Ex-priest fell from grace after archbishop resigned

Sabine Griego
Sabine Griego

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Former priest Sabine Griego’s relationship with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe took an abrupt turn for the worse after the late Archbishop Robert Sanchez stepped down in March 1993.

Just three days after Sanchez resigned, an archdiocese official sent Griego a letter telling him to “not exercise your ministry in parishes or in any other ministerial situations.”

The archdiocese’s concerns about Griego were well-founded, according to court records released recently by a judge’s order. In 2004, former Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who succeeded Sanchez in 1993, sent a letter to Vatican officials urging them to remove Griego from the priesthood. The Vatican did so in 2005.

“First, there is the sheer volume and heinous nature of the accusations,” Sheehan wrote.

He included a list of 16 men and a woman who alleged that the La Madera native ordained in 1964 had sexually abused them as children, from 1965 to 1990. The archdiocese had paid nearly $3 million to victims, Sheehan wrote.

Victims “will have to live with the trauma of their experiences for a lifetime, let alone the suffering incurred by their families and loved ones,” he wrote.

Griego did not respond to voice messages left at his home in the Las Vegas, N.M., area.

“We continue to pray for the healing of the victims for what they experienced during this inexcusable and regrettable time in our history,” the Rev. John Daniel, vicar general of the archdiocese, said in a statement. “The Archdiocese has taken many steps in the past 25 years to prevent sexual abuse of children, including the adoption of the 1993 Zero Tolerance Policy, and will continue to do so.”

Court records show that by 2017 the archdiocese had reached settlement agreements with 32 New Mexicans who alleged that Griego sexually abused them as children.

The records were obtained by Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall, who has filed more than 70 lawsuits on behalf of alleged abuse victims since 2011.

District Judge Alan Malott in October approved a request from KOB-TV to unseal court records related to Griego and two other former priests, Jason Sigler and Arthur Perrault. Perrault has fled the country.

The records – including letters, deposition transcripts and settlement agreements – show that Griego had many contacts over the years with Sanchez while he served as archbishop.

One alleged victim said in a written statement that while Griego was pastor of a Las Vegas church in the 1970s, he sometimes abused boys on trips to Albuquerque and that the trips included visits with Sanchez.

“Archbishop Sanchez met Fr. Griego and I for lunch at the Classic Hotel (in Albuquerque) one day where it was clear I was the ‘boy toy’ for the priest,” a San Miguel County man identified in court records as John Doe 52 told attorneys in a written interrogatory.

Griego’s relationship with Sanchez appeared to become more complex as the clergy abuse crisis emerged into public view in 1992.

In September 1991, Sanchez arranged for Griego to receive psychological treatment for six months at a clinic in the province of Ontario. By that time, records show, Griego had been accused of sexually abusing at least 17 children.

A 2001 document indicates that Griego moved into Sanchez’s home when he returned from the clinic in February 1992.

In October 1992, as the first of hundreds of clerical abuse lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese, Sanchez wrote a letter to Griego assigning him to hospital ministry.

In January 1993, Sanchez wrote another letter to the priest granting Griego’s request for a year of “sick leave,” together with a salary, car allowance and medical insurance.

“I do recognize your commitment to the healing process which began a year ago and to which you have dedicated yourself so faithfully,” Sanchez wrote.

By early 1993, local and national media were running news reports about the crisis. Fourteen priests faced public allegations of sexually abusing children, but Griego was not among the priests identified in news reports.

Sanchez was under fire for failing to take action to stop the abuses. On March 19, 1993, he stepped down as archbishop after several New Mexico women alleged that he had sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers. Sheehan, then bishop of the Diocese of Lubbock, replaced Sanchez in April 1993.

In May 1994, Sheehan wrote a letter to Griego granting his request to retire and begin drawing a $1,000-a-month pension from the archdiocese.

“Please pray that we will be able to settle the many cases against the Archdiocese rising from allegations of priestly misconduct,” Sheehan told Griego in the letter.

In September 2005, the Vatican granted Sheehan’s request to remove Griego from the priesthood.

In March 2006, Sheehan informed the Vatican by letter that Griego had refused to sign a letter informing him of his laicization.

“Griego refused the letter and it was returned to my office,” Sheehan told a Vatican official.

“I have also had to write two priests of the Archdiocese informing them that Griego has been laicized,” Sheehan wrote. “I did this because I had received information that Griego continued to offer Masses publicly after he had been notified of his laicization.”

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