ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ChurchMilitant.com) - An employee of an Albuquerque parish pepper-sprayed a man for talking about clerical sex abuse.
At St. Bernadette Shrine in Albuquerque in the archdiocese of Santa Fe, Reuben Ortiz was pepper-sprayed after Sunday Mass on Nov. 11. Reuben was talking about how he and his wife, Tania, took a priest into their home for seven months, then found out he was accused of molesting dozens of boys. Reuben and Tania spoke with Church Militant about this in an interview earlier this year.
Reuben said he was speaking about this after Mass with a man in his 30s who claimed he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest. Reuben recalled that some other people were also interested in what he was talking about.
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.
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. He grabbed the neck of my suit and shirt from the back while I was on the ground, holding me down as tightly as he could. 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.
He said the pepper spray was excruciatingly painful, stating, "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.
The guard stood behind Reuben and held onto him tightly. Reuben relates, "He grabbed the neck of my suit from the back while I was on the ground, holding it as tightly as he could."
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 taken to the hospital because of the pepper spray. He told Church Militant that the pain of the pepper spray was even worse than passing a kidney stone:
I ended up in Kaseman hospital, and that is when extreme pain kicked in, that almost ... caused me to pass out. I was asking for something to help my heart, because I couldn't breathe. The severe pain was from my eyes. There were about four nurses attending to me, and a doctor was called immediately. ... It was horrible. To give you a comparison of the pain with other pain that I have experienced, one time my wife took me to the hospital because I was passing a kidney stone, and this pepper spray pain almost made me pass out, but the kidney stone did not reach the threshold of pain that this pepper spray reached.
He clarified that the period of particularly severe pain from the pepper spray lasted about two minutes.
"No one was arrested" from the incident, Reuben points out, even though police arrived on the scene and produced a police report. He says he is looking to press charges for the pepper spray attack that he endured.
Even though he is a registered parishioner at St. Bernadette Shrine, Reuben says he plans on switching parishes due to this painful experience.
Church Militant reached out to staff at St. Bernadette Shrine to see if anyone from the parish would be willing to provide information on the pepper spray incident. The parish gave no response by time of publication.