Santa Fe archdiocese denies it told principal not to report alleged sex abuse

Santa Fe New Mexican

September 6, 2021

By Rick Ruggles

An official with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has denied the organization directed Santo Niño Regional Catholic School Principal Robin Chavez not to report to law enforcement a concern of possible child sexual abuse by a school employee.

In a statement Saturday, the archdiocese said, “At no time did we, nor would we ever, tell a school not to contact the authorities. That is a direct violation of our Policy of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Abuse Awareness Training for Adults Relating to Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment.”

In a late April interview with a New Mexico State Police officer, Chavez said officials with the archdiocese had informed her an incident involving 30-year-old Robert Apodaca and a student “did not yet rise to that level of notification” to law enforcement or the state child welfare agency, a state police report says.

“As of the time of my interview no contact to any department had taken place nor did it appear any contact would be made,” Officer Eric Jackson wrote.

His report says the boy’s mother reached out to state police after Chavez spoke with her about concerns about Apodaca’s behavior.

Apodaca, a school health aide, was arrested in July on felony molestation charges in an unrelated 2019 case at Gonzales Community School, where he worked previously, and is being held in jail without bond until his trial. He has not been charged in connection with any allegations from Santo Niño.

Chavez placed him on leave after the allegation at Santo Niño surfaced, and he later resigned.

Robert Apodaca  Courtesy photo
Robert Apodaca – Courtesy photo

In its statement Saturday, the archdiocese said its victim assistance coordinator “immediately went to Santo Niño to investigate” and talked to the principal and a state police officer.

The Rev. Glennon Jones, vicar general of the archdiocese, wrote in an email Saturday evening the institution “will be examining the events to ensure that there were no lapses in procedures, and implement improvements where possible.” Jones added the archdiocese “remains absolutely determined to ensure the protection of children from the crime of child sexual abuse.”

Chavez couldn’t be reached for comment.

Some Santo Niño parents have criticized Chavez for failing to inform them about the state police investigation into Apodaca or his arrest in July on charges accusing him of sexually abusing a boy at Gonzales.

Lynsey Storm and Annabelle Stagl said they learned about the allegations against Apodaca in a story last week in The New Mexican.

Stagl said parents were “never alerted about the situation” by Chavez or the archdiocese. “It’s pretty alarming,” she added.

“We need full transparency,” Storm said. “We’re supposed to be able to trust these people with our children.”

Chavez mentioned Apodaca’s departure from the school in a newsletter in the spring but provided no details.

In an email to parents Friday, she wrote school officials “acted immediately” in response to the alleged incident in April, placing Apodaca on leave and contacting the archdiocese. She also wrote, “Law enforcement was notified.”

“The matter was turned over to law enforcement and since that time there has been no further communication on this matter with the school,” she wrote. “… I have not been contacted by law enforcement, but will cooperate fully with any investigation.”

Jackson wrote in his report he met with Chavez and archdiocese victim assistance officer Annette Klimka about the matter April 29.