Lawsuits Filed against Priests
Rio Grande Sun
September 26, 2017
In 1986, when John Doe 46 was nine years old, he was selected as one of the altar boys for the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, in Espanola.
For the next two years, he was allegedly raped by former priest Armando Martinez, who was killed in 1997.
Doe is just one of the many victims of sexual abuse and violence at the hands of Catholic clergy in Rio Arriba County. Because he is a victim of sexual abuse, he is only named as “John Doe” in court documents.
On Sept. 12, the Santa Fe Archdiocese, which covers Rio Arriba County, released a list of 75 priests who were found to have credibly abused children while serving in the area.
At least six of those priests preyed on children in Rio Arriba County, oftentimes with multiple victims reported.
According to a press release attached to the list, from Archbishop John Wester, the Archdiocese is continually working to identify additional ways that they may aid in the healing process.
“Not long after I became archbishop, I concluded that a critical step is for the archdiocese to publicly acknowledge and identify those clergy and religious (sic) who have been accused of perpetrating child sexual abuse within our archdiocese,” Wester wrote in the release.
The Archdiocese needs to practice openness and transparency in order to rebuild trust and heal old wounds, according to the press release. One way to do that is to publish the list of names, although many have already been publicly identified.
Wester wrote the list includes clergy members who meet one of four conditions.
First, it includes all accused clergy members who have been found guilty, either internally, by the church, called canon law, or criminally.
In the case of canon law, the list only includes priests who faced one of two types of punishment.
“In the case of canonical processes, the clerics whose names are included either have been dismissed from the clerical state at the end of the canonical process, or have been assigned to a life of prayer and penance, with no ministry possible,” Wester wrote.
Second, the list includes clergy members who were laicized, or been removed as a member of the clergy, after having been accused of sexually abusing a child.
Third, it includes clergy members who were publicly accused of child sexual abuse after they were laicized.
Finally, it includes the names of clergy members who have been publicly accused, are dead, and complaints against them never went through church or criminal proceedings.
“In most of these cases, the accused priest had died before the allegations were received,” Wester wrote.
The list does not include cases in which clergy members were accused of sexually abusing children, but the Archdiocese never received more information or substantiated the allegation.
“Nor have we included the names of those clergy and religious (sic) where the accusations against them were withdrawn or were found to be unsubstantiated after investigation,” Wester wrote.
The list is part of “an important step in healing,” but only a part of additional programs and services that Wester plans on announcing.
Santa Fe Attorney Merit Bennett said he handled 150 sex abuse cases in the 1990s on behalf of his clients.
New Mexico was home to the Servants of Paraclete order in Jemez Springs. The Church shipped pedophile priests there for rehabilitation, after accusations of sexual abuse, according to interviews with Bennett and lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese.
While the priests were at the retreat, they would be “loaned” to other parishes for weekends or whenever another priest needed a vacation, Bennett said.
“It’s challenging to track who was assigned where and when,” he said.
Many of Bennett’s clients came forward, after news of the sex abuse scandals broke in Boston, Mass.
“We would get another resurgence (of reports) here because people were so ashamed to report it (at the time),” he said. “Most were barely able to make the complaint because they were basically shamed by the priest never to talk. It’s very complicated and damaging to the psyche with the religious element (that says) you are guilty for having the priest molest you.”
During that wave of reports in the 1990s, a flurry of lawsuits were filed.
“There were so many cases and initially they fought them, but then they lost in court (a few times) and then they began to settle them,” Bennett said.
Many victims never even filed lawsuits and instead, just settled.
“It became like a routine,” Bennett said. “A client would walk into the office, we would check out (the allegation) and make sure it was a valid complaint, and then call the mediator for the diocese and immediately go into (arbitration.)”
Attorney Brad Hall, who has been handling sex abuse cases against the church for the past five years, said he just filed a lawsuit on behalf of John Doe 71, which reflects an internal numbering system for his clients of sex abuse perpetrated by clergy members.
Hall has been handling many of the cases filed, in which the church is charged for the actions of former priest Jason Sigler.
He said he has timelines of abuse perpetrated by Sigler, including where he was and when. However, those documents have been sealed by Albuquerque District Judge Alan Malot.
TV news station KOB filed a motion to unseal those timelines and, following a Sept. 1, hearing, Malot is reviewing them for release.
Although it is possible that more priests have been sued for abuse in Rio Arriba County, those lawsuit complaints are only available in a paper or microfiche format at the court where the cases were filed.
Most of the lawsuits charging sexual abuse of Rio Arriba County residents have been filed in Bernalillo District Court.
According to a Rio Grande SUN story, in the Sept. 5, 1991 edition, Sandra Sandoval alleged that she was abused by Robert Kirsch for seven years, while he was at the St. Thomas Apostle Church in Abiquiu.
