Three more men have filed lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and three of its parishes, alleging they were sexually molested by a priest in the 1970s and ’80s.
The priest is alleged to have initiated the abuse with massages, in one case using massage oil that he told his young victim had been blessed by the pope.
The lawsuits, filed in 2nd Judicial District Court in Bernalillo within the last week, come on the heels of a similar complaint filed against the archdiocese and St. Anthony Parish in Questa on April 2. They each accuse Rev. Michael O’Brien, now deceased, of sexual abuse while “grooming” them as altar boys.
Each lawsuit claims the archdiocese was negligent because it knew, or should have known, that O’Brien was a pedophile priest and did nothing to stop him, warn or provide counseling to the victims.
Though there was suspicion in each town about O’Brien’s relationship with boys, the archdiocese continued to assign him to northern New Mexico parishes in Las Vegas, N.M., Mora, Penasco, Questa and Taos, according to the complaints.
Brad Hall, an Albuquerque attorney representing all four of the men, said the latest alleged victims came forward after media reports early last month.
“It’s not uncommon when individuals hear about similar events that occurred to them for them to come forward,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a triggering event and a breakdown of the survival strategies that they’ve been using.”
Though filed separately, the latest victims are identified as John Doe 2, 3 and 4.
When asked if he anticipated there would be more lawsuits filed against the archdiocese pertaining to allegations against O’Brien, Hall replied, “I do.”
The suits seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the plaintiffs, who now range in age from their late 30s to early 40s.
The archdiocese did not immediately respond to a Journal request for comment.
But when contacted about the April 2 lawsuit involving O’Brien, the archdiocese provided a brief statement via email attributed to Father John Cannon, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe: “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.”
Like that initial lawsuit, the complaint for John Doe 2 says that the abuse took place while O’Brien was with St. Anthony Parish in Questa in the mid-1980s. And similarly, the abuse began when the boy was about 11 years old and was initiated under the pretext of “massage time.”
The complaint states that O’Brien also engaged the boy in a “washing of the feet” ritual, which led to leg and genital washing, then fondling.
“Father O’Brien also exposed this 11 year old to gay porn and alcohol, explaining it in religious language,” the complaint states. “The eleven year old Plaintiff was ultimately painfully raped by Father O’Brien, and over the ensuing year, the priest committed many counts of criminal sexual contact and penetration again Plaintiff.”
The boy was told that he’d be “going against God, and likely ‘destroy’ parents or grandparents” if he told anyone, according to the complaint.
Las Vegas case
John Doe 3 was allegedly molested over a period of years, starting in 1985 when he was 15. O’Brien was then assigned to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Las Vegas.
The suit claims that O’Brien used a special massage oil he said had been blessed by the pope. Incidents of abuse took place at the parish and while on ski trips and field trips to places such as the Grand Canyon.
The lawsuit claims that O’Brien had been assigned to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish after experiencing “troubles” in Taos.
John Doe 4 claims he was molested during a four-year period while O’Brien was assigned to San Francisco de Asís in Ranchos de Taos. The incidents started when the boy was raped at the age of 8, according to the suit.
As the boy grew older, he attempted suicide three times, the first time while he was in high school. One suicide attempt in the late 1990s led to a four-day stay in the ICU at an Albuquerque hospital, the complaint states.
All four men have recently begun counseling for what the complaints state are “a lifetime worth of emotional harm and turmoil.”
O’Brien, who was ordained in 1970, was known to lead youth on pilgrimages to the Santuario de Chimayó from the Estancia Valley in the 1970s.
He served at San Francisco de Asís from 1977 to 1981. While there, he led a restoration effort at the more than 200-year-old church, considered one of the most photographed churches in the world.
Attorney Hall said a records search indicates that O’Brien also served at St. Gertrude Parish in Mora from 1982 to 1984, Las Vegas’ Our Lady of Sorrows from 1985 to 1986, and St. Anthony in Questa from 1987 to 1989.
Hall’s co-counsel in all four lawsuits is Kelly Clark, a nationally known Portland, Ore., attorney considered one of the country’s leading child abuse lawyers.
In 2010, Clark was lead counsel in a trial against the Boys Scouts of America that disclosed the so-called “Perversion Files,” a log on pedophiles kept by BSA. That case resulted in a $20 million verdict against the Boy Scouts, including $18.5 million in punitive damages.