Former Catholic Priest Dies before Abuse Trial

By Michael Gerstein
Santa Fe New Mexican
October 6, 2020

A former Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing children decades ago has died just weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial on charges he raped a young girl at an Albuquerque parochial school in the early 1990s.

Sabine Griego, 82, died last week, according to the New Mexico Attorney General's Office. His trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 16.

Levi Monagle, an Albuquerque-based attorney representing survivors in the criminal lawsuit and in a separate civil case brought against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, said Griego's death is "deeply disheartening" to survivors.

"He evaded the criminal justice system for decades and for decades when it was pretty well known and acknowledged that he was implicated in childhood sexual abuse,” Monagle said.

Griego was arrested at his home in Las Vegas, N.M., in 2019 after being charged by the Attorney General's Office with one count of sexual penetration of a minor and coercion resulting in great bodily harm and mental anguish. He was held without bond at the San Miguel County Detention Center before being released pending his trial.

Documents filed by the Attorney General's Office alleged the Archdiocese of Santa Fe knew of the rape allegations for at least 15 years.

A 2004 letter marked “confidential” and signed by then-Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan provides “direct evidence” the rape occurred and that the archdiocese appeared to have conducted an investigation, according to an arrest warrant.

Griego's attorney did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Close to 400 people have filed civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse against the Catholic Church in Northern New Mexico. Because the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, however, the civil cases have been transferred to the bankruptcy proceedings. It's not clear when the next court date will be.

“That battle for the soul of the church is being fought here in this bankruptcy case," Monagle said.

Matt Baca, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said the agency is "disappointed that the survivors of [Griego's] abuse will not get their day in court, but our office will continue to hold institutions and those in positions of power accountable for their abuses in these cases."

In a statement, Archbishop John C. Wester said: "The archdiocese profoundly and deeply regrets the abuse our innocent children have suffered at the hands of Sabine Griego. I understand many will never be properly compensated because of this terrible tragedy. Nonetheless, I want to assure the victims and their families of our prayers and hope the process we are now in, Chapter 11, will provide some small way of moving toward a just resolution."

Wester added the church continues "to be vigilant in implementing our safe environment programs that have been in place for many years to ensure the safety of children and young people, and we ask all of our Catholic faithful to continue to pray for healing."

When it first announced its decision to file for reorganization, the archdiocese said it had already paid out $52 million in insurance money and its own funds to settle 300 claims that had been filed over the years.








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