Priest's past kept secret from New Mexico parishes, including Belen

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Monsignor Peter Garcia's career as a pastor in Los Angeles ended in 1984 after families alleged that he had sexually abused boys as young as 7 in his parish.

But Garcia was later assigned to churches in Belen and Socorro from 1985-87, according to records made public as a result of a settlement between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and victims of clergy abuse.

And in 1987, former Archbishop of Santa Fe Robert Sanchez helped decide that New Mexico pastors who supervised Garcia not be told about his history of sexual abuses, according to a 1987 letter.

Garcia was born in Albuquerque and moved as a boy to Los Angeles, where he was ordained as a priest in 1966 and pastored several California churches.

Garcia, who left the priesthood in 2006, was never prosecuted. He died in 2009 at the age of 69, according to church records.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles records show Garcia preyed on Spanish-speaking boys of immigrant families during his 18-year career as a pastor, according to records posted online last month as a result of a 2007 settlement.

Thousands of pages concerning nearly 200 church officials named in lawsuits have been posted online under the settlement. There are more than 250 pages of records, mostly letters between church officials, on Garcia alone.

Garcia resigned as pastor of a church in Los Angeles in 1984 after parishioners accused him of sexually abusing three brothers, ages 11-16, according to a 2004 letter written by Cardinal Roger Mahoney, then-archbishop of Los Angeles.

In all, Garcia had been accused of sexually abusing at least nine boys, ages 7-16, in incidents dating back to the early 1970s.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles sent Garcia to the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs in November 1984 where he enrolled in the order's Foundation House treatment program for pedophile priests.

After completing a six-month program, Garcia was assigned to the Old San Miguel Mission Church in Socorro in July 1985. In January 1987, Sanchez reassigned Garcia to Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church in Belen.

Garcia's presence in New Mexico presented some dilemmas for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Paraclete leaders, including whether Garcia's pastor in Belen should be told why Garcia was in New Mexico.

The Rev. William Perri, director of the Foundation House program, met with Sanchez, Garcia and Garcia's medical doctor in March 1987, according to a letter Perri wrote to Mahoney, then archbishop of Los Angeles.

One issue they discussed "involved the possibility of telling Msgr. Garcia's present pastor about his situation so that the pastor could monitor (Garcia's) behavior in the parish," Perri wrote.

"I expressed some hesitation concerning this as did Archbishop Sanchez," he wrote. The Belen pastor is not identified in the letter.

Perri wrote that no Paraclete staff members had visited Garcia during his assignment to Socorro to avoid "awkward" questions about why Garcia could not return to Los Angeles and was assigned to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

"We concluded that (Garcia) needs to be very careful about any ministry involvement with young people and that he should simply inform the pastor that his gifts do not lie in this area," Perri wrote.

"Archbishop Sanchez advised Msgr. Garcia to use his gifts in other areas," such as administration, Perri wrote.

Sanchez and Perri also worried that Garcia was making too many trips to Los Angeles to visit family.

The visits "could lead to potential legal problems if someone sees him who is aware of the situation he has been in," Perri wrote.

Perri and Sanchez decided to limit Garcia to "three or four" visits a year to California.

Archdiocese of Santa Fe spokeswoman Celine Radigan said Tuesday that no sex abuse allegations were made against Garcia during his tenure in New Mexico.

She also said the archdiocese would have no comment about actions taken by Sanchez during his tenure as archbishop.

Sanchez, a Socorro native, was ordained in 1974 as the nation's first Hispanic archbishop. He resigned in 1993 after acknowledging sexual relationships with at least five women in the 1970s and 1980s. He died in January 2012 at age 77.