Albuquerque, NM -- Archbishop Michael Sheehan acknowledged Friday that the church used private investigators to look into sex abuse allegations, but said it wasn't intended to discredit victims.
Sheehan, who was brought to New Mexico to clean up church sexual scandals, was responding to a newspaper report about the hiring of a detective to look into the background of an alleged sex abuse victim in 1992.
The Hartford Courant reported Friday that court documents it obtained contained no evidence the church was equally aggressive in looking at the accused priest's activities.
Sheehan said the Archdiocese of Santa Fe hired investigators in the early 1990s to find out what the priests had done. He said it would have been irresponsible not to check out the allegations.
"We took firm action, removed priests guilty of misconduct with minors ... and tried the best we could to minister to the victims,'' Sheehan said Friday. "And I think I apologized personally to every victim whose name and phone number and address that I had.''
Sheehan replaced Archbishop Robert Sanchez in 1993 amid reports of sexual abuse by priests -- some dating back decades -- and Sanchez's admission that he had relationships with women. In a later deposition, Sanchez said he had known about cases of abuse but considered them a moral failing of priests, not a crime.
More than 20 priests have been removed under Sheehan's tenure, most in the months after he arrived. Sheehan said the church has imposed strict requirements for priesthood and a screening process to keep out ``unworthy'' priests.
"We established a permanent review board to review any allegations of misconduct and have worked very hard in conjunction with the lawful authorities of the state,'' he said. "We have tried our very best to deal with this matter.''
Sheehan said the archdiocese had to deal with 187 lawsuits and claims during the 1990s, some of them alleging abuse as far back as the 1960s. Most were settled for sums that total a "large amount,'' which brought the diocese to "the edge of bankruptcy,'' he said.
The archbishop declined to give a specific dollar amount, saying the settlements contained confidentiality clauses.