St. Therese no stranger to clergy sexual abuse

Apr. 25—ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — St. Therese Catholic parish in Albuquerque knows too well the scourge of clergy sexual abuse.

Eight of the 79 priests and other clergy members on the archdiocese list of those "credibly accused" of molesting children worked at the North Valley parish over a 32-year period. The first priest was assigned in 1959, five years after the current church was built.

The eight included Jason Sigler, one of the few priests who worked in New Mexico who were criminally charged and who went to prison after being convicted of sexually abusing a minor.

Across the U.S., many survivors of clergy abuse served as altar boys in the church or belonged to parish youth groups when they were molested.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe's website says it has adopted a "zero-tolerance" policy on clergy sexual abuse, and says there have been no substantiated cases involving diocesan priests since 2005.

Court records in New Mexico show that in the past, prior archdiocese leaders simply transferred priests to other parishes when allegations of sexual abuse arose and that parishioners weren't told of their priest's history.

During the 1970s, five priests now on the credibly accused list were assigned to St. Therese, with one offending priest replaced by another.

"There is an entire generation of men here in the parish (now in their mid-50s) who were from faithful, active practicing Catholic families and who were abused," the Rev. Vincent Paul Chávez said in an email to the Journal last week. "They will have nothing to do with the Church while their sisters might still remain active in the Catholic Church and at the St. Therese Parish."

Chávez, who has been pastor at the parish since 2004, said he became dedicated years ago to helping victims seek justice in their legal claims "so they might have a mere semblance of peace and healing."

"Journeying with victims most of my near 30 years in the priesthood," Chávez said, "I get the devastation of their lives and extreme challenges."

He said he also offers pastoral counseling for survivors of abuse.

"Victims have serious challenges entering into adult trusting relationships. If you cannot trust your father, uncle or parish priest — then who can you trust?"