ALBUQUERQUE — A state district judge said Friday there is good cause to open sealed records on three former Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children across New Mexico.
Judge Alan Malott said he will review three binders filled with years-old documents from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, including parts of depositions and personnel files, to decide which records will be released to the public for the first time.
Though dozens of other priests in the archdiocese also have been accused of sexual misconduct during the last several decades, the release of files about at least a few would offer rare insight into how church administrators for years covered up a scandal that went to the heart of one of New Mexico’s most revered institutions.
The hearing followed a request by KOB-TV to review documents accumulated by an Albuquerque lawyer who has represented some 60 survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
Malott has ordered the lawyer for plaintiffs in those cases, Brad Hall, to keep the files confidential.
KOB-TV narrowed its request and filed a motion asking Malott to lift the confidentiality order on certain documents Hall and his staff had compiled on three priests who are among the most notorious in the church’s sex abuse scandal in New Mexico.
The documents, which Hall says his staff have already redacted, chronicle the allegations against the trio of clergymen and how church officials handled the claims.
Lawyers for the church argued that a broad release of such documents would violate the privacy of survivors.
“They filed their cases as Jane and John Doe precisely because they didn’t want it known they were victims of clergy sexual abuse,” said Robert Warburton, a lawyer for the archdiocese.
But Hall maintained that the files will not identify survivors by name and charged that the church is not really interested in disclosing how priests preyed on children.
“As an institution, they historically create victims and protect pedophiles,” Hall said.
Several Catholic dioceses around the country, including Chicago and Los Angeles, have published records on priests accused of sexually abusing children over the last several decades. This usually occurred as a condition of settling lawsuits and amid outcry from victims.
But the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has released few documents on priests accused of misconduct. It shuffled abusive priests between churches around the state, enabling the priests to victimize one child after another.
“They still haven’t given any documents to the public except what lawyers have forced them to produce,” Hall told the judge.
Church officials regularly sent priests from around the country to receive “treatment” in New Mexico. Though never cured, those abusive priests often were assigned to parishes in New Mexico, turning the state into an epicenter of the church’s nationwide scandal.
An earlier request by KOB-TV sought records on seven priests. The station modified its request and now is seeking records on the three priests, all of whom are still alive.
Jason Sigler is accused of molesting more than three dozen children from 1964 to 1983, according to a time line Hall presented in court Friday.
Originally from Michigan, Sigler was ordained in 1966, Hall’s office says. The archbishop of Detroit learned of allegations of abuse by Sigler as early as 1970. The church sent Sigler to a retreat in Jemez Springs run by a religious order, Servants of the Paraclete. And even though some people warned church officials that the retreat could not “cure” pedophiles, many such priests — including Sigler — nonetheless were assigned to work in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Investigators from Michigan eventually caught up with Sigler, however, and he was convicted of molesting several boys. The church laicized Sigler, barring him from serving as a priest, and he served nine years in prison in Michigan. Sigler is now married and living in Albuquerque.
Arthur Perrault was ordained in 1964, worked in Connecticut and went to Jemez Springs for treatment in 1965. He would go on to parishes in New Mexico and is accused of abusing more than three dozen people. As a growing number of his victims and clergy spoke out against him, he fled in the early 1990s and could be living in Morocco.
J. Sabine Griego, ordained in 1964, was reprimanded for “issues of integrity and immaturity” as early as 1969. He is accused of abusing more than two dozen people and was laicized in 2005. Griego lives in Las Vegas, N.M.
Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.