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How difficult is it to investigate accusations after a priest dies?

As ABC-7 reported on Thursday, two new women have come forward, accusing a former Las Cruces Priest of sexual misconduct.

Father Joaquin Resma has been dead for decades.

“It’s very difficult investigating a claim against a priest who is deceased, mostly because they can’t speak on their own behalf,” said Deacon Jim Winder of the Diocese of Las Cruces.

The Diocese of El Paso is named in the lawsuit because the alleged incidents happened before the Diocese of Las Cruces was established in 1982. Nevertheless, Winder said it’s extremely challenging investigating these incidents.

“You want to be fair,” Winder said. “There’s just an innate unfairness about an accusation against somebody that is deceased and can’t represent themselves.”​

However, he stressed that the church must listen to all accusers.

“There’s a balancing act, and unfortunately in the past, I think the church was too quick to defend itself and to defend its reputation,” Winder said.

In one of the lawsuits, one of the women said the church “taught vulnerable parishioners, particularly children, to put complete trust in priests and believe that priests had divine power and authority over them and their souls.”

“One you’ve been victimized by somebody who you perceive to have such a high power that you trust so much in your religion and your life, it’s just really difficult,” said Connie Flores, the lawyer representing the two women. “Something that will never go away.”

Last week, the Diocese of Las Cruces released the names of 28 credibly accused priests and religious figures. However, Father Resma was not on that list, even though he’s been accused at least once before.

Winder said the church’s Citizen Review Board must look at three criteria:

Is the priest listed in another diocese list of credibly accused? Was there a lawsuit related that had been adjudicated or settled? Are there substantial complaints that can be partially verified?

“We’ve got to have something to substantiate it by,” Winder said. “We understand the potential damage that can be done to somebody’s reputation if they’re listed falsely. There has to be a reasonable level of proof behind it.”

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