John C. Wester, the Archbishop of Santa Fe, has long been vocal on political issues, such as the embrace of weak immigration laws, support for the elimination of centuries-old Hispanic cultural traditions, and blasting the prohibition of the Eucharist to those not in full communion with the Catholic Church as “tone-deaf.”
Wester has also run cover for priests, such as Father Vincent Chávez. Chávez outright endorsed Democrat political candidates, placed a statue of the baby Jesus in a cage as political demonstrations, and persecuted a now-deceased clergy member — even questioning if he will see them in Heaven.
During the pandemic, Wester shut down church services — denying the faithful the Eucharist, supported the closure of the El Santuario de Chimayó and Tomé Hill pilgrimages focused on spiritual healing, and even shamelessly teamed up with alleged sexual predator Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to push mask mandates.
Wester, who served as the vicar for clergy before being ordained auxiliary bishop of San Francisco in 1998 by then-Archbishop William J. Levada, handled multiple clerical sexual abuse cases. Levada, who later served as the high-ranking prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Pope Benedict XVI, was widely criticized for his dereliction of duty in overseeing sexual abuse cases before his death in 2019.
Notably, while Archbishop of Portland from 1986 to 1995, Levada’s reign led to the first bankruptcy of an American diocese in 2005, with the Portland Archdiocese spending $53 million to settle over 100 sexual abuse cases.
Wester Told Priest Who Reported Abuse of Minor to ‘Keep Quiet’: Report
During the years and decades leading up to his controversial reign as Archbishop of Santa Fe, Wester had been involved in handling multiple sexual harassment cases, including those involving children and alleged pedophilic priests. On numerous occasions, Wester was reported to have brushed off abuse.
On November 6, 1997, according to sworn testimony by the late Father John Conley of St. Catherine of Sienna parish in Burlingame, California, Conley found Father James Aylward, the pastor of the church, “wrestling” in the dark with a 15-year-old boy. When asking the boy who was with him in the dark, the child reluctantly told Conley that it was Aylward. Conley said the priest “crawled away.”
Immediately following the incident, Conley called the San Francisco chancery office to speak to Levada and contacted the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office. When he called the chancery office, he reached then-auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, who Conley said had “reservations” about getting involved in the matter and who wanted to call Aylward to inform him that he was being discussed. When waiting for the archdiocesan lawyer to arrive, McGrath asked him, “are you sure you want to [report] this?”
San Francisco (SF) Weekly reported:
Not long after Conley’s Nov. 17, 1997 meeting with McGrath, he says, he received a call from Wester, the vicar for clergy, advising him to “keep quiet” about Aylward and not damage the priest’s “good name and reputation.” Conley says Wester said he had spoken with Levada and that “the archbishop forbids you to use the word pedophile” in relation to Aylward.
A few minutes later, Conley says, Wester called back to say he had just spoken to the archbishop and that Levada had also instructed Conley “not to tell the sisters” about the incident, an apparent reference to nuns assigned to the parish. Chafing at the constraints, Conley told Wester that he did not “deal well with the F word — forbid” and that as a grown man he knew “how to use vocabulary” in describing what he had seen.
Following the exchange with Wester, which resulted in a meeting between Conley and Levada, Conley brought along a tape recorder for his own protection. But once he refused to power it off, Archbishop Levada ousted Conley from St. Catherine’s parish, transferring him to a church retreat in Menlo Park.
Aylward was not transferred until months later to a Marin County parish. Marin County is where the church reportedly sent sexual abusers. “While the archdiocese strongly disapproves of a priest wrestling with a youth, Aylward’s lapse of judgment does not warrant a witch hunt against a man who has been a good priest for 34 years,” the archbishop’s spokesman, Maurice Healy, told the San Mateo County Times.
But the boy’s family sued the archdiocese resulting in a startling admission by Aylward that he touched underage boys for sexual gratification. Levada reportedly authorized a $750,000 payout to the boy, halting the boy’s court action. But remember, Wester did not want to damage the priest’s “good name and reputation,” nor did he want to use the word “pedophile” to describe Aylward.
