Two More Catholic Priests Accused of Child Sexual Abuse in Southern New Mexico
Leah Romero and Damien Willis
August 4, 2020
Updated at 11:08 a.m. Aug. 5 with comment from the Las Cruces and El Paso dioceses.
LAS CRUCES – Two Catholic priests were accused Tuesday of child sexual abuse in southern New Mexico.
Civil complaints were filed against the two priests, as well as the Las Cruces and El Paso dioceses and the parishes where the alleged sexual abuse occurred.
Fr. Roderick Nichols and Fr. Damian Gamboa were named in the alleged abuse of John Doe and Jane Doe.
According to court documents, John Doe alleges Nichols abused him in the early 1990s when the alleged victim was about 13 years old. At the time, Nichols was the pastor and administrator of St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Silver City. He was formerly listed as a chaplain for jail and prison ministry, but according to the diocese directory for 2020, Nichols is a retired diocesan priest.
Jane Doe alleges Gamboa abused her in the early 1980s, according to court documents. The alleged victim was about 13 or 14 years old. At the time, Gamboa was serving as the pastor and administrator of St. Francis de Paula Church Inc. in Tularosa. The church was formerly under the El Paso Diocese, but has since been reassigned to the Las Cruces Diocese.
The complaints name the diocese, parishes and the Order of Friars Minor – Province of St. Barbara for "imbuing" the two priests with power over the children and not supervising them. Both complaints outline requests for payment of compensatory damages, punitive damages and a jury trial to address the issues in the cases.
"Any time we are dealing with new priests like these two, we wonder whether there are additional victims," Levi Monagle, the attorney who represents both plaintiffs, said in a news release. "It is so incredibly difficult for any abuse survivor to be the first on record against an accused perpetrator, but these two survivors have bravely stepped forward to make their voiced heard."
Christopher Velasquez, director of communications for the Las Cruces diocese said Nichols was in Silver City until 2015 when he retired. He then served as a prison chaplain for a three-year term. Velasquez said Bishop Peter Baldacchino revoked NIchols' priestly faculties Tuesday, meaning Nichols is "therefore prohibited from the public celebration of the sacraments or any other ministry in the diocese."
Fernando Ceniceros with the communications office for the El Paso diocese said there was no information readily available about Gamboa on Wednesday.
Ceniceros and Velasquez both said the two diocese encouraged people to report any information about possible abuse to the police. They said all priests, employees and volunteers with the diocese are trained in safe environment practices when working with children. Both diocese also encouraged people to call their victims assistant programs for support. This will also allow internal investigations to be conducted. The Las Cruces victims assistance coordinator can be reached at 575-523-7577 and the El Paso coordinator can be reached at 915–872–8465.
The lawsuits were filed early this week and further action has yet to be taken.
The Las Cruces Diocese, in Feb. 2019, released thousands of pages of files involving 28 priests who face credible allegations of sexually abusing children.
The diocese, at that time, said that it has voluntarily shared personnel files with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. Diocese officials, at the time, also identified 13 additional priests who have been the subject of credible allegations while serving in another diocese.
Two months later, in April 2019, a U.S. jury found a former Roman Catholic priest who was captured in Morocco guilty of sexually abusing a boy at a veterans’ cemetery and Air Force base in New Mexico.
The jury reached the verdict against 81-year-old Arthur Perrault following a trial in Santa Fe in which several men testified that they had been abused by him as children.
The person involved in the charges said Perrault had touched him inappropriately as many as 100 times.
Authorities believe Perrault had numerous victims in New Mexico. However, the federal charges against him stemmed only from the treatment of one boy at Santa Fe National Cemetery and Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, where Perrault had been a chaplain.
In June 2019, nearly 400 claims had been filed against New Mexico’s largest and oldest Roman Catholic diocese as part of a then-pending bankruptcy case stemming from the clergy sex abuse scandal, church officials announced.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe reported that 395 people filed claims against the church as of the June 17, 2019, deadline. That included 374 claims involving allegations of sex abuse. The remaining 21 were related to other grievances.
The archdiocese shocked parishioners across much of New Mexico when it filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2018, the Associated Press reported at the time of the bankruptcy filing, joining nearly two dozen other dioceses around the United States that have been struggling with the fallout from the abuse scandal.
In Aug. 2019, the Catholic Diocese of El Paso faced yet another lawsuit that alleged sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago at a Catholic church and school in Las Cruces — this time from a nun.
The incident marked at least the second time a woman had been accused of sexual abuse of a minor in the Catholic Diocese of El Paso.
In Sept. 2019, two lawsuits were filed against the El Paso Diocese alleging a Las Cruces-area priest sexually abused children in the 1970s. The first lawsuit alleged Father Marcos Rizzo-Rico, then a pastor of San Miguel Parish in La Mesa, abused a young boy from 1974 to 1976.
The second lawsuit alleged Father Juan Montoya sexually abused an 11-year-old girl while serving as pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Roswell in 2001.
In May 2020, a lawsuit centered on child molestation by Fr. David Holley named two Alamogordo Catholic parishes and several dioceses as defendants.
The suit, filed in the 2nd Judicial District Court in Bernalillo County, alleged the Servants of Paraclete, the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, Diocese of Worcester, Diocese of Las Cruces, the Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Jude Parish allowed Holley to prey on boys within the Alamogordo parishes during his time in New Mexico in the 1970s.
The suit was filed by "John Doe" and demanded a jury trial and restitution. The complaint alleged negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, vicarious liability, public nuisance and racketeering.
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church offered no comment at the time of the suit.