SANTA FE (NM)
Santa Fe New Mexican
July 11, 2023
By Milan Simonich
No one is less deserving of a saintly title than the Rev. David Holley, who from the grave remains a terrifying figure.
Holley was one of the country’s most notorious Catholic priests, a pedophile who left a trail of shattered lives from Massachusetts to Texas to New Mexico.
A scene in the 2015 Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight centers on one of Holley’s countless crimes. Rape survivor Phil Saviano meets with investigative reporters of the Boston Globe and recounts Holley’s time in the Diocese of Worcester, Mass.
“I was 11, and I was preyed upon by Father David Holley,” says the actor who portrayed Saviano. “And I don’t mean prayed for. I mean preyed upon.”
What the movie didn’t mention was the Diocese of Worcester shipped Holley to Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic order that provided “treatment” in New Mexico for pedophiles and addicts.
Holley arrived in 1971. Soon he was updating the church hierarchy in Worcester about his reintroduction to the outside world in New Mexico. Priests under Paraclete’s care “go out to neighboring parishes on the weekend,” Holley wrote.
Half a century later, a man identifying himself only as John Doe is suing Paraclete and other Catholic entities, saying they turned loose a monster on unsuspecting kids, churches and towns.
“Father Holley found his way to
St. Jude’s Parish in Alamogordo, New Mexico,” Doe’s lawsuit states. “Disturbingly, the move of this known child predator to Alamogordo happened with the blessing of organization officials.
“There, he would reside in housing provided by Church authorities across the street from a school with easy access to impressionable young boys to continue his sick sexual escapades for several years.”
Holley is not a defendant in the lawsuit. He died in prison in 2008 while serving a 275-year sentence for molesting eight boys in Alamogordo.
John Doe sued organizations he accuses of abetting Holley. The initial list of defendants included Paraclete, the Catholic dioceses of Worcester, Las Cruces and El Paso, and St. Jude and Immaculate Conception parishes in Alamogordo.
State District Judge Daniel Ramczyk in springtime granted summary judgments in favor of the Diocese of Las Cruces and the two parishes.
Ramczyk said New Mexico’s policy is to protect children, but state case law appears to bar the lawsuits against the Diocese of Las Cruces and the Alamogordo parishes.
Holley’s sexual assaults occurred before those entities were incorporated. An appellate court decision in an unrelated case held that unincorporated associations have no existence legally.
“The law as written right now is not in [Doe’s] favor,” Ramczyk wrote.
Doe’s lawyers on June 30 appealed the judge’s decision to the state Court of Appeals. They say existing case law promotes “absurd results,” namely immunity for Catholic organizations that placed known pedophile Holley alongside children.
Cammie Nichols, one of the attorneys representing John Doe, said many states recognize unincorporated associations and hold them accountable for misconduct. Texas is one, and it usually is regarded as less progressive than New Mexico.
Unlike most of Holley’s victims, Doe wasn’t Catholic. Alamogordo was the sort of town where Catholic priests were revered by parents and kids of many faiths.
His lawsuit states: “St. Jude was considered a safe haven in town, a place where Plaintiff’s parents, and parents of other young boys, permitted their young boys to spend unsupervised time with adult men — priests. Regardless of religious affiliation, the residents of Alamogordo understood the local Catholic Church to be a place of good and the local priests to be men of authority, goodness, leadership and trustworthiness.”
Holley had none of those attributes. Ordained a priest in 1958, he drew complaints of sexual misconduct in his first assignment in the Diocese of Worcester.
Church leaders sent Holley to a psychiatric institute in Baltimore after a complaint involving an 18-year-old male patient in a hospital.
Various parishes would not accept Holley for pastoral duties. Church executives in Worcester moved Holley to the Paraclete treatment center on the west side of Albuquerque. He also received therapy at Albuquerque’s Lovelace Medical Center.
Somehow judged worthy of a return to priestly work, Holley received assignments in Alamogordo and then cities in Texas. Misconduct complaints followed him everywhere.
By 1979 he was back at Paraclete, but the pattern of recklessness recurred. Holley received assignments at Catholic churches in two more Texas cities.
Rerouted to Denver, he was accused of sexual misconduct while serving as assistant chaplain of a hospital.
Criminal prosecutions of priests for pedophilia were rare for much of Holley’s career. He finally was criminally charged in 1993, when he was 65.
Holley pleaded no contest to felony charges of raping eight boys in Alamogordo in the 1970s, leading to his 275-year sentence.
Another scandal followed. The state Parole Board in 2004 granted Holley parole with restrictions. The state failed to notify his victims of the hearing.
Then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, fired the head of the parole board. A new panel assembled and rescinded Holley’s parole.
John Doe’s lawsuit against Paraclete is linked to Holley, but the case is more sweeping.
“New Mexico became the dumping ground for sexual predators within the national and even global church community,” Doe’s lawsuit states.
And Holley, dead for 15 years, remains in the spotlight.