Wester Did Not Act on Abuse of 11-Year-Old Girl: Report
Sylvia Chavez, who attended San Francisco’s Church of the Epiphany with her family, said she was sexually assaulted by Father Theodore “Teddy” Baquedano-Pech on multiple occasions when she was 11. Chavez alleged that Baquedano-Pech kissed and fondled her, saying, “The first time he kissed my mouth, the kiss was so strong that my mouth actually hurt for a long time afterward.” She added that she was “confused and frightened” and didn’t dare tell anyone of the priest’s abuse, for her family and others held him in high esteem.
“[Father Teddy] would come over and say, ‘Where’s Sylvia?’ and my mother would say, ‘Oh, she’s up in her room,’ and he would come upstairs and molest me,” Chavez says.
SF Weekly reported:
Sometimes [Baquedano-Pech] partially undressed and climbed into her bed, rubbing his penis against her, she says. Once, she says, he even groped her under the table during a family meal. In a confessional booth at the church one Sunday she told the priest what he was doing seemed wrong, prompting him to reply, “‘It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. Go home,’” she says. “That very night he came to the house and molested me again, and it just continued.” The abuse, she says, stretched over several months.
When Father Teddy departed for his next clerical station — South Korea — by passenger ship, she and her entire family were at the waterfront to see him off. “I remember standing there watching members of my family wave from the dock and thinking that I knew something horrible that they didn’t know.” The abuse didn’t end with the priest’s departure, she says. During a visit to San Francisco two years later, Father Teddy took advantage of her epilepsy by fondling her as she lay immobile and helpless across a bed during a seizure, she claims.
But her worst single fright was when Father Teddy came for an overnight visit in 1972. Chavez, then 16, spent a sleepless night with a chair braced against her bedroom door, afraid the priest would slip into her room after the rest of her family had gone to sleep, she says. The next morning, while she was alone in her mother’s bedroom, Father Teddy, wearing his clerical collar, grabbed her and tried to pull her pants down, she says. She says he let go after she threatened to expose him.
Chavez later had a meeting with then-Auxiliary Bishop John Wester about Baquedano-Pech, who was then stationed in Mexico, resulting in Wester promising to do everything he could to find Father Teddy. After agreeing to detail her abuse in a letter, Wester said he would send the letter to Baquedano-Pech’s superior, Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzarán of Mérida. But according to SF Weekly, “The next month, at a meeting of abuse victims at the chancery office, she asked if he had heard anything and was flabbergasted to learn that he had misplaced the letter. But, Wester added, he had finally sent it that very day.”
When Archbishop Berlie Belaunzarán was slated to visit San Francisco, Chavez said she called Wester to arrange a meeting with the Archbishop, but Wester “nixed the idea,” saying Berlie Belaunzarán’s schedule was “too crowded.”
Following the visit, Chavez says Wester called her to say he spoke with the Archbishop and that Father Teddy was to be kept away from children. However, Chavez had hired Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson to help her.
From San Francisco Weekly’s report:
In a Feb. 3 letter — two months after Chavez says Wester assured her that the Mérida archbishop had been notified — Berlie wrote that he had not known of Chavez’s allegations until informed by Anderson. In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by SF Weekly, Berlie says that until hearing from Chavez’s attorney, he “was without any complaints of any kind” regarding Father Teddy. He adds that “following [Anderson’s] request we have taken all the precautions in accord with [the lawyer’s] prudent advice to restrict” the priest’s contacts with children.
While declining to discuss details, Wester nonetheless defends his role, telling SF Weekly that he informed Archbishop Berlie of Chavez’s allegations both verbally and in writing. He says he mailed a letter about Chavez to Berlie on Dec. 2, but could not be specific about when he spoke with the Mexican archbishop.
