Archdiocese names three Taos County priests in list of molesters

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At least three Roman Catholic priests who served in Taos County communities in the 1970s and 1980s and were found guilty of sexually abusing children have been publicly named by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

The archdiocese released the list of 74 priests, deacons and brothers Tuesday (Sept. 12). Three of them - Vincent Lipinski, Roger Martinez and Michael O'Brien - served at various points in Taos, Questa and Peñasco.

"The community has known about these allegations for years. The only thing that is different is that names have come out," said Taos Town Councilor Darien Fernandez. "Hopefully it will answer some of the questions that continue to dog the church and will give some clarity or comfort to the victims."

The release of the names was the latest move by the church to rectify the history of sexual abuse of children by trusted religious leaders.

"The history of this terrible abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to love and protect you is a deep source of sadness and shame for our Church. ... It is my deepest hope that our publication of this list will serve as an important step in healing for survivors, their families, and our Church and communities," wrote Archbishop John C. Wester in a letter announcing the names.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," said Albuquerque-based attorney Brad D. Hall, who in the last five years has represented nearly 60 survivors of sexual abuse by clergy who served in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

"A lot" of Hall's clients are from Taos, Questa and Peñasco, he said, adding that about 18 of the lawsuits filed deal specifically with O'Brien.

"Transparency is good for communities to heal, for the archdiocese to heal," Hall said.

The church's public naming of individual priests guilty of sexual abuse is a tactic the Roman Catholic Church uses as it moves toward transparency and healing, though it's often prompted by lawsuits from abuse survivors. More than two dozen other dioceses around the United States have released similar lists, though the Archdiocese of Santa Fe had refused to do so until now.

However, because the Hispanic Catholic communities of Northern New Mexico are such a "tight cultural milieu" with such interconnected families, the scope of the "damage done to some [small] towns has been severe," Hall said.

To make matters worse, Hall said, there is a scarcity of support groups that help people heal from the trauma of abuse while also maintaining their anonymity. That anonymity is particularly critical in small towns where the Catholic faith remains so strong in daily life. 

Allegations of abuse and subsequent conviction of clergy can sometimes surface decades after the abuse occurred.

In 2013, Michael O'Brien, a priest who served in Questa and was known for starting the 100-mile Pilgrimage for Vocations while he was a pastor in Estancia in 1972, was accused by 10 men in different lawsuits of molesting them when they were boys years prior. O'Brien was deceased by the time the lawsuits were filed.

One of the complaints portrayed O'Brien's actions as part of a "historical era of rampant, unchecked sexual abuse of minor children by Catholic priests," who were shuffled around from parish to parish, allowing them to cause harm in more communities.

O'Brien served at the San Francisco de Asís Church in Ranchos de Taos from 1980-81; at St. Gertrude the Great in Mora, 1982-84; Our Lady of Sorrows in Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1985-86; and St. Anthony's in Questa, 1987-89.

In 1982, The Taos News ran an article calling O'Brien's move to Mora "part of a large-scale transfer of priests in Northern New Mexico parishes." The Rev. Roger Martinez replaced him as the leader of the Ranchos church.

In 1992, Lipinski, another beloved priest at St. Anthony's in Questa, was accused of sexually molesting a 14-year-old boy. He pleaded guilty in 1993 and was sentenced to five years probation.

The clergy named in the archdiocese's list are people found guilty of sexually abusing a child either by the church's canon law, the government's criminal law or both.

Yet there are those who remember at least O'Brien outside of the cloud of shame.

Several parishioners in Questa and northern Taos County communities recalled him as a social and involved priest and an active member of the community.

Taos County Commissioner Gabe Romero, a parishioner at Ranchos de Taos' San Francisco de Asís Church, remembered O'Brien as "an awesome priest."

"As a kid going to church when he was our priest, [I] never witnessed anything like that. I heard of this many years ago and I was shocked to hear that was the case," Romero said.

Still, he said, "I think this will bring the faithful together ... hopefully it will create a healing process for those that have been victimized."

The road to healing is long for abuse victims, say experts.

"However [abuse] happens, it's a lifetime impact," said Rachel Cox, clinical director with the Community Against Violence, a Taos-based nonprofit that serves abuse survivors.

"Adults who have been keeping a secret for a long time can be reminded of the abuse when it becomes public, so it can really bring up a lot for a whole community," she said, adding that the nonprofit serves men, women and transgender victims of abuse.

It is unclear what specific therapeutic services and remedies for abuse are available at local parishes. The Rev. Andrew Ifele of St. Anthony's in Questa directed The Taos News to the archdiocese.

However, the Rev. Daniel Gutierrez of Taos' Our Lady of Guadalupe parish told The Taos News Wednesday (Sept. 13), "Priests are not just people in leadership, they are members of our families. The faith has been here for over 400 years and people rely on their faith to look for stability, understanding or their sense of peace. So it's one of those things where it hurts all of us deeply to see any of our family members going through this."

Gutierrez said, "One thing I will do is address my congregation ... that if anybody has suffered anything, they are always free to come forward and meet privately. There are already channels in place for them to do that."

Included in the archdiocese's list of convicted clergy are those who worked within the archdiocese and were found guilty of sexually abusing a child; those who worked within the boundaries and had their priestly authority removed after having been accused of sexually abusing a minor; those publicly accused, laicized and no longer in active ministry; and those who were publicly accused, but who died before criminal proceedings were completed. 

Not included in the list are the names of clergy accused of pedophilia, but where the archdiocese received no further information or evidence substantiating the claims.

Wester said the list would be updated when needed, including what parish assignments they held throughout the archdiocese.

The list also doesn't include the names of those clergy and church officials convicted elsewhere, but who served in the archdiocese previously.

Jose Superiaso, a native of the Philippines, was arrested in June 2003 and convicted in Northern California on charges of child molestation. Prior to those charges, Superiaso was a priest at Taos Pueblo's Church of San Geronimo before being transferred to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe.

Those who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse in the archdiocese should call local law enforcement and the archdiocese victims' assistance coordinator, Annette Klimka, at (505) 831-8144. Community Against Violence also runs a hotline for abuse victims at (575) 758-9888.

Jesse Moya, John Miller and Andrew Oxford, reporter at The New Mexican, contributed to this story.

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Judy Jones

It is imperative that all the names of child predators be made public for the sake of victims who may still be suffering in silence and shame to know that they are not alone, and for the sake of protecting children today. Let's hope that anyone who may have knowledge or may have been harmed by any of these predators will find the courage to come forward and contact law enforcement no matter how long ago it happened. Help expose the truth and therefore protect kids today.

Judy Jones, 636-433-2511. SNAPjudy@gmail.com

SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

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