Lawsuit Alleges Sex Abuse by Priest in Questa

By Tom Sharpe
The New Mexican
April 2, 2013

An anonymous Taos County man alleges in a lawsuit that he was molested as a child by a priest in Questa some 25 years ago.

He claims the Rev. Michael O’Brien raped him, beginning when he was 10 or 11 years old and continuing until he was 12 or 13.

O’Brien was known for starting the Pilgrimage for Vocations while he was a pastor in Estancia in 1973. The 100-mile walk from Estancia to Chimayo was meant to recruit young men to the priesthood.

He went on to serve at the San Francisco de Asis Catholic Church in Ranchos de Taos from from 1980 to 1981, at St. Gertrude the Great in Mora, 1982-84, Our Lady of Sorrows in Las Vegas, N.M., 1985-86, and St. Anthony in Questa, 1987-89.

O’Brien died of cancer at age 48 in Taos and was buried at the Mission Church of Santo Nino near Mora in a serape and sandals that he wore on his annual pilgrimages, according to a news obituary in The New Mexican.

The complaint for failure to prevent sexual abuse, filed in state District Court in Albuquerque on Tuesday by attorneys Brad Hall of Albuquerque and Kelly Clark of Portland, Ore., seeks unspecified damages from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and St. Anthony parish on behalf of a man identified only as “John Doe.”

The complaint says the plaintiff’s parents wanted him to be an altar boy, and that when he did, O’Brien groomed him with what he called “massage time” — which quickly escalated into sexual abuse.

The complaint says the plaintiff, now 37, is only beginning to realize the harm done to him by the archdiocese in “sheltering and housing a pedophile priest.”

When he began to realize last year what had happened to him as a child, he contacted archdiocese officials, who offered to pay for counseling if he would not talk to a lawyer or bring a claim, the complaint says. He began counseling “about his patterns of self-destructive behavior … severe emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of faith, loss of sexual capacity, loss of self-esteem, and other damages.” But when his attorneys contacted the archdiocese, “the Church ‘cut off’ its parishioner from any further counseling,” the complaint says.

The complaint portrays O’Brien’s actions as part of a “historical era of rampant, unchecked sexual abuse of minor children by Catholic priests. …

“The Archdiocese of Santa Fe knew that priests who engaged in sexual abuse of children could not be treated or ‘cured’ with prayer, were a continued danger to the safety of children, and should never be introduced to a parish setting where they would have unsupervised access to children,” it says.

Chancellor John Cannon responded in a written statement: “This alleged incident occurred 30 years ago. The archdiocese has had a zero tolerance policy in place for over 20 years. We do not comment on pending litigation.”

Hall said the client initially contacted Clark, whose firm on Oregon was known for handling several pedophile-priest cases and winning a $20 million verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, and that Clark contacted Hall to act as local counsel.

“I don’t think he’s motivated by money or anything else. He’s just been really struggling,” Hall said. “It’s one of those cases where it appears the lawsuit might be cathartic.”

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