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  Police Look into Claim Priest Was Abusive

By Daniel Borunda
El Paso Times
July 25, 2002

El Paso police are investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in 1973 by a St. Patrick Cathedral priest with an 11-year-old boy, officials said Wednesday.

The Rev. Denis Tejada was removed Monday from his pastoral and administrative duties at St. Genevieve's Catholic Church in Las Cruces due to the allegations, the bishops of El Paso and Las Cruces said in a joint statement Tuesday.

According to Texas law, the statute of limitations for sexual assault is suspended if the perpetrator leaves the state, police spokesman Sgt. Al Velarde said. The statute of limitations has passed because Texas law has a limit of 10 years after a minor turns 18 in such cases.

A 40-year-old Texas man who lives outside the El Paso area alleged in June that the abuse took place 29 years ago in El Paso and Southern New Mexico, police and news reports said.

Police would not release the name of the alleged victim. The Do?a Ana County Sheriff's Department is also reportedly investigating.

Tejada was in charge of altar boys in his time as associate pastor at St. Patrick from 1972 to 1975, former altar boys said. It is unknown if the victim was an altar boy.

"It breaks my heart. (The victim) has to be somebody, at the very least, who I had seen" at church, said former altar boy Dino Chiecchi, who is now a 41-year-old Dallas journalist. He was an altar boy from the age of 11 to 13 at the time Tejada was at St. Patrick.

Being an altar boy was a good experience, Chiecchi said, adding that he never saw anything unusual done by Tejada.

But "I somehow had a feeling that someday this (issue) would arise. ... Just a feeling I had. I just had a gut feeling," he said.

Tejada has worked in the El Paso region for 30 years in parishes from Hobbs to Chaparral. He is currently undergoing spiritual and psychological evaluation at an undisclosed facility for treating priests, church officials said.

Tejada was a friendly, compassionate man with a sense of humor who could often be seen riding a bicycle, Kathy Livingston, 39, said. She has known Tejada since she was 12 when he counseled her family through a tragedy.

"We are behind him 100 percent," the Chaparral resident said, her voice shaking. "Frankly, (the allegations) just made me sick to my stomach. ... This is an attempt by someone to jump on the abuse bandwagon in hopes of financial gain."

 
 

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