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Former Priest Faces Sex Abuse Charges From Winslow Incident

May 14, 2004 |

A former priest in New Mexico's Diocese of Gallup has been accused of sexually abusing a Winslow boy two decades ago.

James Matthew Burns, 70, of Wickenburg, Ariz., appeared this week before Judge John Lamb on three counts of molestation of a child and one of sexual contact with a minor. Lamb set a preliminary hearing for May 27.

In the hallway outside court Tuesday, Burns told a reporter for The Independent in Gallup: "I feel terrible about it. It has ruined my life and his life."

A criminal complaint alleges that between Jan. 1, 1983 and Dec. 31, 1984, Burns molested and engaged in sexual contact with the boy, then under age 15, near a Winslow park and in the church rectory.

At the time, Burns was a Gallup Diocese priest assigned to St. Joseph's parish. Before then, he had been assigned to parishes across northern Arizona. After Winslow, Burns moved to a parish in Blanco, N.M.

A message left by The Associated Press on Thursday seeking comment from the Gallup Diocese was not immediately returned.

The alleged victim filed a civil lawsuit against Burns and the diocese in December. The lawsuit, filed in California, alleges Burns also sexually abused him during trips to California.

A year ago, the Gallup Diocesan Review Board on Juvenile Sexual Abuse identified Burns and five other priests associated with the diocese as having credible allegations of sexual abuse against them. The board said Burns had "multiple allegations of sexual abuse" and underwent treatment.

"He returned to priestly ministry only to have another allegation made against him," the board said.

A Winslow Police Department report says the alleged victim was an altar boy whose father had recently died when Burns arrived at the parish. Burns became a father figure and began taking the boy on outings.

The abuse ended when the boy, then 17, told Burns during a trip to Hawaii that the abuse had to stop, according to the police report. Burns "never attempted to abuse him anymore after that," the report said.

In February, in the first church-sanctioned tally of abuse cases, dioceses around the nation reported cases of sexual abuse involving priests in their jurisdiction over the past 50 years. The Gallup Diocese reported 11

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