For­mer friar ac­cused of abuse re­signs from Ariz. job

Man leaves be­hav­ioral health post amid al­le­ga­tions he sex­u­ally abused stu­dents in Santa Fe 40 years ago

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Ox­ford

A top ad­min­is­tra­tor at a health care or­ga­ni­za­tion in Ari­zona has re­signed amid al­le­ga­tions that he sex­u­ally abused stu­dents at the St. Cather­ine In­dian School in Santa Fe while serv­ing as a Fran­cis­can brother there 40 years ago.

Den­nis Huff stepped down as be­hav­ioral health ser­vices ad­min­is­tra­tor at Na­tive Health, a non­profit that pri­mar­ily serves Na­tive Amer­i­cans, late last month af­ter the Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe listed his name among 74 clergy and mem­bers of re­li­gious or­ders ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing chil­dren over the last half-cen­tury.

Huff ’s res­ig­na­tion decades later and hun­dreds of miles away marks just the lat­est twist in the long un­rav­el­ing of a scan­dal that has gone to the heart of the Catholic Church in New Mex­ico, where priests from around the coun­try

who were known to prey on chil­dren were sent for “treat­ment” and where of­fi­cials are ac­cused of cov­er­ing up abuse for years.

The Phoenix New Times re­ported ear­lier this month it had re­ceived an anony­mous let­ter sent to Na­tive Health’s CEO in mid-Au­gust, dis­clos­ing that Huff was ac­cused in a law­suit of sex­u­ally abus­ing stu­dents at the now-shut­tered school.

A for­mer stu­dent of St. Cather­ine In­dian School liv­ing in Al­bu­querque filed the law­suit in 2015, charg­ing that Huff abused him dur­ing the mid-1970s when he was about 15 years old and liv­ing in the cam­pus dor­mi­to­ries.

The abuse left the man strug­gling with emo­tional dis­tress, post-trau­matic stress, anger is­sues, night­mares and other prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to his lawyers at the Law Of­fice of Brad Hall, which has filed dozens of cases in­volv­ing sex­ual abuse by priests.

The law­suit al­leged Huff abused “nu­mer­ous chil­dren” in a sim­i­lar man­ner and said he left his re­li­gious or­der as well as New Mex­ico af­ter another vic­tim ac­cused him of rape.

Huff could not be reached for com­ment Thurs­day.

The school, built in the 19th cen­tury, has been closed for nearly 20 years due to fi­nan­cial woes. The cam­pus at the end of Rio Grande Av­enue re­mains empty.

The law­suit, which named Huff, his re­li­gious or­der and the or­der that op­er­ated St. Cather­ine’s In­dian School, was set­tled ear­lier this year.

“I feel it is com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate, dis­re­spect­ful, and dis­heart­en­ing that the Na­tive Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ter would em­ploy some­one like Mr. Huff in a de­part­ment that serves hun­dreds of peo­ple in our com­mu­nity who have suf­fered through trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences sim­i­lar to acts al­legedly com­mit­ted by Mr. Huff,” said the anony­mous let­ter writ­ten in mid-Au­gust.

A few weeks later, on Sept. 12, the Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe is­sued a list of 74 priests, broth­ers and dea­cons ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

Sim­i­lar to records pub­lished by dio­ce­ses around the coun­try, the list fol­lowed calls from sur­vivors of abuse, who say the arch­dio­cese has not fully ac­counted for its han­dling of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

But by omit­ting, at least for now, de­tails about when and where the men on the list worked in the arch­dio­cese, it also left some ques­tions unan­swered.

The only in­for­ma­tion it pro­vided about Huff was that he served as a Fran­cis­can brother and was not de­ceased.

Fol­low­ing up on the anony­mous let­ter, the Phoenix New Times re­ported that of­fi­cials at Na­tive Health said as re­cently as Sept. 26 that Huff was among its se­nior staff. But three days later, of­fi­cials an­nounced to em­ploy­ees that he had left the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

A spokes­woman for Na­tive Health did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment Thurs­day.

But in a state­ment to the Phoenix New Times ear­lier this month, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s CEO, Wal­ter Murillo, said Huff was placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive duty af­ter Na­tive Health first learned of the al­le­ga­tions against him.

“Upon learn­ing of the al­le­ga­tions against him, Na­tive Health ini­ti­ated an in­ter­nal process to de­ter­mine the best course of ac­tion, cul­mi­nat­ing in Mr. Huff ’s de­ci­sion to re­sign. Dur­ing that time, Mr. Huff con­tin­ued to serve in an ad­min­is­tra­tive role only, with no di­rect client con­tact,” Murillo wrote.

The state­ment said Huff had worked for the or­ga­ni­za­tion since 1992 and de­scribed him as “ex­em­plary.” The state­ment also said Na­tive Health was not aware of any com­plaints against him while he was em­ployed with the or­ga­ni­za­tion and that all em­ploy­ees are re­quired to pass a rig­or­ous back­ground check.

Den­nis Huff

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