Catholic Church Releases Documents of Priest Who Abused Boys Across Northern Arizona
Winslow, AZ – The playground where Joe Baca spent much of his childhood is mostly abandoned now. Rusty swings squeak in the dry wind. As kids growing up in the late 1960's, Baca and his friends were poor. They didn't have much to play with, so, they'd turn to Priest Clement Hageman, who lived behind Madre de Dios church next door.
"Hageman would have any kind of balls we needed, soccer balls, baseballs, basketballs, so we'd always go there to borrow the balls and sometimes we wouldn't come out," says Baca.
Inside, Baca says Hageman would ply the boys with alcohol and then sexually abuse them. Hageman began abusing Baca when he was 9 years old.
"He had the playground and he'd just go out there and pick whoever he wanted," Baca says.
Baca told his parents about it, but they didn't believe him. The abuse continued until he tried to commit suicide at 14.
Baca is now 53. In April, a lawsuit forced the Catholic Diocese of Gallup to release 156 pages of letters and documents about Hageman dating back to 1927.
"Here's one letter," Baca says. "I'll read it. December 16, 1940. This is from Bishop Ledevina. I'm writing your Excellency requesting some information .
The letters show that the Catholic Church knew Hageman was a pedophile for almost 50 years. The Dioceses of Corpus Christi and Gallop, and archdiocese of Santa Fe shuffled him from church to church to avoid scandal until his death in 1975.
IN: .what was the problem with Father Hageman, and he answered, he was guilty of playing with boys. Of course, this did not sound so good to me, so I thought the best
Baca now heads the Arizona chapter of SNAP, The Suvivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. In April, he and others from the group gathered in front of Baca's old church in Winslow to hand out copies of the documents, and demand that the Catholic Church release all their files about pedophile priests.
The documents are remarkable for several reasons. Often, church officials talk about abuse in a type of legalistic, church code.
"But these files don't use church language. They come right out and say he's molesting boys," Joelle Casteix says. She's also a survivor of church abuse and heads SNAP's western division. "They say he's a menace. They say he needs to be sent to a monastery. But they don't do it. They send him to Winslow instead. They sent him to Holbrook instead. They send him to Kingman instead. Instead of doing what they should have and giving him to the cops, they gave him to these poor communities where he abused kids."
The Gallop Diocese refused to comment for this story, citing on-going litigation. But in 2005, it acknowledged 10 of its priests had likely committed abuse. Soon after, Gallup's then bishop traveled to Winslow to apologize for their crimes. BUT Victims' advocates believe the diocese has had almost twice as many, several of whom served in Winslow.
Casteix says Northern Arizona was a dumping ground for abusive priests. She says it fits a pattern where the church would send pedophiles to isolated Hispanic or Native American parishes across the country.
"They dump priests here because they know the very faithful population will not call the cops," Casteix says. "They know the faithful population will not believe their children. They know the very faithful population will close their eyes."
Patrick J. Wall stands below the bell tower at Madre de Dios. Wall is A national expert on clergy sex abuse and AN advocate for abuse victims. He's also a former Benedictine monk. In the 90's, the church began sending him to replace abusive priests. His job was to smooth things over and avoid scandal. After four churches in four years, he quit. He now uses his expertise in church law to help lawyers go after the same kinds of priests he used to protect.
Wall has reviewed thousands of cases of clergy sex abuse. He says the Hageman documents are significant because the church has never released any this old.
One of the great arguments that we run into all the time is that, that the defense lawyers put forward is that all the evidence is lost," Wall says. "The people who knew are dead, the documents aren't around."
He says the Hagemen letters show those documents still exist. In fact, Wall says that canon law requires the church to keep all documents, no matter how old. He says it's time for all dioceses in the US to open their files, and allow prosecutors to review them.
We're going to have to have outside authorities go through all the files and I'm afraid what we're going to find is that we still have credibly accused priests in ministry today in 2011," Wall says.
Only once the church opens its files, he says, can Catholics know it isn't hiding any more.
The Winslow cemetery is just a short drive from Joe Baca's old church. A red gravestone marks Clement Hageman's burial spot. Ironically, he's buried right next to Baca's parents.
His mother bought the plots right after Hageman died so they could be close to him even in death. Baca says Hagamen was a manipulative man who insinuated himself into his family's life.
"That's what pedophile priests do" Baca says. "They get close to the family. I was getting abused at the same time and they never knew."
Baca now counsels survivors of sexual abuse, and says he's talked to at least 30 of Hageman's other victims.
Baca says he's forgiven Hageman, but not the Catholic Church.
"My parents loved this church," Baca says. "They lived and breathed this church. I haven't lost my faith. I don't attend church, I hope one day to, but I can't until the bishops clean the slate."
Baca believes there may be hundreds of victims in Northern Arizona still struggling on their own. He encourages them to contact him or the police and get help. He hopes now they'll finally come forward and get help.
For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Claudine LoMonaco.