Another lawsuit has been filed against the Catholic Church, alleging sexual abuse of a child by a now-deceased priest who once served at Our Lady of Health Parish in Las Cruces, N.M.
It’s the latest in a string of legal actions stemming from allegations of clergy sex abuse that span decades and have rocked parishes across the U.S.
New Mexico’s largest diocese – the Archdiocese of Santa Fe – has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent months on lawyers to fight claims of abuse and to prepare for a potentially lengthy battle in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. In neighboring Texas, church officials are preparing next month to release the names of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a child.
Attorneys for a victim identified only as Jane Doe N filed a lawsuit Monday, naming the parish and the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, which used to oversee parts of southern New Mexico before the Diocese of Las Cruces was created.
The lawsuit says the victim had been left in the care of the parish pastor, Joaquin Resma, and that she was raped on multiple occasions. The girl was about 10 at the time and the abuse was intermittent for about a year during the late 1970s, according to the lawsuit.
Resma was named in other lawsuits filed earlier this year by the same attorneys, but his name isn’t among the former clergy who have been listed by regional church officials as having been credibly accused over the decades of sexually abusing children.
Connie Flores, an attorney who represents the victim and others who have accused Resma of abuse, said in a statement Wednesday that Resma’s absence from the list is an insult to his victims.
The El Paso Diocese said Wednesday it has yet to receive the lawsuit and that it would need to investigate the victims’ claims to determine if they are credible, and that has been difficult since they are unnamed.
The Las Cruces Diocese in November released the names of 28 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. Those names were made public after the state attorney general’s office asked to review personnel records for any material that might be related to past or present allegations of abuse.
Letters seeking “full disclosure and transparency” were also sent to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and to church leaders in Gallup.
The request came in the wake of a 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. That report said senior figures in the church hierarchy systematically covered up complaints.
Deacon Jim Winder, vice chancellor in the Las Cruces Diocese, said reams of documents have been reviewed and scanned and are ready to go to the attorney general’s office but church officials are waiting for a confidentiality agreement to protect certain information such as victims’ names and any details regarding medical conditions.
Winder said its records related to Resma, who died in 1983, are very limited because the diocese did not exist at the time of the alleged incidents.
“We know he existed and he was a pastor at that parish at that time,” he said.
Speaking generally, Winder said he welcomes more transparency and acknowledged that even if it’s painful, it’s good to get the truth out.
“We’ve got to purge ourselves of this,” he said. “I think this is the process by which the church has purged these ghosts from the past.”
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