A faithful member of a parish in New Mexico was pepper-sprayed in the face by a church employee on church property two Sundays ago — allegedly because he was discussing the Catholic clerical sexual abuse scandal.
After attending Mass at the St. Bernadette Shrine in Albuquerque on November 11, Reuben Ortiz told Church Militant that he was speaking with a man in his 30s who claimed he had been sexually abused by a Catholic priest.
Ortiz told the man about how he and his wife, Tania, had taken a retired priest into their home for seven months — only to discover to their horror that he had been accused of molesting dozens of boys in Iowa.
The Diocese of Sioux City had concealed Rev. Jerome Coyle’s sexual misconduct for 32 years, the Associated Press reported last month. It was only after the AP inquired about him in late October of this year that the church publicly identified Coyle as an admitted pederast.
In 1986, Coyle reported his “history of sexual attraction to and contact with boys” to Sioux City’s bishop, revealing that he had victimized approximately 50 youngsters over a 20-year period while serving in several Iowa parishes , according to a private letter written in February by the diocese vicar general and obtained by the AP.
Coyle was stripped of his parish assignments in the 1980s but never defrocked.
The bishop to whom Coyle reported his abuse, Lawrence Soens, retired in 1998. A review board later found that Soens himself had abused students when he was a priest and parochial school principal.
As a member of the clergy, Soens was not a mandatory reporter — someone obligated to tell police about child abuse allegations — under Iowa law. But critics said he still should have called authorities, sought to have Coyle defrocked, alerted the public and asked victims to come forward. Soen’s whereabouts are unknown.
Fr. Coyle ended up in Albuquerque, where he befriended the Ortizes, who treated him like a member of their family for 12 years.
After the 85-year-old priest was injured in a car accident, the family naively took him into their home. When they found out about his sordid history in Sioux City, they were appalled.
“This guy lived in my home for seven months, and was a predator loose on the prowl,” Ortiz told Church Militant. “How he was not on any sex abuse list for people to observe is beyond me.” The Ortizes have a 15-year-old son.
Reuben told Church Militant that some other people had gathered around him after Mass to hear what he was talking about on the day of the incident. That drew the attention of someone from the church who asked him to leave. When Ortiz stood his ground, things got ugly fast.
Apparently, some people did not like Reuben talking about sexually abusive priests on the grounds of a Catholic parish. One man asked him to leave and grabbed his arm. Reuben told him to “let go,” and he went to the front steps of the shrine, where the discussion about the clerical sex abuse crisis continued. But the man followed Reuben outside and kept urging him to leave the parish grounds. All throughout, Reuben insisted he was a parishioner and had a right to be there. The man fetched a security worker who watches over the parish’s parking lot (i.e. to deter car break-ins).
The security guard, Reuben recalls, threatened him with pepper spray and told him to leave the premises. He pushed Reuben twice with one hand (which also held a flashlight). Using his other hand, the man shot pepper spray into Reuben’s face.
Reuben recalled: “On the second push, he blasted my eyes, my nose and my mouth with pepper spray. I fell on one knee, because I couldn’t breathe, and the pepper spray began to sting my eyes, and Jan Dickerson grabbed me from behind.”
Reuben said that Dickerson “grabbed the neck” of his suit from the back while he was on the ground, and held him down “as tightly as he could.”
He added, “They knew I was recording, so Jan Dickerson was very careful not to talk, but the recording shows that [only I] spoke, and he admits to spraying me.”
Reuben described the excruciating pain he felt from the pepper spray: “I couldn’t breathe from the pepper spray, and kept spitting out mucus from my mouth. My nose was very runny, and my eyes were blurred, and I was choking from it being in my throat.”
Reuben remained on his knees and began taking video on his phone. He recited some prayers and also spoke a little with a few individuals around him — including the parking lot guard who pepper-sprayed him. The guard reached for Reuben’s cell phone and snatched some papers Reuben had been holding.
When officers arrived, they had the security worker return to Reuben the documents he took from him. Those papers were covered in pepper spray from when Reuben got blasted in the face.
Reuben was hospitalized following the pepper spray attack and told Church Militant that the pain he endured was even worse than passing a kidney stone.
He said on Facebook that he would talk to a lawyer about pressing charges.
PJ Media has contacted the St. Bernadette Shrine for comment but did not immediately hear back. We also reached out to Ortiz for further comment and did not immediately hear back. We will update this story with any further statements from the parish and/or Ortiz.