Wester Fumbled Account of Allegedly Abused 8-Year-Old Girl
Danielle Lacampagne claimed that when she was eight years old, Father Daniel Carter “placed his hand inside her clothing and fondled her breasts and vagina while he was a guest in the family home,” according to SF Weekly. This allegedly happened when Carter was a teacher at Notre Dame des Victoires Parochial School, which Lacampagne attended. During the controversial case, Wester, who was working on it, fumbled Lacampagne’s account.
SF Weekly wrote:
The report, in which her name was misspelled and the month she was alleged to have first contacted Wester was inaccurate, erroneously portrayed the nature of her abuse as vaginal penetration, which Lacampagne says she never asserted. It also said the alleged molestation occurred in the bedroom of her home. She says Carter fondled her at the dining room table, after she had come downstairs in her pajamas to say good night, and while her parents and siblings were elsewhere in the house.
The inaccurate statement reportedly fueled the fire for Carter’s supporters, which led to a more than $100,000 war chest and postcard campaign, resulting in Carter being reinstated. This is just another example of Wester’s involvement in sexual abuse cases during his time in San Francisco resulting in either no action taken by Wester or inaccuracies occurring when action finally happened.
Wester Kept Pedophilic Priest In Post Despite Credible Warnings from Accuser
Joe Piscitelli said Rev. Stephen Whelan sexually assaulted him as a 14-year-old freshman at Salesian High School in Richmond, California. “Groping, fondling, he would stick his hands down my pants,” said Piscitelli. He added, “The very last incident I had with him we went upstairs, he dragged me into this room, he started ripping off my clothes and he raped me.”
Piscitelli says that in a meeting with John Wester telling him, “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.” Despite his warnings, Wester did not remove Whelan.
Whelan remained in his post at Saints Peter and Paul, which serves children pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, for the next three years as Piscitelli’s lawsuit wound its way through California’s Second District Court. Piscitelli later won the lawsuit in 2006, and Whelan was removed from his duties.
“I know Joe (Piscitelli) was not pleased because the board did not rule immediately the way he wanted,” Wester said. “My recollection is that we were extremely thorough.”
During that time, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who currently sits in the role of vice president, “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,” according to NBC Bay Area. “And, he says, she didn’t reply five years later when he wrote again, urging her to release records on accused clergy to help other alleged victims who were filing lawsuits.”
Alleged Abuse by Ex-Cathedral Rector Fr. Adam Ortega y Ortiz
In 2013, shortly before Wester was installed as Archbishop in 2015, former music director, Xavier Gonzales, for the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi — the mother church of the Archdiocese — accused the then-rector, Fr. Adam Ortega y Ortiz of “crude and inappropriate” behavior, including “an inability to keep his hands to himself.” Gonzales was later let go.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to kiss, pat on the stomach, rub a chest, twist a nipple or spank… buttocks to say ‘hi,’” he wrote.
“I stand behind my 21 years as a priest with my shortcomings and weaknesses doing my best to serve His Catholic Church,” wrote Ortega y Ortiz. The Church was reported to be “investigating” the priest’s alleged misconduct and dismissed the accusation in the same month.
Finally, in 2018, Father Adam stepped down as rector at the Cathedral following a months-long absence from the church, causing much speculation. Sources close to the Piñon Post, under fear of retaliation, allege Adam to be under investigation for sexual misconduct, which, if true, has taken years for Wester to take action on.
If Father Adam’s repeated abuse claims are true, Archbishop Wester has a duty to laicize Ortega y Ortiz or release his personnel file, so more people don’t get harmed.
Self-Admitted Pedophilic Sexual Abuser Appears at Event With Wester
In 2005, then-Archbishop William J. Levada testified “that he did not report Father Milton Walsh to law-enforcement officials, although the priest admitted [to fondling] a [13-year-old] boy, because he was persuaded that Walsh would not offend again,” according to Catholic World News.
The abuse by Walsh began occurring to a boy in the 1980s under former San Francisco Archbishop Quinn.
