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Additional lawsuits eyed in priest sex abuse case

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Additional lawsuits eyed in priest sex abuse case

Las Cruces attorney Connie Flores is planning additional lawsuits in the sex abuse case involving former St. Helena Catholic Church priest Ricardo Bauza on behalf of two ex-church employees. The lawsuits would involve issues like sexual harassment and retaliation.

Earlier this month, two lawfirms — Flores, Tawney & Acosta P.C. of Las Cruces and El Paso and Law Offices of Brad D. Hall in Albuquerque, — filed a lawsuit within Third Judicial District Court in Las Cruces against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces, St. Helena church and Bauza by “John Doe 81,” the alleged abuse victim. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and asserts the diocese facilitated sexual battery and helped him evade authorities. Bauza, 51, was charged with criminal sexual contact, a misdemeanor, in October 2017 following an investigation and later turned himself into Hobbs police on Monday morning. He is accused of having sexually touched the body of an adult male parishioner in April 2016.

Two church employees contacted Hobbs police in August 2017 after the victim, John Doe 81, told them of the incident earlier that year when they’d been discussing Bauza’s behavior. The 15-page criminal complaint filed against Bauza described the alleged sexual contact. It also described allegations reported by two church employees that Bauza showed them nude photos of his genitals and other explicit images.

“When parish employees notified Bishop Oscar Cantú of the abuse allegations in the summer of 2017, Fr. Bauza was quietly removed from the Parish under the guise of a ‘long-planned sabbatical,’” the law firms announced Feb. 6. “It appears that Fr. Bauza was subsequently transported out of the state. The whistleblowers were later fired from the Parish, in apparent retaliation for reporting the abuse to the Bishop.”

The lawsuit is currently pending in court, as is Bauza’s criminal case. He was released from jail Monday and is set for a June 14 hearing in Hobbs Magistrate Court over the charge.

Flores, one of John Doe 81’s attorneys, said this week and again on Friday that she intends to file additional lawsuits for both ex-church employees. The lawsuits must go through New Mexico Human Rights Commission first before filing since it’s an employment case, as Flores explained. She said it would concern sexual harassment, religion discrimination and retaliation.

“They were not victims. They were employees who reported it,” she said. “So, in New Mexico, you have to go through the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.”

The commission does an investigation and attorneys must get permission to sue.

Media reports indicate Jason Bowles of Albuquerque is Bauza’s attorney. Bowles did not return a request for comment as of press time Friday. Cantú responded to the News-Sun Friday and commented about the matter.

“Since we haven’t seen the lawsuit, we’ll wait to be served, and we’ll just let the legal proceedings render (its) course and trust in the process,” he said.

Regarding the existing lawsuit filed by the victim, diocese chancellor Father Enrique Lopez said earlier this month it didn’t have a comment “regarding ongoing litigation” at that time. Earlier this week, on Monday, Cantú said it doesn’t comment on specifics when the lawsuit is open.

“… So, we will acquire an attorney that will be able to represent us in that and we want justice for the victims to be served and justice for the entire system,” he said. “We remain committed to keeping a safe environment in our churches and our schools, and we’ll do everything in our power to do that.”

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