Study: Small percentage of Roman Catholic priests sexually abuse

Hannah Grover The Daily Times
The Daily Times


If you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a priest, contact the Bishop of Gallup's office at 505-863-4406.

If you suspect someone has recently been sexually abused or is currently being sexually abused, call local law enforcement.

For a free copy of “Constant Reminder,” call Joseph Baca at 602-692-1958.

FARMINGTON — In the 1980s, when a Louisiana family filed a lawsuit against a Catholic diocese for covering up a priest's sexual abuse, it shocked the nation.

It was the first such lawsuit. Although the family had not initially considered legal action, the diocese's unresponsiveness pushed them forward.

Thousands more would follow.

Since then, nearly 15,000 victims have come forward, according to, a project focused on collecting data on the sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Between 1984 and 2009, more than 3,000 lawsuits were filed in the United States, and the church has paid more than $3 billion in settlements and awards.

As more cases came to light, John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted a study to look at priest sex abuse between 1950 and 2002.

The study found that only 4 percent of the all the priests in the priesthood had been accused of abusing a child.

And the Diocese of Gallup, which encompasses the Farmington area, has not gone unscathed. A series of sex abuse lawsuits caused it to declare bankruptcy earlier this month.

While only a small fraction of priests ever abuse children, Father Timothy Farrell, the spokesman for the Gallup Diocese, said that is too many.

"One priest doing it is horrific," Farrell said.

He said sex abuse should never happen, whether it's in the church or in the child's home.

Farrell said the Gallup Diocese is committed to helping the victims.

He encourages people who might know a victim to contact Bishop James Wall's office and, if the abuse happened recently, local law enforcement.

In settlements, the diocese has provided counseling for victims.

"The main thing is we want them to get help," Farrell said.

He said by declaring bankruptcy, the diocese will better be able to distribute its assets to the victims.

Joseph Baca, who was abused by a priest, has become an unofficial spokesman for the victims.

Baca used to hear about the sexual abuse cases and think to himself, "Thank God that never happened to me."

In 2002, Baca and his wife were sitting in on a Catholic Foster Parent class where they were required to watch a sex abuse video. The video portrayed a young girl who was being molested by her step-father. The girl told her mother about the abuse, but her mother refused to believe it.

When the mother told the girl to stop lying, Baca broke down. His wife thought he was having a heart attack.

He said the repressed memories of his abuse when he was an altar boy resurfaced.

In 1965, Father Clement Hageman was assigned to Winslow, Ariz., where Baca and his family lived.

Many of the lawsuits against the Gallup Diocese originated in Winslow.

Baca believes the diocese received an unusual number of abusive priests due to its proximity to Via Coeli Monastery in Jemez Springs where offending priests were sent for rehabilitation.

Farrell said the proximity to Jemez Springs did mean that the Gallup Diocese and other nearby dioceses received people from the monastery. The priests had been in Via Coeli for various reasons, ranging from alcoholism to sex abuse.

In his book, Baca described Hageman as God-like and said he could hardly wait to be an altar boy. When he was nine, a year after becoming an altar boy, the abuse started.

Baca said he personally knew Monsignor James Lindenmeyer, who was later stationed at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Farmington. Baca said Lindenmeyer was also a probation officer in Winslow.

"He used that to facilitate his sexual abuse and to protect a lot of priests," Baca said in a phone interview with The Daily Times.

In one of the lawsuits brought against the Gallup Diocese, Lindenmeyer is quoted as having written priests about another priest's abuse and urging them to keep it quiet.

When a teenaged Baca and some friends were caught joyriding, he said he felt relieved because he thought he could finally get the law to help him. He was assigned Lindenmeyer as his probation officer.

"When he walked into the room, I about died," Baca said.

Baca said he told Lindenmeyer of the abuse multiple times.

At one point, Baca alleges Lindenmeyer came and arrested him, taking him to a jail cell and closing the door. Baca said Lindenmeyer then threatened him to make him remain quiet about the sexual abuse.

"I will never, ever forget that night," Baca said.

Lindenmeyer died in 2007. People interviewed for a previous story by The Daily Times who knew Lindenmeyer described him as a kind and humble man who helped them when they were in need. A church official also noted that Lindenmeyer can no longer defend himself.

Baca was the first person to receive a settlement from the Gallup Diocese. He would say only that it reached "six figures."

Baca became the most vocal sex-abuse survivor in the diocese and, in 2011, he published a book about his experience, "Constant Reminder."

"My main goal in life is to help other victims of abuse come forward," Baca said.

While Baca found himself living a nightmare at the hands of a priest, he also found help from a priest. Father Joe Hennessey became one of Baca's advocates and assisted with his recovery. And Baca remains a member of the Catholic Church.

"It's hard for me to enter a church, but I do," Baca said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.