As reported by the Albuquerque Journal.
Lawyers representing alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse told a judge last week that the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is liable for the actions of its priests because it provides them with “extraordinary power” over parishioners, comparable to that of police and corrections officers.
The legal theory, called “aided-in-agency,” is becoming more common in civil cases and gives attorneys a potent new tool in clerical abuse cases, attorneys in the case said.
Second Judicial District Judge Denise Barela Shepherd agreed and ruled Sept. 14 that a San Miguel County man who alleges he was raped by a Las Vegas priest in the late 1970s can use the aided-in-agency theory in his lawsuit against the archdiocese.
The judge also urged the archdiocese to appeal her ruling to an appellate court. Barela Shepherd said in the hearing that the issue needs the clarity that an appellate court can provide.
The order marks the second time in two months that a District Court judge has ruled against the archdiocese on the issue.
Last month, District Judge Alan Malott rejected a motion from the archdiocese in another clerical abuse lawsuit that had asked Malott to prohibit use of the aided-in-agency theory in that case. In his Aug. 11 order, Malott ruled that “it is undisputed those priests were cloaked with considerable power by their employer,” making the archdiocese liable for the priests’ sexual abuse of children.
The two cases are among more than 60 lawsuits Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall has filed against the archdiocese since 2011. Most of those cases have been settled for undisclosed amounts.