Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Priest's public ministry ends in scandal

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Archbishop Michael Sheehan has forbidden a retired Albuquerque priest from participating in public ministry because of credible allegations of sexually abusing a minor.
Sheehan said Sunday he placed Ronald Bruckner on restricted status after a unanimous recommendation from the Archdiocesan Permanent Review Board, which concluded "there were credible allegations."

Bruckner, who is in his 70s, will not be allowed to wear a Roman collar, but Sheehan told the Albuquerque Journal that Bruckner still would receive his pension.

"We keep him in prayer and also the man alleging the misconduct," Sheehan said.

Sheehan said he connected Bruckner with a counseling service in Washington, D.C., where Bruckner is receiving care.

The board shared its findings with the office of District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, who said the statute of limitations has run out on the Bruckner case.

"I'm glad to hear that they made the decision they did," she said of the board's findings. "I think it's the right one."

The nine-person board, which includes two priests, helps the archbishop in determining clergy suitability for ministry.

Bruckner was pastor of Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in Albuquerque. He was placed on leave in March while the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe investigated the allegations against him.

Bruckner, who denied the allegations, is completing the review process, said Terry Guebert, an Albuquerque attorney whose firm represents Bruckner.

"Father Bruckner continues to cooperate fully with the investigation and requests that any of his former parishioners who have information about his conduct and character as a priest contact the archdiocese to provide relevant information," Guebert said.

A man in his 40s alleged in March that Bruckner had inappropriately touched him when he was a teenager alone at the priest's home.

The man, whose name was not disclosed, said he learned on the Internet of six other men who had sent accusations about Bruckner to the archdiocese in 1995.

The review board had ruled at that time there was no credible evidence of abuse regarding Bruckner, who served the archdiocese for more than 40 years.

The archdiocese's 27-page policy says sexual misconduct by archdiocese personnel is unacceptable and "contrary to Christian principles" and that all personnel, paid or volunteer, must "learn the facts about sexual misconduct, procedures for reporting, and intervention."

The archdiocese requires paid staff and volunteers to attend a sexual abuse workshop and to comply with New Mexico law in reporting allegations.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a charter in June 2002 aimed at preventing sexual abuse by priests. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth was adopted at the height of a scandal involving thousands of claims across the country.

New Mexico, however, faced a priest sexual abuse scandal a decade earlier.

Sheehan was appointed to head the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1993 after then-Archbishop Robert Sanchez resigned when three women accused him of being sexually involved with them in the 1970s and early 1980s when they were teenagers.

At the time, more than a dozen lawsuits were pending against the archdiocese alleging sexual abuse by priests.

A later audit put the price of the archdiocese's sexual abuse scandal at $31.1 million, but a 1993 archdiocese letter to parishes said it cost more than $50 million to settle more than 40 cases.

The settlements brought the diocese to "the edge of bankruptcy," Sheehan has said.

The archdiocese dealt with 187 lawsuits and claims during the 1990s, some alleging abuse as far back as the 1960s, he said in March 2002.

Sheehan removed more than 20 priests accused of sexual misconduct and established a zero-tolerance policy for offenders.

According to the audit, 44 priests and two deacons working in the archdiocese over the last 50 years had credible allegations made against them before 2002. Twenty-three were priests of the archdiocese.

Sheehan has said the number was high partly because priests came to New Mexico for treatment at the Servants of Paraclete in Jemez Springs and were placed in parishes. That center no longer treats pedophile priests.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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