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  Revered, Embattled Priest Retires

By Ollie Reed Jr.
Albuquerque Tribune (New Mexico)
January 15, 2000

Just days after being accused of a years-long affair with a parishioner,the Rev. Paul Baca announced Fridayhe will celebrate his final Mass on Sunday at Church of the Risen Savior, then dedicate himself to helping the poor.

The Rev. Paul Baca, the veteran and well-respected Albuquerque priest stung this week by a lawsuit accusing him of sexual misconduct, is retiring.

Baca, 75, told The Tribune he had informed Archbishop Michael Sheehan of his decision Friday morning.

"After 50-something years, I think it is enough," Baca said during a phone interview Friday afternoon. "I think this is a good time."

He said he would celebrate his final Mass at noon Sunday at the Church of the Risen Savior, the Northeast Heights Catholic church he started and has served as pastor for more than 20 years.

"I'm feeling really very relieved," he said. "I'm already feeling the weight off of my shoulders. But I'm not going to be just sitting around. After all these years as a priest, I couldn't be just sitting around."

Baca said he wants to move back to the the South Valley, where he was born in a house built by his parents, and work with the poor on a volunteer basis.

"I'll probably find a place down on Barelas Street or South Fourth Street," he said. "I just want to be there and try to work with the poor the working poor, the immigrants, the undocumented. I will be able to use my talents, my skills in administration, my contacts.

"Of course, I have to get this other thing off my shoulders."

The other thing is the lawsuit Stella Tafoya, 41, filed in state District Court in Albuquerque on Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges a sexual relationship between Tafoya and Baca that started in the 1970s, when Tafoya was 15, ended when Tafoya was 16, but resumed in 1989 and continued into early 1990.

Tafoya's lawsuit charges sexual abuse, conspiracy, battery and other matters and, in addition to Baca, names the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Archbishop Sheehan and former Archbishop Robert Sanchez as defendants.

As he has previously, Baca declined on Friday to talk about the lawsuit, saying that he and his lawyer still have not had the opportunity to study the charges.

"But one thing I regret is that the biggest problems I have had have been from the people I have tried to help the most," he said. "It has happened to me many times in my life, from my first parish. It hurts priests to work that hard and then have that happen."

Baca was ordained in Santa Fe on June 4, 1949. He has more years of service to his credit than any other active priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Starting with his first assignment at Immaculate Conception Church in Las Vegas in northern New Mexico, Baca began building a reputation as a hard-working priest who was always on call, always available to his parishioners.

He has been known as a priest not afraid to roll up his sleeves and help build schools such as Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School in Bernalillo and churches such as San Ysidro Catholic Church in Corrales.

The people he served came to look on him as a man who knew how to get things done simply and efficiently if possible, but one way or the other in any case.

And everywhere he went, he said, he took a love of the poor that had been instilled in him by his parents and tried to pass it on to his parishioners.

"The spirituality of helping the poor is a basic part of our faith," Baca said last year, shortly after marking his 50th anniversary as a priest. "I get so tired of people talking about welfare queens. From years of working with poor people, I know that they don't ask for all they need."

On Friday, Baca said that his work has been his life.

"I have really enjoyed my priestly life," he said. "It is so varied. I have worked with young people and feel good about the youth center we have built here at Risen Savior. I have enjoyed working with the elderly. This morning I said Mass at a nursing home, and it was packed. It's good to be there for people."

But this week, when all he has tried to accomplish looked as if it might be lost under the stain of the lawsuit, Baca said it was good that the people were there for him.

"I've been getting hundreds of calls and cards of support," he said. "It's been heartwarming to see the outpouring of love and caring from people in the parish, people outside the parish and from my fellow priests. It has made all that has happened this week bittersweet."

FATHER PAUL BACA'S PARISHES

Since his ordination on June 4, 1949, the Rev. Paul Baca has served six New Mexico parishes:

Immaculate Conception Church in Las Vegas, N.M., June 30, 1949, to May 1950.

San Jose Church in Anton Chico, May 24, 1950, to September 1955.

St. John Nepomucene, a mission parish at El Rito, Sept. 14, 1955, to March 1958.

Our Lady of Sorrows in Bernalillo, March 19, 1958, to March 1965.

Queen of Heaven in Albuquerque, April 1, 1965, to June 1979.

Church of the Risen Savior in Albuquerque, July 1, 1979, to Jan. 16, 2000.

Contact: oreed@abqtrib.com

 
 

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