre-teen and teenaged boys over a 20-year period.
"I’ve never seen a letter quite like this," said Levi Monagle, an attorney with the law offices of Brad D. Hall who has represented dozens of survivors of priest sex abuse.
The Ortizes hired Monagle to try to hold Coyle and the church accountable. He says the Diocese of Sioux City should have informed victims' families and gone to law enforcement back in the ‘80s.
"How could they, in good conscience, allow a man they deemed to be dangerous to be exposed to children in New Mexico for 30 years?" demanded Monagle. "And is this symptomatic of a larger problem? How many Jerry Coyles are out there?"
The New Mexico Attorney General announced a broad investigation into the state’s three Roman Catholic Dioceses this fall. That followed a Pennsylvania grand jury report that made national headlines and outlined decades of covered-up sex abuse in the Church there.
For the Ortiz family, part of the saga ended in June, when two church officials came, packed up Coyle's belongings and put him on a plane to Iowa. The Diocese of Sioux City has moved him into a care facility near a school, the Associated Press reports. Law enforcement there has opened an investigation.
Over the years, the Ortiz family has participated in multiple parishes in Albuquerque, they've written original religious music, made music videos and even traveled abroad to perform as the group Silverbird. Having been so involved in the Catholic community, says Reuben, makes the betrayal especially painful.
He's reached out to multiple church leaders, including Archbishop Wester of Santa Fe, and says he's gotten no helpful response. Talking with Annette Klimka, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe victims’ assistance coordinator, only made things worse.
"She made me feel like I was guilty: ‘You didn’t bring this to our attention for three months’," Ortiz recalls. "I said well, you guys have kept this a secret for 35 years, so who’s guilty here?"
KUNM has asked the Archdiocese of Santa Fe repeatedly for an interview for this story, and they have not responded.
Reuben and Tania are terrified that Coyle may have done something to their son, Richard. Reuben himself was sexually abused by an uncle as a child, and says he didn't recall that incident until he was in his 30s. His son says nothing happened, but Reuben worries he could remember something years from now, and the damage could be done.
"I think it’s affected us as a family, the way we communicate," said Ortiz, because our trust has been invaded."
The family doesn’t go to Mass much anymore. They pray in their home for the type of comfort that they no longer get from Catholic Church leaders.
Editor's Note: This story has been edited to include additional attribution regarding allegations of abuse.
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