Merit has represented over 150 victims of clergy sex abuse since 1994.

Merit filed lawsuits for clergy sex abuse as recently as 2018 in Federal District Courts in Denver and Albuquerque and in State District Court in Santa Fe. See case related articles in The Santa Fe New Mexican and Albuquerque Journal .

On February 15, 2019, Merit testified in Santa Fe District Court regarding the danger that former priest, Marvin Archuleta, criminally charged with the rape of a 6-year old boy committed in the 1980’s, posed to the community.

Merit has brought claims on behalf of his clients, including through lawsuits filed in state and federal courts, against the following religious entities:

Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico

Servants of the Paraclete, New Mexico
Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado
Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts
Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico
Diocese of El Paso, Texas
Diocese of San Angelo, Texas
Diocese of Amarillo, Texas
Archdiocese of New Orleans, Louisiana
Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico
Diocese of Winnipeg, Canada
Diocese of Hartford, Connecticut
Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut
Pecos Benedictine Monastery (New Mexico)
Christian Brothers (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Sons of the Holy Family (Silver Springs, Maryland)

Credibly Accused

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe left names off its list of pedophile priests—and has no plans to add them


The debate over which priests to include on lists of credibly accused clergy—and even what the term “credibly accused” should mean—is one that’s playing out right now in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis recently ordered the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to delay sex abuse reforms until he meets with leaders from world bishops’ conferences later this month in Rome…

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe defines credibly accused to mean “the allegation of abuse could reasonably have occurred.”

Merit Bennett was one of the first attorneys in New Mexico to sue the Catholic Church over abusive priests in the 1990s:

“It’s a moving target … ‘credibly accused,'” he tells SFR. He says the church’s arbitrary definition isn’t something that binds the legal system. “We’re dealing with kids. [Survivors] who were raped when they were kids. … We don’t know a fraction of the extent of this.”

News Articles

June 28,1998
Ground Zero for Molestation in the Catholic Church

By Dan Moffett

“The rural nature of New Mexico played a part in making the problem worse here. Priests have more power than any other authority in these rural places. There is a reluctance to question or report any weird behavior.” ~ Merit Bennett

March 26, 2002 – USA TODAY
Santa Fe Archdiocese Learned Lessons
By Marco R. della Cava

“The stories of abuse were unbelievably shocking.” ~ Merit Bennett

June 30, 2002 – THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN / BishopAccountability.org
The Tragic Fallout of Molestation
By Anne Constable

“It’s a huge tragedy.” ~ Merit Bennett

“I know of no other behavior that causes more damage than childhood sexual abuse. It’s probably the worst thing that could happen to a child.” ~ Merit Bennett

One-Time Altar Boy Claims 3 Priests in Alamogordo Molested Him
By Milan Simonich

“The damage done to him is very insidious,” Bennett said of his client. “He is in therapy and has been for the last couple of years.”

Since the early 1990s, Bennett said, he had handled 100 to 150 cases in which people alleged molestation by priests or other adults while they were children. Each one was settled before going to trial, but the victims were scarred for life, he said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s recovered from it,” Bennett said.

May 8th, 2013 – ABQJOURNAL
Former altar boy claims he was molested by 3 Alamogordo priests
By ABQJournal News Staff
Ex-altar boy sues over alleged sex abuse by priests

By Olivier Uyttebrouck / Journal Staff Writer

NM man’s suit against priest names Worcester Diocese
By Bronislaus B. Kush, Telegram & Gazette Staff

“There are just so many people out there who have been abused by these sick priests,” Mr. Bennett said. “It’s amazing that nobody had reported what had been going on for years.”

December 23, 2013 – THE GAZETTE
Lawsuit accuses Denver Archdiocese of allowing sexual abuse
By Alison Noon

“This was an interstate conspiracy that each one of these dioceses willingly joined to harbor a known pedophile,” said Merit Bennett.

“This is the worst of the worst,” he said. “They allowed him to roam free — church to church, diocese to diocese, children to children. Not one of them picked up the phone and dialed 911, including Denver.” ~ Merit Bennett

November 14, 2015 – THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN
Catholic leaders wary of film; others welcome spotlight on sex abuse, cover-up
By Anne Constable

Regarding Academy Award Winning Movie Spotlight:

Bennett agreed that the movie could bring up painful memories, but he said it also could help many victims. He said he has anecdotal evidence that “many, many more children were abused than ever came forward,” and they are nonetheless feeling shame and guilt and are trying to suppress the memories. “This may provoke reflection or realization that what happened to them did impact their life in a negative way. It may cause others to come forward, if not with claims, but dealing consciously and openly, because that’s the only way you can deal with these things. Like anything else, the more you talk about stuff that is hidden or suppressed, the healthier it gets,” he said.