According to Jeff Anderson & Associates, PA:
[Quinn] allegedly convinced the parents not to involve police and reassured them that Fr. Milton T. Walsh would receive treatment. However, a subsequent Archbishop of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Levada, allowed Fr. Walsh to remain in ministry even after the victim’s aunt wrote a letter to the Archbishop imploring him “not to let this man fall through the cracks.” By this time, Fr. Walsh had allegedly already admitted to Archbishop Levada that he had sexually abused the young boy. In 2002, Fr. Walsh was arrested on charges of sexual abuse and removed from active ministry.
The Associated Press reported that the sexual abuse discouraged the victim, Jay Seaman, from wanting to be a priest when Walsh molested him on his 13th birthday. “It really ruined me,” said Seaman, who works on a maintenance crew for the Golden Gate bridge. “I believe I’m still a Christian, but I don’t go to church to find my religion.”
Walsh says he knows Archbishop Wester from when they were at seminary together at St. John’s Seminary in Mountain View, California. Walsh was seen at a “healing Mass” for victims of clerical abuse in Taos and a subsequent celebration of a proposed new Benedictine monastery where Wester presided over the ceremonies. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the monastery would be “just across the street from a public elementary school.”
The Journal further reported:
Back then, the church promised to keep Walsh away from children and in “academic” settings, the victim’s lawyer told the Journal this week. In recent years, lawyers who represent victims of clergy sexual abuse and track offenders have listed Walsh’s whereabouts and his access to children as “unknown.”
Now, questions have surfaced about his presence in Taos.
Although Wester denies Walsh will be living at the monastery and that Walsh currently lives in San Francisco, Walsh said he “might be traveling back and forth from San Francisco to the Taos monastery as he considered a ‘monastic’ lifestyle.”
Wester’s Pattern of Reportedly Covering Up Abuse
The constant, well-documented pattern of reported dereliction of duty in reporting abuse, alleged silencing of whistleblowers privy to knowledge of pedophilic abuse, and the lack of action regarding sexual abuse cases in Wester’s diocese is troubling.
In Wester’s own words:
It is difficult to put into words my sadness and shame over the betrayal of trust by members of the clergy who were supposed to love and protect our children and young people, and for the pain and suffering endured by victims of this abuse. I offer my sincere apology on behalf of the Archdiocese to survivors and their families and my continued commitment to support and assist you on your road to healing and recovery. Jesus said “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Lk 18:16). It is at the heart of the church’s mission, therefore, to protect, nurture and care for our children. Indeed, the church and any society can be judged on how well it cares for the vulnerable in its midst. When the church fails in this sacred responsibility, we betray the trust Christ has given us and the trust of those we have a responsibility to look out for and safeguard.
I firmly believe that actions speak louder than words. What is often lost or relegated to a footnote in the media’s coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in New Mexico are the many steps this Archdiocese has taken over the past 25 years to prevent sexual abuse of children.
From 8-year-old girls sexually defiled to 14-year-old boys being repeatedly raped and sexually tormented by pedophilic priests, it is clear these young members of the Church deserved their cases to be heard with urgency and delicate reporting of abuse.
If Wester lived by his statement that “It is at the heart of the church’s mission, therefore, to protect, nurture and care for our children,” the child victims, such as Sylvia Chavez, who sought his help but received no answer, would have been aided. Or Father John Conley, who bravely reported abuse and was told by Wester to “keep quiet,” would not have been vilified and hidden in retaliation.
But despite his failure to clamp down on pedophilic priests, Wester has repeatedly been promoted by his superiors, many of whom have also been implicated in covering up pedophilic sexual abuse. He appears to have created a safe haven for priests such as self-admitted pedophiles like Milton Walsh and alleged sexual assailants like Father Adam Ortega y Ortiz.
This all comes as Wester viciously rebuked lawmakers in 2016 for working to reinstate the death penalty for murderers and rapists as “blasphemous” for “wanting to “take a human life.” But now, Wester remains supportive of pro-abortion politicians who voted to kill children in the womb up to their date of birth by refusing to withhold these legislators Holy Communion.
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. – Matthew 18:5