Warrant yields documents on 2 ex-priests in sex abuse case

Published 11-29-2018

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The state attorney general's office says that after months of legal wrangling, it has received documents involving two former priests who are among dozens of clergy members identified last year by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe as having been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

Church officials said Wednesday they provided the records and their staff would continue to cooperate with prosecutors and law enforcement, but prosecutors said the records were only provided after it served a search warrant.

Letters exchanged between prosecutors and lawyers for the archdiocese show they have been at odds over access for months.

State prosecutors in September asked to review personnel records for any material that might be related to past or present allegations of abuse. Letters seeking "full disclosure and transparency" were sent to the archdiocese as well as church leaders in Las Cruces and Gallup.

The request came in the wake of a grand jury report that said more than 300 Catholic priests abused at least 1,000 children over the past seven decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses. That report said senior figures in the church hierarchy systematically covered up complaints.

Attorney General Hector Balderas in a letter Wednesday accused the archdiocese's legal team of delaying and creating barriers to records that he described as vital to his investigation.

"Although your office has publicly represented a cooperative posture, our investigation has been met with rigid positions aimed at maintaining silence at the expense of survivors of clergy sexual abuse who are speaking out to demand transparency and justice," Balderas wrote.

He said he intends to uncover the extent of clergy sex abuse and any subsequent cover-up.

Church attorneys in a previous letter argued that Balderas' demands were "extremely overboard." They suggested he was pursuing a baseless claim.

The archdiocese listed all of the steps it has taken over the last 25 years to address clergy sex abuse, including adopting a zero tolerance policy, establishing an independent review board and requiring background checks and training.

"If you truly believe that your office has a legitimate, good faith basis for any legal claim against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe or its current personnel, please tell us what that is and we will give it due consideration," attorney Luis Stelzner wrote.

The archdiocese was first to announce Wednesday that it had provided the attorney general with records related to former priests Marvin Archuleta and Sabine Griego. The two are on the archdiocese's list of clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

While Archuleta's whereabouts is unknown, Griego in May was named in a civil lawsuit by seven people who say they are victims of sexual abuse. Court records did not list an attorney for him.

Documents released under court order by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in a separate civil lawsuit show that by 2017 the archdiocese had reached settlements with 32 New Mexicans who alleged that Griego sexually abused them as children.

The attorney general's office said the investigations involving Archuleta and Griego are ongoing and declined to release any further details.

New Mexico has had a long history with clergy sex abuse because many priests from around the country were sent to the state in the 1960s for treatment involving pedophilia. Victims, lawyers and church documents show the priests were later assigned to parishes and schools across the state.

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