Going to the depths of your being “is sometimes positive and sometimes tragic. But at least they get to take the journey — if they get help,” Bennett added.

November 15, 2015 – THE NEW MEXICAN Published on NEWSOK
Catholic leaders wary of film; others welcome spotlight on sex abuse, cover-up
By Anne Constable

Merit’s review of: A Predator Priest by David Margolick

“Many, many more children were abused than ever came forward. This may provoke reflection or realization that what happened to them did impact their life in a negative way. It may cause others to come forward, if not with claims, but dealing consciously and openly, because that’s the only way you can deal with these things. Like anything else, the more you talk about stuff that is hidden or suppressed, the healthier it gets.” ~ Merit Bennett

Priests of Darkness Articles Index

A portion of Merit’s deposition of Archbishop Robert Sanchez

Excerpt from Archbishop Robert Sanchez’s January 15, 1994, deposition testimony:

[Archbishop Sanchez testified that he did not know that sexual molestation of a child was a crime]

14 [BY MR. BENNETT] Q. Did you feel you had a responsibility, as
15 Archbishop of Santa Fe, a responsibility to your
16 parishioners, aside from any legal duty, do you feel you
17 had a moral responsibility, in your office as Archbishop,
18 to report these allegations of sexual molestation by your
19 priests to civil authorities?
20 [BY ARCHBISHOP SANCHEZ] A. I was — I felt no obligation inasmuch as I was
21 unaware of any obligation.
22 Q. So you’re saying that unless there was a law out
23 there that required you to do it, you wouldn’t do it?
24 A. I think that people do not report things to the
25 authorities unless they need help from the authorities or
Page 685
1 else they feel that there’s an obligation to do that. It
2 just — I don’t feel an obligation at this time to report
3 an individual to the authorities for something else,
4 whatever it may be, that I’m unaware of. I wouldn’t know
5 that.
6 Q. If it came to your attention at any time during
7 your tenure as Archbishop that one of your priests had
8 stabbed and killed one of your parishioners, do you feel
9 that you would have a responsibility as Archbishop of
10 Santa Fe to report that priest to the authorities?
11 A. Yes, sir, and stabbing and killing a person I
12 know is a murder. It’s a homicide, and that has to be
13 brought to the attention of the authorities.
14 Q. And for example, would you have brought to the
15 attention of the civil authorities, at any time during
16 your tenure as Archbishop, allegations that a priest was
17 dealing drugs in the parish?
18 A. To me, drug-dealing is contrary to the law of
19 our country, and I would have to bring that to their
20 attention.
21 Q. And so why would you feel that you wouldn’t have
22 a responsibility to bring to the attention of civil
23 authorities allegations that your priests were sexually
24 assaulting and molesting the children of your
25 parishioners?
Page 686
1 A. I think you have to characterize your question
2 that it wasn’t “priests,” as though there were 20s or 30s.
3 We’re talking about here, I think, Father Jason Sigler.
4 And I did not bring that case to the attention of the
5 authorities because this occurred in 1981, and I certainly
6 had no idea that I had any obligation to bring that type
7 of an offense against a person to the authorities’
8 attention.
9 Q. Is that because that you felt that offense was
10 less heinous than a murder?
11 A. No, sir. I just felt that it was not something
12 that had to be brought to the attention of authorities. I
13 took the action that I took against the gentleman by
14 removing him from the place of assignment and
removed him
15 from the situation that might bring harm to others. That
16 was serious action against that man and against his
17 position. And we did our best to assure the families that
18 were there that their children would no longer be in
19 they need not be afraid, and to bring some type of
20 consolation and comfort to them. I did not realize that
21 there was any legal obligation to report this to the
22 authorities.
23 Q. Did you know that what Jason Sigler did to the
24 children of your parishioners was a crime?
25 A. I did not know it was a crime, sir.
Page 687
1 Q. So you did not feel, in your own heart of hearts
2 in 1981, that the sexual molestation of a child was a
3 crime?
4 A. Sir, in 1981, I did not understand that to be a
5 crime.