Shattered Faith: Hacienda de los Muchachos
February 28, 2018 12:40 PM
FARLEY, N.M. – If you don't know where Farley, New Mexico is, that was essentially former Catholic priest Ed Donelan's idea.
For nearly a decade, Donelan was the head of the Haciendo de los Muchachos – or Boys' Ranch – in Farley, located about 30 miles from Springer. It was a place where Catholic parishes across New Mexico encouraged parents to send their teenage boys when they got into trouble, with the promise that the retreat center of sorts would set them straight.
Pierre Nichols arrived at the facility in the early '70s for his first taste of New Mexico to work as a volunteer at the facility. He said he had painted a picture in his head of a wild west-type ranch you'd find in movies; instead he found a repurposed former school building on the outskirts of a small town.
He also soon found that, inside the facility, everyone was scared of the man they called Father Ed.
"It didn't take long to realize this person, this Father Ed Donelan who was running the ranch…was very possessive and very headstrong," Nichols said.
For years Nichols knew Donelan had secrets of things happening at the hacienda that nobody seemed to be talking about.
That is, until January 1976, when tragedy struck. Vaugh Bishop, just 12 years old, ran away from the hacienda and froze to death 50 miles into his escape.
"I didn't link it to sexual abuse. It wasn't until the death of Vaughn and the research I started that all of a sudden Pandora's Box opened, and out came the devil," Nichols said.
When Father Ed was away, Nichols began to talk to the boys. In time, he had earned their trust; now, he needed their honesty. In turn, some of the details he received were harrowing.
"He (one of the boys) said that, on occasion, Father Ed would put his mouth on him, was going to give him oral sex," he said.
All that happened in the then-priest's closed-door chambers that was dubbed "the skin room." It was directly adjacent to Donelan's personal bedroom at the facility, and it was where those kids would enter.
The skin room was lined with furs, had the building's only television and even housed alcohol for the teenage boys to drink.
It was also a room where admission required the boys to enter skin-only; and admission wasn't voluntary.
Middle school-aged boys would divulge to Nichols their fears that Donelan would emerge from his private bedroom just next door to their quarters, pluck them away and take them inside his room.
Once Nichols gathered all that information from the boys, he took them to someone he hoped would put an end to it.
He told a priest in a neighboring community about the sexual abuse at the hacienda. That priest, in turn, arranged a meeting with Donelan's boss – Archbishop Robert Sanchez of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Incredibly, Sanchez assigned then-Father Sabine Griego to investigate the claims. Griego himself was a prolific pedophile with several molestation claims brought forth against him.
Documents show Sanchez knew of those claims. Yet Griego was still chosen to investigate Donelan and the stories emerging from the hacienda.
When it became clear the church wasn't taking action, Nichols's actions grew bolder. He wrote to New Mexico Gov. Jerry Apodaca, Sen. Pete Domenici and social services administrators.
In time, before 1980, the state helped shut down the facility. The building was no longer in operation, but Donelan was still preaching and still had access to parish boys. Victims have come forward stating Donelan sexually abused them as late as 1988.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan retired Donelan in 1994 and provided him with a full pension. He died a short time later.
The boys he abused never received justice. No one was held responsible for Bishop's death.
"It's heart-wrenching to feel that nothing was done. I believed in the honesty of a priest, the honesty of the church," said Nichols, who recounted his experiences and frustrations about the lack of justice in a book titled "Secrets of the Blue Door."
Nichols, a hero in the story of priest abuse in New Mexico that is full of villains and victims, said that though those events happened nearly half a century ago, they're just as important to discuss now.
"The first thing that comes to mind is that history will repeat itself if you forget," he said. "And I'm afraid that's what's going to happen."
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Updated: February 28, 2018 12:40 PM
Created: February 27, 2018 07:30 PM
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