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Charge in Hobbs priest case dropped

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Charge in Hobbs priest case dropped

The criminal charge against former St. Helena Catholic Church priest Ricardo Bauza was dismissed Wednesday by the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The dismissal comes less than a week before his trial was scheduled to begin in Hobbs.

Bauza, 51, turned himself into Hobbs police on Feb. 12 on the arrest warrant for a misdemeanor charge of criminal sexual contact. Hobbs police filed a criminal complaint in the case in October 2017 after investigating criminal sexual contact allegations involving Bauza. It’s alleged in the complaint that Bauza had sexually touched an adult male parishioner who was taking a shower at the church rectory in 2016. The victim reportedly contacted Bauza about using his shower since the victim’s own shower wasn’t working.

The police investigation came after two church employees contacted police in August 2017. Those employees told police the victim told them about the incident in May 2017 when the employees were discussing Bauza’s behavior, including Bauza allegedly showing them pictures of genitals. Hobbs police also spoke with the victim who detailed the shower allegations. Bauza was assigned as priest of St. Helena in 2014 after serving at a Las Cruces parish for several years. The church is now led by Father Joe Pacquing.

Wednesday’s dismissal, or “Nolle prosequi,” was filed into magistrate court and is “without prejudice.” The charge may be re-filed at a later date. Bauza’s trial was slated to start Monday at Hobbs Magistrate Court with Judge Willie Henry presiding.

Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce declined to comment Thursday about the dismissal. Meanwhile, Bauza’s attorney and the Diocese of Las Cruces’ vice chancellor, Deacon Jim Winder, both commented.

“We commend the district attorney for taking a long, hard, professional look at all of the facts and making what we believe is the appropriate decision,” Albuquerque attorney Jason Bowles said.

Bowles confirmed he and Robert Gorence of Albuquerque are both representing Bauza in the criminal case and a civil case, which was filed earlier this year.

The diocese is taking a “wait and see” approach.

“Our position has always been to allow the criminal case to run its course,” Winder said. “Father Bauza has got his own attorney. We’re kind of spectators in that. And, so now, we’re not sure if its run its course or not so we still have to wait and see how this winds up. If the charges are going to be re-filed or not. So, we’re still waiting.”

There’s still a civil case in the matter. In early February, Bauza, St. Helena church and the diocese were named as defendants in a lawsuit related to the allegations. The Law Offices of Brad D. Hall, LLC in Albuquerque and Flores, Tawney and Acosta P.C., of Las Cruces and El Paso, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the shower victim, identified as “John Doe 81,” who moved to Florida. The lawsuit sought trial, judgment and damages.

Bowles gave an update on that lawsuit and said it’s pending.

“It’s on a scheduling order,” he said. “It’s just kind of early in the stage of the case.”

He explained a scheduling order as being standard in a civil case.

“It’s just the dates for trial and various deadlines in the case,” Bowles said. “And we’re just kind of working through that scheduling order.”

Both Winder and Bowles denied there’s been a settlement in the civil case.

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