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Archbishop John

SANTA FE, New Mexico, July 23, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Another American archbishop is alleged to have been negligent regarding clerical sexual abuse of children and teenagers.   

Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a supporter of pro-homosexual lifestyle promoters Father James Martin and the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP), has been implicated in a cover-up of numerous predator priests in the western U.S. that spanned a period of three decades. 

A blockbuster July 20 report in the Piñon Post has revealed Wester’s part in covering up and perverting the course of justice in several sexual abuse cases during his time as vicar for clergy in San Francisco in the late 1990s through to his current reign over Santa Fe as archbishop. 

The report details numerous cases of abuse of minors about which Wester was notified; allegedly, he has a record of sweeping them aside. One such case is that of Father James Aylward, at the time the pastor of St. Catherine of Sienna in Burlingame, California. 

According to the testimony of fellow cleric Father John Conley, Aylward was caught in November 1997 grappling with a 15-year-old altar boy in a darkened room. Upon witnessing the event, Conley asked the boy who the other person in the room was. The teen told him it was Aylward. Conley is reported to have said that Aylward “crawled away” at this point. 

Conley proceeded to report his findings to the chancery office of the San Francisco archdiocese, reaching then-auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. McGrath. McGrath told Conley he had “reservations” about the allegation and wanted to first speak with Aylward. 

Shortly after reporting the incident, Conley received a call from Wester, at the time the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s vicar for clergy, “advising him to ‘keep quiet’ about Aylward and not damage the priest’s ‘good name and reputation’,” the report said. 

Wester was allegedly acting under the orders of his superior, Archbishop William J. Levada, who forbade the use of the word “pedophile” in relation to Aylward.  

Wester added that Levada left instructions for Conley “not to tell the sisters” about Aylward, meaning the nuns attached to Conley’s parish. 

Levada eventually agreed to meet with Conley about the incident, but when Conley revealed that he had brought recording equipment to document their conversation, and that he would not engage without it, Levada reportedly removed Conley from his parish and assigned him to a retreat center in Menlo Park, California. 

Three years later, in February 2000, after Aylward had been reassigned to another parish, he was sued by the parents of the boy whom Conley believed had been molested. Under examination by the parents’ attorney, Aylward admitted that he had “wrestled” with several young boys, leading to his sexual gratification. Despite this admission, the priest defended his innocence against Conley’s testimony. 

Archbishop Levada ordained Wester to the episcopate in 1998 and was himself named Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. Levada thus became the highest-ranking American prelate within the Roman Curia. He was made a cardinal the following year, again by Pope Benedict.  

Levada has been widely criticized for his part in covering up sexual abuse claims against priests under his jurisdiction while Archbishop of San Francisco. 

While Wester was auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, another alleged abuse victim, Sylvia Chavez, approached him to report a series of historical incidents involving Father Theodore “Teddy” Baquedano-Pech. They began when Chavez was just 11 years old in the 1960s and continued for many months before the priest was stationed in South Korea. 

Chavez approached Wester with details of her ordeal with Baquedano-Pech, which included an encounter years later, when Chavez was 16, in which the priest visited the family home and allegedly attempted to remove Chavez’s clothes by force, desisting only after Chavez threatened to reveal his actions. 

By the time Chavez contacted Wester to lodge the complaint, Baquedano-Pech had been assigned to Mexico. Nevertheless, Wester declared that he would do all he could to track down the priest. The then-auxiliary bishop told Chavez that he would send a letter to Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzarán, the ordinary of the diocese in which Baquedano-Pech was ministering. Later Chavez was later informed that Wester had misplaced the letter. 

After Wester promised the woman that he had finally sent the letter, Chavez had an opportunity to meet with the Mexican archbishop. However, Wester told her that Belaunzarán’s schedule was “too crowded” to organize any such meeting but that he personally informed the archbishop of Baquedano-Pech’s wrongdoing. Wester had been assured that the priest would not be permitted to be around children, he said. Just two months later, however, Chavez’s attorney discovered that Belaunzarán had no idea that Baquedano-Pech had been accused of sexual abuse before receiving the attorney’s letter. 