He was assigned to the church between 1967 and 1977, but had been in New Mexico since the 1950s, according to the story.
According to an Associated Press story on April 29, 1993, former Albuquerque District judge Gerald Cole dismissed the lawsuit, May 19, 1993, after he ruled that the statute of limitations for her lawsuit expired in 1981, 10 years before she filed it.
According to online court records, she appealed that decision, but the Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s ruling.
Sandoval alleged the abuse started when she was a 15-year-old parishioner in 1973, and continued until 1977, when he left Abiquiu.
She alleged that Kirsch gave her a sexually transmitted disease when he first started abusing her in 1973 and, in 1976, he impregnated her, which resulted in an abortion.
According to the SUN story, he also flew her, in his private airplane, to remote sites around New Mexico, to have sex and conduct phony “marriage ceremonies” which were meant to “allay the plaintiff’s fears.”
In an affidavit filed with the court, as cited in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a Dec. 14, 1992 story, Kirsch admitted to having sex with Sandoval, but claimed she was 19 and it did not violate his vow of chastity because he engaged in “reserved embrace,” which involved intercourse without passion, kissing or ejaculation.
According to the SUN story, the Santa Fe Archdiocese was aware of the abuse as early as 1975, but would move him between churches, after allegations were raised.
The lawsuit also alleged that the Archdiocese would alter or destroy predator priests’ personnel files to cover the abuse.
According to the list, he is dead.
Martinez was first taken off active ministry duty as a priest in March 1993, after he was accused of sexual misconduct and he retired in 1994, according to an Albuquerque Tribune story from May 6, 1997.
He was killed by Dennis Carbajal in 1997, at the age of 62.
According to John Doe 46’s lawsuit, filed Oct. 21, 2015, Martinez would use oil and religious items in his abuse of the boy at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Espanola, and tell him he was getting specially anointed and he would be “more holy and closer to God by participating in what he knows now, is sexual abuse,” Hall wrote in the lawsuit.
The boy was abused between the ages of nine and 10.
Hall wrote that Martinez was sent to the Paraclete facility in 1988 for abuse he perpetrated on other victims and in 1992, he was restricted to work at hospitals.
In 1992, John Doe 46 was visiting a grandparent at the Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, and saw Martinez there. The boy was 15 at the time.
“Fr. Martinez remembered Plaintiff as his ‘All time best altar boy,’ engaged Plaintiff physically and emotionally, grabbed him and pulled him into an empty room at the hospital, told him God wanted this to happen but that you can never mention it to your family or anyone because no one will believe you and it will destroy their faith, and then violently raped the 15 year old Plaintiff,” Hall wrote.
That lawsuit settled for an undisclosed sum on June 21, 2017.
Frank Sierra was one of three priests named as alleged abusers of three girls and a boy at the Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz.
He was sued at least twice in 1994, along with priests Marvin Archuleta and Luis Martinez, for the abuse.
Details about that abuse are not readily available, although it appears to have occurred between the 1950s and the 1960s.
Sierra was later moved to the Archdiocese of San Diego in 1970, where he allegedly abused even more children. He was later removed from the church, although it appears he was allowed to retire in 1988, according to a list of abusive priests published by the Archdiocese of San Diego.
Unlike the list released by Wester, the San Diego list includes the dates, locations and assignments of the priests.
According to Wester’s list, he is deceased.
According to online court records, Luis Martinez allegedly abused at least one girl while he was at the Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz.
Two lawsuits were filed in 1994 and settled in 1996, naming him as an abuser.
According to news stories at the time, three girls and a boy at the Holy Cross Parish were allegedly abused by Luis Martinez, Sierra and Archuleta.
According to Wester’s list, he is still alive.
According to a 2002 story by ABC News, Marvin Archuleta was a priest at the Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz in 1971, when he invited 14-year-old Eddie Baros on a road trip to Washington, D.C.
Baros filed a lawsuit in 1994, alleging Archuleta abused him during that two-week trip and fondled him at motel rooms across the country.
That lawsuit was settled in 1995.
Church officials told ABC News that he was reassigned to work on church computers and finances, but ABC News found him working as a priest in Mexico City.
According to Wester’s list, he is still alive.
According to an Associated Press story from 1993, Jason Sigler was moved from Lansing, Mich., after he allegedly abused children there, to the Paracletes facility in Jemez Springs.
According to a Santa Fe New Mexican story on Jan. 11, 1996, a lawsuit naming Sigler as an abuser while he was at the Abiquiu parish, was settled in 1996.
At least 10 men, who were boys at the time, filed lawsuits against Sigler and the Archdiocese for his abuse.
Two boys were allegedly abused while Sigler worked at the church in Gallina, according to a June 28, 1998 story in the Palm Beach Post.
According to the list, Sigler is still alive.