LAS CRUCES – A former Hobbs resident allegedly sexually abused by a former Las Cruces priest is suing the priest and the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces over allegations that church officials facilitated the priest’s abuses and helped him flee the state.
The man’s allegations were detailed in a lawsuit filed Monday in 3rd Judicial District Court in Las Cruces.
In addition to the Las Cruces diocese, Father Ricardo Bauza, the former pastor of St. Genevieve Catholic Church in Las Cruces, was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as well as St. Helena Catholic Church, where Bauza mostly recently served as a pastor.
The allegations in the lawsuit are related to an alleged criminal incident involving Bauza that allegedly occurred in April 2016 in Hobbs.
The lawsuit accuses of Bauza of sexual battery, alleging he sexually abused the plaintiff — listed as John Doe 81 — in the rectory of the Hobbs parish.
The law firm representing the plaintiff — Flores, Twaney and Acosta, P.C. — says its client was not a minor at the time of alleged incident and now lives in Florida.
Bauza is also facing criminal charges in the same alleged incident, court records show.
He was charged in October with one misdemeanor count of criminal sexual contact, according to a criminal complaint filed in Lea County Magistrate Court in Hobbs.
The 15-page criminal complaint alleges that Bauza allowed the plaintiff to use the shower at his residence, the parish rectory, in April 2016 and that Bauza entered the shower, unclothed, and began to wash the plaintiff’s body, including his genitals.
The plaintiff told investigators that he “felt violated and confused” and got out of the shower and left the rectory. But he returned a week later to use the shower, according to to the complaint, at which time Bauza allegedly attempted to bathe with the man.
The plaintiff left without using the shower and later told two church workers about the incidents, according to the complaint. The workers later contacted law enforcement and the Las Cruces diocese, which oversees parishes in southern New Mexico counties.
“Plaintiff now suffers from embarrassment, humiliation, loss of self-esteem, depression and other damages,” the lawsuit stated. “His trust in his religion and in authority figures has been seriously breached. His faith has been badly damaged.”
According to the criminal complaint, Bauza also allegedly showed pictures of his penis and other sexually explicit images to the two church workers. One of the workers also alleged that Bauza had engaged in sexual activities with males in the parish rectory.
Connie Flores, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff, told the Sun-News on Tuesday that the two church workers were fired after reporting the incidents and are in the process of filing a separate lawsuit against the diocese.
A cleaning lady who worked for the Hobbs parish also told investigators that when she was cleaning the rectory one day, she saw Bauza standing naked in the hallway with his backside exposed to her, according to the complaint.
Sometime later, she said she overheard the shower incident involving the plaintiff.
She told investigators that she could hear Bauza and the plaintiff talking in the shower. At one point, she overheard Bauza telling the plaintiff, ‘(I)t is okay for me to be in the shower you, it is like a boy’s locker room,” according to the complaint.
A warrant for Bauza’s arrest remains active, court records show. The lawsuit alleges that he fled the state to evade law enforcement, but his defense attorney, Jason Bowles of Albuquerque, told the Sun-News on Tuesday that Bauza has not fled the state and that he remains in contact with his counsel.
Bowles said he was unaware of the recently filed lawsuit against Bauza and had not been retained to represent Bauza in the new case.
Bishop Oscar Cantú declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by the Sun-News on Tuesday.
According to the Hobbs News-Sun, Bauza was assigned to St. Helena in July 2014 after serving at St. Genevieve Church in Las Cruces for nine years. He was ordained into the priesthood in June 2005 after joining the Diocese of Las Cruces in 2003.
In a news release issued in November, Cantú said asked Bauza to “absent himself from the parish” and enter a rehab facility after learning of the allegations.
“The Bishop’s public statement demonstrates a lack of conviction,” Flores said in a statement. “Why order Fr. Bauza to therapy if he didn’t believe the allegations? And if he believed the allegations, why not report them to the police himself? Why continue to tell parishioners that Fr. Bauza is on ‘sabbatical’?”
Flores on Tuesday said Bauza possibly abused people in Las Cruces.
“We are convinced there are victims in Las Cruces,” she said, “and we hope these victims come forward.”
The lawsuit stated the plaintiff is seeking an unspecified amount of compensation from a jury trial.
Carlos Andres López can be reached 575-541-5453, firstname.lastname@example.org or @carlopez_los on Twitter.
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