In the past three decades, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City has received “credible allegations” of sexual abuse involving 16 priests.
Two of those allegations were received just this year — with one case revealed publicly for the first time Thursday in a letter to Catholics from Bishop Oscar A. Solis.
The letter, called “Report to the People of God of the Diocese of Salt Lake City,” is likely the first time Utah Catholics have received this type of accounting of sex abuse allegations against priests, said diocese spokeswoman Jean Hill.
It also marks the first time the diocese acknowledged outside the parishes where he served that a second priest has been put on leave this year in connection to a sexual abuse allegation.
That allegation involved Father Jorge Martinez-Gomez, who was put on leave in early July after an “allegation of misconduct” involving a man. Parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi in Orem were told about the allegations involving the parochial vicar that month.
A copy of the pulpit announcement was released to The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. It said that the alleged misconduct occurred in December 2016, but that the diocese was not made aware of the allegations until July 3.
Martinez-Gomez was placed on leave that same day, according to the announcement, and the incident was reported to police officials.
Last month, the diocese announced that Father David R. Gaeta — who is serving as pastor at St. Peter Parish in American Fork — was placed on leave while the state Division of Child and Family Services, police and the diocese investigate allegations of sexual misconduct involving at least two minors.
In addition to the 16 priests accused since 1990, there have also been sexual abuse allegations against one religious brother and one seminarian. In total, the Salt Lake City diocese (which oversees all parishes in Utah) say there have been approximately 34 alleged victims of abuse from these allegations in the Beehive State, and the instances took place from 1960 to 2018.
Most of the allegations were made after the priests had left the priesthood, retired, moved to their home country or died, but the document said two priests were stripped of their church position.
In 2004, then-Utah Bishop George H. Niederauer said in a statement that, from 1950 until 2002, there were 18 credible allegations of sexual abuse against 13 priests in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. That represented 2.7 percent of the 476 priests who served the diocese during those years, said Niederauer, who died last year.
Solis wrote in Thursday’s letter, which will be published in the Intermountain Catholic newspaper, that the global Catholic Church has been “embroiled in a very shocking, painful, shameful sexual scandal” that has brought anger, pain and doubt to members.
“On behalf of all my brother priests, and myself, I beg your forgiveness for [the offending clergymen’s] sins and failings," he wrote. "I assure you of our sincere efforts in providing a safe place for our children.”
The bishop asked Utah’s 300,000-plus Catholics to pray for the victims and their families to find healing, justice and peace, and to pray for priests “so they may continue to strive to be true shepherds of Christ dedicated in caring for their flock.”
Solis, who assumed the diocese’s reins in March 2017, promised that any reports of sexual abuse in Utah will result in a priest’s temporary suspension, and mandatory reporting to DCFS and local police. Victims will be offered therapy, he wrote, and the suspension of a priest will be announced in his parish. Additionally, Solis said, the diocese will adhere to a “zero tolerance policy,” in which no priest or church minister found to have abused a minor or are “credibly accused of such sexual abuse” will be allowed to return to the ministry.
“The Diocese of Salt Lake City is committed to carrying out this sacred duty responsibly and faithfully now and in the future,” he wrote. “With your support, we hope to provide a safe environment for all children and everyone.”
Solis' letter was released the same day Pope Francis met with leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to talk about the sex abuse scandals that have “lacerated” the church.
A Pennsylvania grand jury report alleged that more than 1,000 children were sexually abused by over 300 clergy in six dioceses in that state, and that a “systematic” cover-up effort by church leaders took place over a span of 70 years. In other states, such as New York and New Jersey, state attorneys general announced criminal investigations. The Utah attorney general’s office said no investigation is underway here.
Revelations also surfaced in the U.S. that one of Pope Francis’ trusted cardinals, the retired archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, allegedly sexually abused and harassed minors as well as adult seminarians. More recently, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States alleged that Pope Benedict XVI and Francis were aware of the accusations against McCarrick for years before he resigned this summer.
In August, in the first papal visit to Ireland in 39 years, Francis apologized for the “crimes” of the Catholic Church there, acknowledging that thousands of Irish children were sexually and physically abused at Catholic churches, schools and workhouses, and that women were forced to give up their children if they became pregnant out of wedlock.
A sex abuse scandal in Chile dominated headlines during Francis’ visit there in January. He recently accepted the resignations of five of the 31 bishops who offered to step down over their disastrous handling of abuse cases.