Belaunzarán reportedly restricted Baquedano-Pech’s contact with children following communication with Chavez’s attorney although no further action against the priest is detailed in the report. 

Wester was approached at the time to confirm his contact with the Mexican prelate, “but could not be specific” about when they spoke, the report stated. 

Alleged obstruction in the case of an abusive priest and an 8-year-old girl

The archbishop has also been accused of intentionally obstructing proceedings against Father Daniel Carter, a former teacher at Notre Dame des Victoires Parochial School, San Francisco, after he was accused by Danielle Lacampagne, an 8-year-old pupil at the school, of placing “his hand inside her clothing” at which point he allegedly “fondled” her, the report reads. 

Wester inaccurately reported the date at which Lacampagne came forward, also misspelling her name. He then portrayed Lacampagne’s account of events more dramatically than she had described, according to a report in the San Francisco Weekly.  Wester’s account included a claim that Carter violated her in her bedroom, which Lacampagne denied, instead saying he molested her in the dining room while no one else was around. 

The inaccuracies were enough to help Carter avoid prosecution, and he was eventually reinstated. 

Additional allegations have been raised against Wester, including that he ignored accusations of inappropriate touching against Father Adam Ortega y Ortiz, the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, in 2013. The priest was not disciplined before Wester’s appointment as Archbishop of Santa Fe in 2015 and remained in his post for a further three years under Wester’s jurisdiction. He stepped down from his position as rector only in 2018, apparently following investigations of sexual misconduct, the report said. 

Perhaps more insidious was Wester’s refusal to discipline Father Stephen Whelan, a Salesian teacher who was accused of the molestation and rape of a 14-year-old high school freshman named Joe Piscitelli, the abuse occurring from 1969 to 1971. Joe Piscitelli detailed his experience to Wester in 2003 of being groped by Whelan, which culminated in Whelan dragging Piscitelli into a room. “[H]e started ripping off my clothes, and he raped me,” Piscitelli said.  

When Piscitelli came forward, Whelan was still living on the grounds of Saints Peter and Paul Salesian School in San Francisco, a school attended by children aged between 3 and 14 years of age.  

Here’s a guy that I know is a rapist, that I’m suing for sexual molestation, who is working with kids at a Catholic Church in San Francisco,” Piscitelli said after launching a lawsuit against the predator priest. 

Whelan remained in his position at the Salesian school despite Wester’s knowledge of the accusations against him and the ongoing lawsuit. Whelan was removed from his post three years later, in 2006, one day after Piscitelli won his case against the priest in court. The abuse survivor was awarded $600,000 in damages. 

Piscitelli had also contacted San Francisco’s then-District Attorney, Kamala Harris, now the Vice President of the United States, about Whelan, but he stated that she “never responded to him when he wrote to tell her that a priest who had molested him was still in ministry at a local Catholic cathedral,” per the report. 

Piscitelli also said that Harris did not respond to him five years later when he asked her to “release records on accused clergy to help other alleged victims who were filing lawsuits.” 

Wester has long been a controversial figure in the Catholic hierarchy, having hosted the pro-women’s ordination AUSCP in 2018, and given his endorsement to Fr. Martin’s “Building a Bridge” pro-LGBT apologia. In 2020, Wester made headlines for closing churches within his archdiocese, suspending Masses and regular sacramental confessions, all the while keeping the cathedral giftshop open for business. 

Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wester mandated that all “communicants are to receive Communion in the hand” in his archdiocese from March 2020, restricting Communion on the tongue despite Church law dictating that the latter method is the norm and communicants can never be denied the Eucharist in this manner. 

Wester later amended his instruction in May 2020 to advise that Communion could be received on the tongue but only if the minister distributing the sacrament has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and sanitizes their hands “prior to and immediately after distribution.”  

Singing in the archdiocesan churches is permitted only to only choristers who have been vaccinated.