Santa Fe jury acquits ex-priest of sex crimes

Santa Fe New Mexican

February 4, 2020

By Phaedra Haywood

A Santa Fe jury deliberated less than three hours Tuesday before finding former priest Marvin Archuleta not guilty of raping a first grader at a parochial school in Santa Cruz in the late 1980s.

A jury of seven women and five men found the ex-priest not guilty on two counts Tuesday after a 3½-day trial during which Archuleta’s accuser testified the alleged assault shook his faith and caused him to spend much of his adult life trying to escape the memories through drug and alcohol abuse.

In his opening statement last week, Archuleta’s attorney argued the priest was working in Maryland at the time of the alleged assault, referring to newspaper clippings and baptismal records as evidence.

Archuleta, 82, declined to comment following the jury’s verdict. He embraced several supporters who sat through the trial and shuffled out of the courthouse with the help of a walker. His accuser was not present.

“We’re very pleased with the jury’s verdict,” said Archuleta’s attorney, Ryan Villa. “I think the evidence was clear Marvin Archuleta was in Maryland the entire time of the alleged victim’s first year [in school]. There wasn’t any evidence to the contrary, and frankly the story just didn’t add up.”

Archuleta’s case was the first to come out of state Attorney General Hector Balderas’ ongoing investigation into claims of child sex abuse in Roman Catholic churches throughout New Mexico.

The Attorney General’s Office charged the former priest in February 2018 with criminal sexual penetration of a child under 13 and kidnapping after his accuser — now an adult — told a special agent Archuleta tied him up with a belt and raped him when he was 6.

Archuleta’s accuser told jurors he remembered being called out of class at Holy Cross Catholic School in Santa Cruz during the 1986-87 school year and being taken to the sacristy, where priests keep their vestments and other items for Mass. He was left alone with Archuleta, who he said made him kneel on a chair before sexually assaulting him while saying, “This is God’s love.”

He said he was “110 percent sure” Archuleta was the man who assaulted him.

“I am inspired by the tremendous courage of the survivor and his family,” Balderas said in an email Tuesday. “While we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict, we will continue to stand up for survivors of decades-old abuses in these complex cases.”

According to a criminal complaint, Archuleta was ordained in 1970 and served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe from 1970-78 and from 1987-94.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe named Archuleta in a list of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

After agents served a search warrant on the archdiocese, investigators found a file containing other sexual assault allegations against Archuleta. He has been accused of sexual abuse in several lawsuits against the archdiocese. Most were settled out of court, and two are still pending.

Allegations against him appear to have first emerged publicly in the 1990s when a lawsuit claimed he invited an altar boy, 14, on a cross-country trip to Washington, D.C., during 1971 and fondled the child.

That case ended with a settlement.

Celine Baca Radigan, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday but told The New Mexican in March that church officials first received a report accusing Archuleta of abuse in 1994 and immediately removed him from the ministry and “restricted his priestly faculties.”

He was never reassigned within the archdiocese, she said.

Following his dismissal, Archuleta was sent to Maryland for an evaluation and then to the Vianney Renewal Center near St. Louis, which offered rehabilitation and reconciliation for priests and was a stopping point for clergy accused of abuse, according to a 2019 story in The New Mexican.

The facility is operated by the Catholic organization Servants of the Paraclete, which ran a similar rehabilitation facility in Jemez Springs.

In 2002, ABC News found Archuleta working at a church in Mexico City.

The Attorney General’s Office has also charged another former priest, Sabine Griego, with raping a child while working at a parochial school decades ago.

Griego, 81, who has been living in the Las Vegas, N.M., area, worked in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Ruidoso and Las Vegas before he was removed from the priesthood in 2005. He has been accused of abusing more than two dozen people.

He is scheduled to stand trial in June for on charges he repeatedly raped a female student over a two-year period beginning in 1988 when the girl was 7.