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Hobbs priest accused of sex crime

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Father Ricardo Bauza, pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church, is facing a criminal sexual contact allegation after church members contacted the Hobbs Police Department this past summer.

Bauza is charged with criminal sexual contact, a misdemeanor, according to a 15-page criminal complaint filed Oct. 25 into Hobbs Magistrate Court. There is an active arrest warrant, but he has not been arrested as of press time.

The alleged incident involved Bauza getting into a shower with an adult male, who was a church member, and touching and washing the victim’s body with a loofah in the church rectory (priest’s apartment) in April 2016. The victim explained he contacted Bauza about using his shower since the shower in his own apartment was not working. A week later the victim asked to use the shower again. The victim alleges Bauza attempted to join him on this second occasion, but the victim left that time without showering.

Two male church members approached Hobbs police in August about Bauza, according to the criminal complaint. They told police they previously discussed Bauza’s “inappropriate behavior” with the shower victim, who then disclosed to them his encounters with Bauza.

“(Two men) went on to say they had been approached by the defendant on separate occasions and (the defendent) showed them photos of his genitals from his cell phone,” a Hobbs police detective wrote. “(They) went on to say that they reported the incident to the Diocese authority, Bishop (Oscar) Cantú, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and wanted to report the incident to the police.”

One of the men said he learned Bauza met with diocese officials on July 5, 2017. He then contacted a Catholic television network with his concerns after the Hobbs church received a letter in July stating Bauza would return to the church and remain the pastor. The second man said Bauza approached him on July 17 to ask why he reported Bauza to the diocese.

The complaint also states a woman employed by the church in 2016 told Hobbs police she saw Bauza standing naked in a hallway twice with his back turned to her as she worked to clean the rectory. She also described seeing the shower victim arrive at the rectory and said she later overheard Bauza talking to him about it being “okay” for Bauza to be in the shower, likening it to a “boy’s locker room.”

“(Shower victim) said he felt violated and confused because he was not sure what the defendant had done was right,” the complaint states.

The victim shared with police two other alleged incidents where Bauza made him feel uncomfortable, which involved him making comments that were sexual in nature.

Bauza was assigned to St. Helena in July 2014 after serving 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. Prior to priesthood, Bauza was ordained as a deacon in 2004 and served as one at a Roswell parish. In addition to pastoring St. Helena church, Bauza is co-director of vocations for the diocese.

The News-Sun made efforts to contact Bauza, who has not been in town since late August. The News-Sun also reached out to the Diocese of Las Cruces and was informed Bishop Cantú was out of town. Deacon David McNeill, Jr., chancellor for the Diocese of Las Cruces, contacted the News-Sun Wednesday afternoon after messages were left by phone to the diocese.

“Not having seen that, I had no idea that there was a police report filed,” McNeill said. “There’s nothing I can respond to except to say I haven’t seen the report and had no idea about it until I talked to (the News-Sun).”

Hobbs police Chief Chris McCall said Wednesday that Bauza has not been arrested on the warrant to his knowledge and the “investigation is still ongoing.”

“We’re aware of his location and are working on getting him into custody,” he added.

An online search into the case shows the charge date is Aug. 22, 2017.

 

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