Ex-friar accused of sexual abuse in Santa Fe quits Arizona health care job

The New Mexican/October 12, 2017

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.

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