El Paso Diocese sex abuse lawsuit settled

Deming Headlight [Deming NM]

January 23, 2023

By Algernon D'Ammassa

A settlement on the eve of jury selection in Deming’s Sixth Judicial District Court last week pre-empted a civil trial against the Catholic Diocese of El Paso alleging past sexual abuse by a priest who is now deceased. The trial had been set to begin today.

The plaintiff, identified as John Doe 117 in the 2019 complaint, alleged he was abused during road trips to Deming by Father Pedro Martinez, a priest at the Mt. Carmel parish in El Paso, where the plaintiff also lived at the time. The complaint alleged that Martinez sexually abused and exploited the plaintiff, a child at the time, at hotels in Deming during road trips over a period of two years beginning approximately in 1970.

The lawsuit sought to hold the diocese culpable for the behavior attributed to Martinez, stating in court documents that the church “taught vulnerable children (including Plaintiff) to put complete trust in priests and believe that priests had divine power and authority over them and their souls,” while failing to ensure parishioners’ safety and even “adhering to policies and practices of secrecy to protect abusive priests and (the Diocese) from scandal.”

Moreover, the lawsuit alleged the diocese assigned “known sexual predators” to ministry unbeknownst to parishioners, while taking actions to prevent public scrutiny of sexual misconduct.

In court documents, the plaintiff alleged that the priest used drugs to render him unconscious and may have taken nude photographs of him.

Through the decades since, the plaintiff stated that he had suffered “embarrassment, humiliation, loss of self-esteem (and) depression” requiring psychiatric treatment and therapy. The lawsuit asked for compensatory and punitive damages.

In recent years, the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces and the Santa Fe Archdiocese have released names of area priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children reaching as far back as far as 1950. Many of the cases were ineligible for prosecution due to statutes of limitations; as well, some of the clergy members named in the accusations had since died. Others had left the ministry or retired.

The El Paso diocese released its own list of 30 credibly accused priests on Jan. 31, 2019, which included Martinez among members of religious orders ordained as priests who served in the diocese with permission of the bishop. Martinez was listed as a member of the Society of Jesus who died in 1996. The release did not include information about when or whether Martinez had retired or left ministry.

In a statement accompanying the release, El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz stated the diocese had in previous decades accepted priests from other dioceses without proper vetting due to a shortage of clergy for what had been a large geographic area. Prior to the founding of the Las Cruces diocese in August 1982, the El Paso diocese covered much of southern New Mexico, including Luna County.

Seitz added that the diocese had not received a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor since 1999.

“While the abuse may have happened decades ago, however, I recognize that the pain and suffering from that abuse is felt every day by the victims, their families, our communities and our Church,” Seitz wrote.

The trial had been scheduled to proceed before District Judge Jarod Hofacket for two weeks.

Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at algernon@demingheadlight.com.