Former Santa Fe priest arrested on federal child sexual abuse charge

Albuquerque Journal/June 29, 2023

By Olivier Uyttebrouck and Colleen Heild 

A Roman Catholic priest removed last year from his parish church in Santa Fe was arrested Thursday on a federal charge alleging that he sexually assaulted a boy in 2012.

Daniel Balizan, 61, a former pastor at Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Community in Santa Fe, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury for a reported case of child sexual abuse in August and September of 2012, according to the indictment.

Balizan is scheduled for his first appearance on Friday before Magistrate Judge Jennifer Rozzoni in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque. If convicted, Balizan faces 10 years to life in prison.

A Tennessee man filed a lawsuit in 2022 alleging that Balizan sexually assaulted him a decade ago when he was 15 years old. The alleged abuse occurred on the premises of Santa Maria de la Paz Church, where Balizan served as pastor from 2012 to 2022, according to the suit.

Levi Monagle, an Albuquerque attorney who filed the lawsuit, said Balizan’s arrest indicates a “new era” in the handling of clergy accused of sexually abusing children.

“Historically, the priests who sexually abused children in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe were not always reported to law enforcement, and not always prosecuted when they were reported to law enforcement,” Monagle said Thursday. “But I think it’s clearly a new era in that regard.”

The case marks the second time since 2017 that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico has indicted a priest or former priest on charges related to the sexual abuse of a minor.

In April 2019, a federal jury in Santa Fe found former St. Bernadette parish pastor Arthur Perrault guilty of seven counts of aggravated abuse or assault of a 10-year-old boy dating back to the 1990s. Because the crimes occurred on federal property, such as Kirtland Air Force Base, federal authorities had the jurisdiction to prosecute.

Perrault is expected to spend the rest of his life in federal prison after losing appeals that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In general, there have been few criminal prosecutions of Catholic clergy either in state or federal court.

Two cases brought by former state Attorney General Hector Balderas ended either in an acquittal in the case of Marvin Archuleta in 2020, or in death. Child sexual abuse charges were filed against former priest Sabine Griego, but he died weeks before trial in 2020.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe issued a statement Thursday announcing Balizan’s arrest “in connection with a reported case of clergy sexual abuse involving a minor.”

“The archdiocese promptly reported the abuse allegations to the authorities upon being informed in 2022, leading to Balizan’s immediate removal as pastor of Santa Maria de la Paz in Santa Fe,” the statement said.

“The archdiocese remains fully committed to cooperating with the authorities as they conduct their investigation,” it said.

Balizar, of Springer, “allegedly used text messages to coerce and entice a minor victim,” according to a statement issued Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Abusing children under the veil of religious authority is an attack on the faith itself,” U.S. Attorney Alexander Uballez said in the statement.

The one-page federal indictment, which was unsealed by a judge on Thursday, charges Balizan with “coercion and enticement” for allegedly “using any facility of interstate and foreign commerce” to induce or coerce a child under 18 to engage in any sexual activity.

The alleged criminal activity occurred from Aug. 8, 2012, to Sept. 22, 2012, the indictment said.

The 2022 lawsuit, filed in 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque, says the boy was born in 1997, was raised in a “deeply Catholic home” and was estranged from his biological father.

Balizan was a close friend of the boy’s mother and spent years in close contact with the family, the suit alleges. The priest acted as a male mentor and “father figure” to the boy, it said.

The boy’s mother allowed him to spend time alone at the church because Balizan’s “status as a priest created a special relationship of trust,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for “serious emotional and psychological harm,” it said.

The FBI Albuquerque Field Office investigated the allegations with assistance from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and the New Mexico Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.

“We have and will continue to do everything we possibly can to protect our children from predators who seek to do them harm by abusing their inherent positions of trust,” Raul Bujanda, FBI Special Agent in Charge, said in the statement.

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