LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico attorney general’s office wants Roman Catholic church officials around the state to allow it to review personnel records for any material that might be related to past or present allegations of sexual abuse.
The Diocese of Las Cruces said Wednesday it had received a letter from the office requesting the review and will cooperate.
“Having an independent authority reviewing our files can foster greater confidence in the transparency and accountability of the Diocese of Las Cruces,” Bishop Oscar Cantu said in a statement.
Letters were also sent to the Santa Fe Archdiocese and the diocese in Gallup requesting “full disclosure and transparency,” agency spokesman David Carl said.
“The Catholic Church in New Mexico needs to fully reconcile and support survivors by revealing the magnitude of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by church leaders in order to restore faith and trust in the community,” Carl said.
The move to review the documents in New Mexico follows a recent grand jury report that said more than 300 Catholic priests abused at least 1,000 children over the past seven decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The report said senior figures in the church hierarchy systematically covered up complaints.
An Albuquerque law firm that has represented survivors of clerical sexual abuse requested that Attorney General Hector Balderas follow the lead of prosecutors in Pennsylvania and impanel a grand jury to investigate possible child sexual abuse by clergy in New Mexico.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report determined that Roman Catholic bishops in that state for decades sent clergymen accused of sexual abuse to Servants of the Paraclete, a treatment center in New Mexico, using it as a “laundry” to recycle priests so they could return to their home parishes.
In New Mexico, the Santa Fe Archdiocese and the Servants of the Paraclete were the targets of dozens of lawsuits in the 1980s and ’90s alleging priests were molesting children.
Many of the priests who came to New Mexico for treatment were later assigned to parishes across New Mexico and Arizona where they continued to abuse children, according to various lawsuits. The treatment center closed in 1995.
The Santa Fe Archdiocese last year published a list of 74 clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in New Mexico. The list was made public after decades of pressure from victims and their family members.
Some of the names of accused priests on the list had been known for years while others had been secret. In most cases, church officials said those accused priests died before the allegations were received.
Also listed were priests and religious leaders who were publicly accused but whose criminal or canonical proceedings weren’t completed.