Warrants detail clergy sex abuse in New Mexico

Published 11-29-2018

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A pair of search warrants describe in graphic detail the sexual abuse endured by children years ago at the hands of two Catholic priests in New Mexico, a state that has grappled with the problem of clergy abuse for decades.

The warrants were served by agents with the state attorney general's office at the home of a former priest in northern New Mexico and at the offices of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which is located in Albuquerque.

The warrants were based on the statements of two unidentified victims and a confidential informant who provided information about the church not following through on settlements and giving ultimatums to victims. That included threats of stopping paid treatment if victims went to authorities with their claims or sought help from doctors that weren't referred by the church.

The archdiocese did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the latest allegations.

Archbishop John Wester planned a news conference Thursday afternoon after meeting with all priests in the diocese.

Church officials said Wednesday they provided records on two former priests to the attorney general's office and that their staff would continue to cooperate with prosecutors and law enforcement, but prosecutors said the records were only provided after serving the 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.

New Mexico has 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.

Numerous lawsuits resulted over the years, and the church was forced during the 1990s to begin addressing the problem.

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

The archdiocese listed 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.

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.

One of the search warrants served this week details the alleged abuse by Griego of a girl who attended an Albuquerque catholic school. She told investigators Griego would regularly pull her out of class and force her to perform oral sex and that he also raped her and would hit her.

In the other case, Archuleta was accused of sodomizing a 6-year-old boy while stationed at a church in Santa Cruz, New Mexico. The victim told investigators the priest had tied a belt around his chest to keep him from moving during the abuse.

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