While the criminal justice system is designed to punish individuals who break the law, it also provides a measure of justice for their victims. When that is not possible, victims may have the opportunity to hold institutions and others who may bear some legal liability responsible in civil courts across the country and here in New Mexico. For instance, if an individual accused of sexual abuse dies before the criminal justice system adjudicates the charges, victims might still be able to pursue other avenues of justice and restitution.
This may be the case for at least one individual who accused a now former Catholic priest of violently raping her here in New Mexico. The incidents for which the former priest was due to stand trial occurred at the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. At the time of the assaults, she was a student at Albuquerque’s Queen of Heaven Catholic School.
The judge presiding over the case allowed the man to avoid being held in police custody on certain conditions. He was not allowed to have unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 18 and could not be alone with any minor either. Shortly before he was to go to trial, he passed away. Now, this victim and possibly others, will not have the opportunity to confront him in criminal court. The Attorney General’s Office says it will continue to pursue justice from people in positions of power and the institutions associated with this former priest’s conduct accountable.
Even so, victims in this position may have the opportunity to pursue justice on their own. However, timing is crucial since filing a civil lawsuit against those same parties is not necessarily guaranteed. Victims will need to do so before the expiration of the statute of limitations set forth in New Mexico law. Sexual abuse by people in positions of authority over their victims should not be tolerated, and employers, institutions and others need to understand their role in preventing such tragedies, and this may be one way of getting that message across.