Starting in July, more than 200 parcels in Valencia County owned by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe will be put on the auction block to help pay for a bankruptcy settlement prompted by allegations of abuse perpetrated by priests and other clergy over decades.
Filings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court District of New Mexico show more than 260 properties scattered throughout the county, most of which are small quarter- and half-acre lots in the Rio Grande Estates and Rio Del Oro subdivisions in the southeast part of the county.
However, one of the properties is in the heart of the county — the church plaza at Immaculate Conception Church in Tomé.
The main plaza west of the church is 2.29 acres and there is an additional .32 acre triangular piece to the southeast of the plaza. The plaza is zoned Rural Residential 2, which is typically used for single family homes and agriculture.
According to public records on the Valencia County assessor’s website, the actual value of the larger piece of land is $41,220 for 2021 and the taxable value is $13,740. The archdiocese doesn’t pay property taxes.
Fr. Clement Niggel, pastor of Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church, said only nonessential church property is being put up for auction. All of the properties listed in the court filing indicate they are vacant land.
In the case of OLB, the property where the church itself sits, the St. Mary’s Catholic School property, the existing cemetery and expansion to its west as well as the vacant property east of the church won’t be sold, Niggel said.
To help offset the costs of the settlement, in addition to selling its nonessential properties, the archdiocese has asked all of its parishes, including Our Lady of Belen, to contribute money if they have funds available, the pastor said.
Niggel said to the best of his knowledge, the properties in the county were gifted to the archdiocese and various local churches over the centuries.
“We have a whole bunch across the river that people, at one time, were giving us left and right,” Niggel said. “Nobody can do anything with them, including us.”
As the spiritual advisor for his church, Niggel said parishioners have been concerned about having to pay when they didn’t do anything wrong.
“Unfortunately, on a spiritual level, public sin hurts everyone and this is one of the consequences of sin,” the pastor said.
He gave the example of a drunk driver killing someone.
“Everybody that person knows is hurt because they lost a loved one. Plus, on the other side, the person who was drunk effects their family in many ways,” the pastor said. “There is never a public sin that doesn’t effect many people; this is the consequence of other peoples sins and unfortunately, it hurts us.”
Niggel said he wanted to encourage people to pray for all who have been harmed.
“Physically, spiritually or emotionally, or who are feeling harmed because they are having to pay,” he said. “I would ask people to pray for overall healing for all those in need and hurt.”
Other properties on the list for sale include three acres of vacant land in Peralta on Gurule Road the archdiocese leases out for agricultural use, several lots ranging from five to 10 acres in the Tierra Grande development in southeast Valencia County, .16 of an acre at 443 Coronado St. NE, Los Lunas, east of San Clemente Catholic Church, 16.8 acres west of Dailes Road in the old San Clemente Land Grant and 45 acres west of Twining Lane on the mesa southwest of the city of Belen.
Dcn. Jim Snell, the business manager for San Clemente Catholic Church, said church staff hadn’t received clear direction from the archdiocese about the property on Coronado Street.
“Our understanding is it’s not part of the auction,” Snell said. “There’s a small house on the lot but we use it for storage.”
While most of the lots in Rio Grande Estates and Rio Del Oro are a half and quarter acre, based on the lot numbers listed in the filing, some properties seem to be contiguous, possibly creating larger parcels of up to one to two acres.
In March, the archdiocese requested SVN Auction Services as the auctioneer for the properties. The company will be paid up to $62,730 for marketing and sale of the parcels, which will be paid by the archdiocese.
An online auction of the properties is anticipated to begin in July. In December 2018, the Albuquerque Journal reported the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s real estate assets were valued at $31.5 million.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.