SALT LAKE CITY — The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City has received "credible allegations of sexual abuse" against 16 priests since 1990, Bishop Oscar Solis said in an open letter this week to Utah Catholics.
Those allegations include complaints submitted against two priests this year.
Bishop Solis' letter, published in the diocese's newspaper, Intermountain Catholic, said such allegations have also been submitted against one seminarian and one brother in that time period.
The sexual abuse grievances filed with the diocese since 1990 "involved approximately 34 victims." Two of the accused priests were the subjects of complaints submitted this year, Bishop Solis said in the message.
"Both have been reported to the authorities; investigation is ongoing and both are under temporary suspension from priestly ministry," he wrote.
In his letter, he decried "the horrible sins of some priests against minors and the failure of some bishops in their responsibility to nourish and protect the little ones."
"In the Diocese of Salt Lake City, we take our sacred responsibility of protecting our children very seriously. We are saddened by and ashamed of the sexual abuse scandal in our church," Bishop Solis said. "Some of our priests and bishops have committed harm and injustice to so many. On behalf of all my brother priests, and myself, I beg your forgiveness for their sins and failings."
In August, the diocese announced it had placed the Rev. David R. Gaeta, a pastor in American Fork, on administrative leave while it investigates accusations of sexual misconduct against children between 1980 and 1984 when the Rev. Gaeta oversaw a parish in Ogden.
Jean Hill, government liaison for the diocese, said at the time that the accusations involved two people who allegedly were inappropriately touched during that time, when they were boys. Hill did not know the age of those boys at the time of the alleged incidents.
The Rev. Gaeta has denied the allegations, Hill said in August. She said at the time that the diocese had contacted the Division of Child and Family Services, and that police were investigating, but few other details were provided.
The Rev. Gaeta was ordained for the diocese in 1980 and served in Ogden from 1980 to 1984 and left Utah in 1985, according to Hill. He returned to the state when he assumed leadership of the St. Peter Parish in American Fork in 2017.
The other priest to be accused this year of sexual misconduct is the Rev. Jorge Martinez-Gomez, pastor of the Saint Francis of Assisi parish in Orem.
An announcement to the congregation there in mid-July, shared Friday with the Deseret News, says the Salt Lake diocese received an accusation against the Rev. Martinez-Gomez on July 3 stemming from alleged misconduct "involving an adult male" in December 2016.
He was placed on administrative leave the same day the allegation was received, the announcement said, pending the outcome of the diocese investigation.
"This matter has been reported to law enforcement, and we will cooperate with law enforcement in its investigation," the announcement said, adding that "the diocese is unaware of any other allegations" against the priest.
Anyone with "information or concerns" was asked to call the diocese's victims' assistance coordinator, Sandy Growe, at 801-328-8641.
No other details about the allegations were released.
Of the allegations against specific church leaders submitted since 1990, the incidents described by those who came forward go back to 1962, Bishop Solis said in the letter.
"Most allegations were reported to and received by the diocese after the priest either had left the priesthood, had retired, returned to his country of origin or had died," he said of the cases reported since 1990. "All allegations were reported to the Division of Child and Family Services, and all victims were offered pastoral assistance with counseling and therapy."
In addition, in the same reporting period four people have come forward about incidents they said happened between 1951 and 1975, but those four people "could not remember which perpetrator (priest or lay) had abused them," Bishop Solis wrote. Each of them were also "offered funding for therapy."
It was in 1990, he said, that the diocese made it protocol "that future allegations would be reported to authorities and anyone found to have committed abuse … would be held accountable and permanently removed from ministry."
Bishop Solis said the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City continues to observe "strict implementation of the zero tolerance policy," including immediate reporting of sexual misconduct to law enforcement and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.
He said the diocese "extends pastoral outreach to the victims and their families that includes the practice of offering therapy."
Bishop Solis also said "an independent review board consisting mostly of laymen and women with various professional backgrounds and experiences" helps the diocese investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, and have the authority to make "recommendations to remove a priest from ministry when it is appropriate."
He added that the diocese gives children "age-relevant educational programs about sexual abuse" and helps them learn "how to avoid and report questionable behavior."
Bishop Solis' letter also addressed a Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month that concluded an estimated 1,000 children across six dioceses in that state had been molested or raped by church clergy over a 70-year period.2 comments on this story
That report, he said, "revealed the harrowing history and sinful deeds of some priests and bishops as well as the attempted cover-ups or omissions of some leaders of our church who miserably failed in carrying out their sacred responsibility of protecting God's children in their pastoral care."
"The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City is committed to providing safe and loving care for young people in our parishes, missions, schools and other ministries," Bishop Solis wrote. "It is our serious intent to protect our children and to reach out to victim-survivors who have been abused by our clergy or other church personnel so they can receive healing, justice, reconciliation and peace."