Clergy Abuse Settlement Documents Follow Pedophile Priest's Path Back to New Mexico

By Tom Sharpe
Santa Fe New Mexican
January 30, 2013

Documents made public this month on a multimillion-dollar settlement in 2007 between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and hundreds of victims of clergy abuse have tarnished the reputations of dozens of priests, including some well-connected Catholic leaders.

But the documents also shed light on one New Mexico-born pedophile who advanced through priestly ranks with protection from church officials.

Peter E. Garcia, born in Albuquerque in 1940, began seminary at age 14 in Los Angeles, where he had moved with his parents a couple of years earlier. Soon after he was ordained as a priest at age 26, Garcia began to have sex with underage boys, often the children of undocumented immigrants he had befriended.

Garcia was first accused of sexually abusing minors when he was 35. Nevertheless, he advanced to the rank of monsignor. By then, he’d reportedly had sex with up to 20 boys. After his third accusation, Garcia tried to commit suicide by combining sleeping pills with alcohol, and he was sent back to New Mexico, where he received psychiatric treatment at the Foundation House of the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs.

In 1985, he asked his supervisors to let him return to California, assuring them that the parents of the boys he’d molested would never take legal action. In a letter to Cardinal Timothy Manning, Garcia wrote, “They do love their Church and even when hurt do try to protect their priests and religious. This is a very strong Hispanic characteristic.” But the archbishop of Los Angeles demanded he stay in New Mexico and arranged for him to work in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Garcia eventually tired of treatment, left the priesthood and returned to California. He died in 2009 without ever being prosecuted or becoming the subject of civil litigation. But this month, he figured prominently in a cache of documents released as part of a $660 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 508 victims of clergy abuse.

The documents, posted online by the Los Angeles Times, include a letter from now-Cardinal Roger Mahony who, as archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, ordered Garcia to remain in New Mexico to avoid legal liabilities. Mahony is a politically connected Roman Catholic leader who has championed the rights of undocumented Latinos and Hispanic farmworkers. He has since apologized to the victims of abuse.

On July 22, 1986, when Garcia was at Foundation House, Mahony wrote to the director: “I feel strongly that it would not be possible for Monsignor Garcia to return to California and to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. The two young men who were involved with him and their parents have switched attorneys on several occasions, and I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the Archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors.”

A “very confidential” memo to the archbishop from Monsignor Tom Kane nearly two years earlier — when Garcia was serving in Los Angeles — warned that “a Mexican woman” said Garcia had threatened to have her 20-year-old son — a childhood victim of Garcia’s abuse who was suffering from mental illness — and his entire family deported to Mexico if the man disclosed the nature of his relationship with Garcia.

“The whole family feels they must move away, because they fear the priest is powerful,” says Kane’s memo. “He could send the whole family back and they do not rule out even physical violence, of which they are also afraid.”

Garcia was sent to the Foundation House that month — November 1984.

A Nov. 27 memo from a psychologist at the Jemez Springs facility said Garcia was “at a crisis point in his life. … He is experiencing extreme distress, anxiety, and remorse at the present time and is highly confused about himself, his feelings, and what he really thinks of himself. He tends to put himself down because of his problem and fears that he is possibly just an ‘evil person.’ He is also quite fearful that his family will find out and that he will have let everyone down.”

At first, Garcia was judged to be making progress at Foundation House, but the optimism soon was doused.

“No one I talked to expressed any confidence in Peter,” reported Monsignor Thomas Curry on May 3, 1987, after a visit to Jemez Springs. Foundation House officials “used words such as `slippery, sneaky,’ and `untrustworthy’ to describe him. I found Dr. [redacted] almost emotionally involved, in that he feels he has taken risks no other doctor would take for Peter; and yet Peter does nothing but blame him and the program and imply that he is being forced to do things against his will.”

Curry wrote that the psychologist assigned to Garcia “distrusts Peter deeply,” that Garcia had missed four monthly meetings, but “blithely dismissed the matter” and claimed that taking Depo-Provera, a drug believed to decrease sexual urges in men, had no effect on him, even though “he claims to have no attraction to minors at all.”

An Oct. 7, 1987, letter to Mahony from the medical director of the Saint Luke Institute, a mental-health clinic then in Suitland, Md., said Garcia had not had sex with minor boys for three years and had begun to understand his problem, but that in the previous year, his treatment had become “increasingly problematic.”

The letter warned against returning him to a regular parish ministry or putting him in contact with minors. The same letter noted that after Garcia was released from Jemez Springs but continued to go to outpatient treatment there, “he worked as a parish priest in the Santa Fe Diocese in New Mexico.”

However, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s victims assistance coordinator was not able to find any record of Garcia working in New Mexico.

“We did a little bit of research and, as far as all of our records go, he never was assigned to a parish here,” said Leslie Radigan, an editorial assistant at the archdiocese’s media office. “I’ve looked it up, and at one time he was serving, I think it was in ‘84, he was in Reno, Nev.”

Other church records, included in the recent disclosures, indicate Garcia was assigned to nine Catholic parishes, all in the Los Angeles area, between 1967 and 1984, then was “absent on sick leave” until 1989, when he left the priesthood.

In his report of May 3, 1987, Monsignor Curry wrote that Robert Sanchez, then archbishop of Santa Fe, “will be willing to keep Peter, but does not know if Personnel Board there will have any say in the matter. Recently, a Franciscan Brother, a principal of a Catholic high school, was indicted on [170] counts of child abuse. The Franciscans are treating the matter foolishly, believing his denials and doing little about the matter, and Archbishop Sanchez is apparently very upset about it.”

Sanchez, who was appointed as archbishop of Santa Fe in 1974 by Pope Paul VI, was a popular Catholic leader who championed New Mexico’s penitente order and pushed for reconciliation with Native Americans. But he resigned his post in 1993 after several women accused him of having sex with them while they were teenagers. Sanchez laid low for the next two decades, and he died last year of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at age 77.

There apparently were no obituaries written on Garcia after his death, and no photographs of him are available. Although Mahony tried to have Garcia defrocked as a priest in 1989, it appears Garcia voluntarily left the priesthood and returned to California. The last public trace of him was his comment, still identifying himself as a monsignor, on an online obituary of a woman who died in Durante, Calif., on March 26, 2009 — shortly before he died at age 69.

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