A pedophile priest sent to Jemez Springs for treatment in 1984 was later assigned to parishes in Socorro and Belen by then-Santa Fe Archbishop Robert Sanchez, according to letters released as part of a settlement in a California lawsuit.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe says it has no record of Peter E. Garcia serving in any parish in New Mexico.
But according to letters from Sanchez, Roger Mahony, who was then the archbishop of Los Angeles, and other church officials, Garcia was at the San Miguel Parish in Socorro from mid-1985 through 1986, and was the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Belen Church in early 1987.
At least one New Mexico priest remembers Garcia, and said he wasn’t pleased about Garcia’s assignment. The Rev. Bill Sanchez, no kin to the late archbishop, now serves at St. Edwin Church in Albuquerque. He said that while he was working at a church in La Joya, N.M., near Belen, and as a prison chaplain in Los Lunas, Garcia briefly served as an assistant to the priest in Belen, the Rev. Dan Farris.
“They didn’t tell us why he was here, where he was coming from,” Bill Sanchez said. “He kind of volunteered some of the information. When he volunteered it to us, we just said, ‘Well, you know, he doesn’t belong here. We have a school. This is not a place for this man.’ And it didn’t seem to both of us that he was very remorseful for what he was accused of in California.”
Garcia — who was born in Albuquerque in 1940 and died at age 69 in the Los Angeles area in 2009, a decade after he left the priesthood — is one of dozens of priests named in church documents released in a Southern California case involving hundreds of sexual-abuse victims. Garcia, a onetime priest in the Los Angeles area, was sent in 1984 to a treatment center in Jemez Springs, run by the Servants of the Paraclete, after he was accused of molesting several boys. Eventually, Garcia asked to return to Los Angeles, but instead was reassigned to parishes in New Mexico.
Letters indicate Mahony, who became archbishop in October 1985, kept Garcia in New Mexico to avoid legal troubles in California.
A July 11, 1985, letter from the director of the Foundation House in Jemez Springs to Cardinal Timothy Manning in Los Angeles says, “Garcia has been accepted by Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe for a six month assignment in his archdiocese. Msgr. Garcia will be assigned to the parish in Scoorro [sic].”
The foundation director, whose name was redacted from the letter, said he did not believe Garcia would become “a recidivist in the area for which he was sent to us,” but he suggested Garcia continue outpatient therapy at the Jemez Springs facility and take his medication. Garcia was prescribed Depo-Provera, a drug used for birth control in women and for decreasing sexual urges in men.
On Oct. 1, 1985, Garcia wrote to Mahony, congratulating him on becoming Los Angeles’ archbishop and suggesting they meet in mid-October, when Garcia would be in Los Angeles, “to discuss my future.” Garcia’s letter, on letterhead stationary of the Old San Miguel Mission in Socorro, said he would remain in Socorro until the year’s end.
“The cardinal [Manning] granted me another six months outside of the archdiocese in order to get myself completely together,” Garcia wrote.
On Oct. 30, 1985, Mahony wrote to the Foundation House director to say Garcia had “benefited tremendously from your program” and was “doing a tremendous job” in Socorro.
“It may very well be that his future ministry should continue in New Mexico,” Mahony wrote. “At this time, we are not aware of any pending criminal or civil actions, although we have had some communication from a law firm representing the family involved in his case.”
On Jan. 3, 1986, Robert Sanchez wrote to Garcia to say Mahony had extended his leave from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles until June 1986, so Sanchez would extend Garcia’s assignment in Socorro.
More than a year later, on Jan. 22, 1987, Sanchez told Garcia in a letter that he would be assigned as parochial vicar to Our Lady of Belen Church, where “a second priest is greatly needed at this time.” The new assignment would be re-evaluated by the end of June that year, Sanchez wrote.
Sanchez, who had been appointed archbishop of Santa Fe in 1974, resigned his post in 1993 after several women accused him of having sex with them on a camping trip while they were teenagers. Sanchez laid low for the next two decades, and he died last year of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at age 77.
Mahony resigned his position as archbishop in 2011, after he was appointed cardinal. Like Sanchez, Mahony has been a popular Roman Catholic leader. But the California sexual abuse case has tarnished his reputation, revealing his knowledge of accusations against priests in the archdiocese and his efforts to shield them.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web
• Letters cited in this article are on the website of Anthony DeMarco, one of the lawyers representing the sexual-abuse victims in the Southern California case, at http://abusedinsocal.com/caseresources.aspx.