Lawsuit alleges abuse by former NM parish priest

April 2, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Archdiocese of Santa Fe was sued Tuesday over sex abuse allegations stemming from the 1980s at a parish in northern New Mexico.

The lawsuit was filed in state district court on behalf of a 37-year-old man identified only as “John Doe.” It seeks unspecified damages from the archdiocese and St. Anthony parish in Questa.

The lawsuit states that the plaintiff’s parents wanted him to be an altar boy. When he did, the now-deceased Rev. Michael O’Brien allegedly [auth] groomed him with what he called “massage time.” That escalated into sexual abuse.

When the man came forward last year, the archdiocese allegedly told him it would pay for counseling as long as he didn’t take legal action.

“I don’t think he’s motivated by money or anything else,” Brad Hall, one of the attorneys working on the case, told the Santa Fe New Mexican ( “He’s just been really struggling. It’s one of those cases where it appears the lawsuit might be cathartic.”

Church officials said Tuesday that the alleged abuse happened 30 years ago and that the archdiocese has had a zero-tolerance policy for more than 20 years. Officials also declined to comment specifically on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit said the abuse at Questa took place in an era where the church placed many “known or likely” pedophile priests in New Mexico parishes and was “pretending” it didn’t know which priests were pedophiles although they came from treatments centers in the East or from a now-closed treatment center in Jemez Springs.

O’Brien died of cancer at the age of 48 in Taos. The New Mexican reported that he was known for starting a 100-mile pilgrimage from Estancia to Chimayo in the 1970s that was aimed at recruiting young men to the priesthood.

He served at the San Francisco de Asis Catholic Church in Ranchos del Taos before moving on to parishes in Mora, Las Vegas and then Questa.

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