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  Church, Priest Settle Sex Misconduct Suit

By Bruce Daniels
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
June 8, 2000

Woman Claimed 'Repetitive' Contact

A lawsuit brought against the Rev. Paul Baca and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe alleging sexual misconduct by the longtime priest has been settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

Bruce Pasternack, who represents a 41-year-old Albuquerque woman who sued Baca and the church in January, said the financial terms of the settlement are confidential.

Stella Tafoya alleged in her suit that Baca sexually molested her when she was 15, then engaged in a sexual relationship with her for two years beginning in 1989, while he was counseling her.

Tafoya also said in her suit that she secretly videotaped Baca during a visit to her home in December, in which she claims he admitted "repetitive sexual contact" with her in the past.

Copies of the videotape and a transcript were made available to the Journal.

Pasternack said the settlement also covered claims by a second woman, who never filed suit but told a television station that she had sexual relations with Baca, while he counseled her until early this year.

Attorneys for the archdiocese declined to comment on the settlement, and Baca has always denied the allegations.

But one of Baca's attorneys confirmed that a settlement had been reached, and without confirming whether a second woman was included, said it was "a comprehensive settlement."

Pasternack said he initially wouldn't take Tafoya's case because he had been referring church sex-abuse cases to other lawyers. But when he learned she tried to shoot herself over the alleged involvement with Baca, "I couldn't turn her away," he said.

Pasternack on Wednesday praised the archdiocese for "taking responsibility early on" by settling the case.

"It was a laudable way of handling it," Pasternack said. "It is a much healthier corporate culture that I'm seeing."

Yolanda Gallegos, who represents Baca as co-counsel with Nancy Hollander, said a settlement had been negotiated by the archdiocese on behalf of both Baca and the church.

But, she said, "it is absolutely incorrect" to suggest that the settlement was an admission of wrongdoing on Baca's part.

"The hard and harsh reality is that defending any claim is very expensive," regardless of the truth or falsehood of the allegations, Gallegos said.

Baca, 75, "is going to continue the Catholic ministry that he started over 50 years ago," and is teaching Bible classes, ministering to the sick and doing other forms of ministry, she said.

Baca has been on a form of administrative leave from his pastorate at the Church of the Risen Savior, and there has been "no permanent restriction" on Baca's status as a priest, Gallegos said.

"He'll always be a priest," she said.

Vice Chancellor Nancy Kazik, who is case manager for sex-abuse claims against the church, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday on Baca's current status or whether he would be allowed to resume as pastor at Risen Savior.

 
 

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