Attorney For Abuse Victims Calls On Archdiocese To 'Become An Open Book'
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe now acknowledges 78 New Mexico priests accused of sexually abusing children since the 1930s. But many other accused priests from elsewhere in the United States spent time at treatment centers run by a Catholic order called the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico.
Levi Monagle, an attorney with the law offices of Brad D. Hall in Albuquerque, has represented dozens of victims of priest abuse. One of his lawsuits named George Weisenborn, a priest who was sent to the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs.
KUNM: Let's just start with one example - what's [Weisenborn's] story?
MONAGLE: Father Weisenborn was a priest from the East Coast, the D.C. area, who was caught on multiple occasions sexually abusing young boys. [He] was caught by police, and they would come to his order back East and say, ‘hey, you need to do something about this,” rather than prosecuting him, which is a whole other problem. Father Weisenborn’s order, when they reached out to the Servants as to whether or not they would accept Father Weisenborn, they said ‘We will. We would like a $10,000 donation to come along with him, but we’ll take him.’ So they did.
The intent was for him to remain with the Servants indefinitely, but within a few years, Father Weisenborn was assigned to New Mexico parishes, including St. Francis Xavier parish on South Broadway here in Albuquerque, and he abused a number of children there.
KUNM: Just to clarify, the Servants of the Paraclete is a separate entity from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
MONAGLE: Prior to 1971, the Servants of the Paraclete were under the authority of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. After 1971, the Servants of the Paraclete became an independent order, so they sort of called their own shots from there on out. But they are in geographic jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and the Archbishop of Santa Fe ultimately has a lot of pull within his geographic jurisdiction.
KUNM: Priests that were accused of sexual misconduct in any part of the U.S. could be sent to Jemez Springs, for a few months or longer. Would they have had any contact with children during that time period of treatment in New Mexico?
MONAGLE: Well, the Servants “lost” a lot of files over the years, so jjkwe don’t know exactly what the day-to-day life of a Paraclete priest looked like. We do know priests who were sent to the Servants of the Paraclete were not kept under lock and key. They did have freedom to travel, freedom to go home to visit family, and also freedom to go down to Albuquerque for the weekend and things like that.
Certainly there were times that priests who were sent to the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs were in contact with children during their treatment duration.
KUNM: You actually filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe this spring, in which you named dozens of accused priests who had been treated at the Servants of the Paraclete. How did the Archdiocese respond?
MONAGLE: The Archdiocese basically declined to respond to that. I think that’s the fairest way to characterize their response. Our allegations were listed in a complaint filed on behalf of one of our clients. We named all these priests specifically and asked the Archdiocese to either admit or deny that these priests had been accused of sexual misconduct, that these priests had spent time in New Mexico. And the Archdiocese, across the board, stated that they “lacked sufficient information” to either admit or deny either of those things about any of those priests.
The information that we were drawing on is all information in the public domain. With these priests, you can go out and Google any one of them and find either convictions in court records or newspaper stories discussing allegations or convictions. So this information was not hard to find.
KUNM: Currently, the Archdiocese acknowledges these 78 [credibly accused] priests, but you think the Archdiocese should acknowledge any and all priests accused of sexually abusing kids anywhere, who then spent time within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Is that right?
MONAGLE: That’s correct.
KUNM: Why? Explain a little more.
MONAGLE: The logic of putting together a list of “credibly accused” priests is that if you knew where these guys were and you knew when they were in particular places, you might be able to reach out to potential victims. So whether or not a priest is quote-unquote “working” in New Mexico, if a priest is living in New Mexico and is in contact with children in New Mexico, then the risk is the same. Of course I’m talking about a priest who’s credibly accused of childhood sexual abuse. So the distinction, in my opinion, is an artificial one, designed to minimize the scope of that list.
I don’t know – and I don’t know if the Archdiocese knows, which is scary – which of those additional [Paraclete] priests actually did spend time in New Mexico parishes, ministering to New Mexico families, and interacting with New Mexican children.
If [the Archdiocese] knows and they aren’t telling, then that’s a problem. And if they don’t know, then that’s also a problem, because what we’re trying to do is risk assessment, to sort of pick up the pieces of all this and try to help people who may have been harmed. The first task, if you’re doing that kind of triage, is assessing the scope of the damage accurately.
KUNM: Last month, a Pennsylvania grand jury report that drew national attention included at least ten priests accused of sexual abuse who were then sent to New Mexico for treatment. And at least one priest, the report says, “admitted to the indecent touching of a boy” while he was in Jemez Springs.
How would you characterize the extent to which New Mexico has been a sort of dumping ground for problem priests?
MONAGLE: I think that’s the one thing that everybody kind of agrees on at this point, unfortunately. It’s not a controversial thing to say that New Mexico was a dumping ground for toxic priests, any more than it’s controversial to say that it’s a dumping ground for toxic chemicals elsewhere. New Mexico’s been used as the dumping ground for a lot of things for a long time, and that is tragic.
KUNM: New Mexico attorney Hector Balderas recently said he’s been in communication with the Pennsylvania attorney general. If [Balderas] does launch a similar grand jury investigation, what do you make of the fact that this is happening now, and not a year ago when the Archdiocese published its list, or back in 2015 when Balderas took office?
MONAGLE: Sometimes you have to lead by example. I think that’s what the Pennsylvania Attorney General and grand jury did. I can’t fault Mr. Balderas for not being the first to think of doing this, and I know he has a lot on his plate; New Mexico has a lot of problems. But now, at this moment, when the iron’s hot, I think it’s really, really crucial that Mr. Balderas impanel a grand jury and let them investigate the history of this issue in New Mexico.
I think we’re still seeing the public health fallout of widespread sexual abuse through the decades, whether that’s drugs, whether that’s domestic violence, whether that’s depression or suicide. It plays out over time. It’s a huge scar, and in some ways it’s not even a scar, because the wound hasn’t healed.
We’re calling on Mr. Balderas to impanel a grand jury, to back that grand jury with investigative power and let them dig into this issue. I think it’s crucial, and I think if we don’t do it now, it sort of gets lost in the shuffle.
KUNM: As an attorney who’s represented many victims, or survivors, of priest abuse, what kind of response would you most like to see from the Archdiocese next?
MONAGLE: I think the Archdiocese should become an open book to the people of New Mexico. [It should say] ‘Here we are. Here are our records. Here are our personnel files. We’ve redacted the names of victims, because we think that’s private, but here is all of our correspondence. Here’s what we knew, and here’s what we didn’t know.’ If you have full disclosure to the people who are scrutinizing you, then you can start to rebuild trust.
People don’t believe the Church’s apologies are genuine right now, because they still sense that so much is being withheld. So I think the way you overcome that and start to rebuild trust is by having that kind of radical transparency.
UPDATE: This interview was recorded before Attorney General Hector Balderas commanded New Mexico's three dioceses to produce decades' worth of records related to allegations of sexual abuse and coverup. Attorney Levi Monagle responded, “By sending letters demanding an extensive array of Diocesan records, the Attorney General has taken a big step in the right direction. Simply requesting the records is not enough, though - the records must be pursued and obtained, and they must be made available to the people of New Mexico in some meaningful way. I know many survivors of clergy abuse who appreciate the Attorney General’s recognition in his letters that this step toward transparency is ‘long overdue.’”
Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.