A jury found former Catholic priest Marvin Archuleta not guilty Tuesday on counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor and attempted kidnapping for allegedly raping a six-year-old boy in the 1986-1987 school year at Holy Cross Catholic School in Santa Cruz.
“This is God’s love—this is how we show God’s love,’ these are the words Marvin Archuleta said to (the victim),” Assistant Attorney General Brittany DuChaussee said in opening statements. “(The victim) remembers those words and being unable to get away.”
She said the priest, accused of sexual assault multiple times in the past, got the victim alone under the guise of discussing altar service before raping him.
Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement, “I am inspired by the tremendous courage of the survivor and his family. While we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict, we will continue to stand up for survivors of decades old abuses in these complex cases.”
In 1994, a civil suit was filed against Archuleta, 82, for allegedly taking a Holy Cross altar boy to Washington, D.C. in 1971 and repeatedly molesting him over the course of two weeks. Court records in the newest case note multiple such civil suits in previous years, but online court records show only one. The court records state all the civil cases were settled.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported in May 2019 that another man accused Archuleta of molesting him at Holy Cross Catholic Church in 1992, but the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes barred prosecution.
Defense attorney Ryan Villa said Archuleta was living in Silver Springs, Md. throughout the 1986-1987 school year. Villa said Catholic Church records of sacraments Archuleta performed at the church where he was assigned could show that he did not visit New Mexico in the time frame of the alleged rape.
He said Archuleta was assigned to serve in Chimayó in September 1987, after the window of the accusations. Villa challenged whether the alleged victim was ever independently sure of who hurt him as a child, and said witnesses who worked at or near the school that year did not remember Archuleta visiting at that time.
DuChaussee said the victim tried to suppress memories of the abuse with drugs and did not tell anyone until he received treatment for substance use disorder in 2016. She said that at the time he thought he would get in trouble and would not be believed.
“It was his word—a six-year-old—against a priest, a man of God,” she said.
She said the victim did not know Archuleta’s name until he met Merritt Bennet—an attorney who pursued a number of civil suits against the Catholic Church over clergy sexual abuse—who showed the victim a series of photos of priests who worked in Northern New Mexico in the late ‘80s. She said the victim then identified Archuleta with complete certainty.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Archuleta was not assigned to Holy Cross in the 1986-1987 school year, saying the victim only met him once before the priest sent older boys to bring the victim and two peers from school to the church. DuChaussee said another unnamed priest took the other boys away before Archuleta raped the victim, first pouring what he described as “holy water” on the boy’s back. She said the boy saw the priest one more time at Mass and never again.
Archuleta now faces no outstanding charges or court cases.