Woman Sues Priest, Archdiocese

By Bruce Daniels
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
January 13, 2000

Ex-Parishioner Says Sex Began When She Was 15, Resumed at 31

An Albuquerque woman on Wednesday filed a lawsuit alleging she was sexually molested at age 15 by the Rev. Paul Baca and then in 1989 began a sexual relationship with the longtime pastor of the Church of the Risen Savior.

Stella Tafoya, 41, says in her lawsuit that she secretly videotaped a conversation with Baca in her home in which he admits to "repetitive sexual contact" with her in the past.

A copy of the videotape and an eight-page transcript of the half-hour conversation on Dec. 21 was made available to the Journal.

A review of the tape and transcript doesn't show Baca directly admitting sexual acts, but he repeatedly apologizes and asks Tafoya what it is she wants him to do about, in her words, "what happened between us."

Baca appears on the tape to vehemently deny that he touched Tafoya "in any way" when she was younger.

Baca, 75, who last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest, didn't return phone calls for comment Wednesday.

Baca's attorney, Nancy Hollander, said Wednesday her client hadn't been served with the complaint, so she hadn't had a chance to read it.

"There will have to be a lot of investigation done before we know what's true and false," Hollander said. "We'll take it as it goes. We'll pursue it in a legal and ethical manner and find out what the facts are."

The lawsuit, which alleges sexual abuse and negligent professional counseling on the part of Baca, also names the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, former Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez and Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan as defendants. It seeks unspecified damages.

Sister Nancy Kazik, vice chancellor of the archdiocese, said in a prepared statement Wednesday that church officials also hadn't been served with the complaint and only learned of the lawsuit through a copy furnished by the news media.

"Father Baca is a senior priest of the archdiocese and a dedicated minister," said Kazik, who added that there are allegations in the complaint against the archdiocese that are false.

The complaint was filed in state District Court on Wednesday morning and was randomly assigned to state District Judge Theresa Baca, Paul Baca's niece, who is certain to be excused from hearing the case.

The lawsuit is the first to be filed against the archdiocese in about five years by Albuquerque attorney Bruce Pasternack, who initiated a series of priest sex-abuse lawsuits in the early '90s that resulted in the toppling of Sanchez and more than 180 claims against the church.

Pasternack said in an interview he has turned away many new cases alleging priest abuse in the past five years, but he broke his self-imposed moratorium because of Tafoya's suicide attempt in October.

The lawsuit claims that at the time of Paul Baca's alleged molestation of Tafoya in 1973, the archdiocese was "infected with a culture of sexuality," and that the then-new Archbishop Sanchez "like Baca, was sexually active with teen-age girls."

In 1993, when Sanchez resigned after his "own sexual improprieties" came to light, he was replaced by Sheehan, who publicly promised to stop the abuse, the lawsuit says.

But, it alleges, Sheehan "tolerated the continuation of the culture of sexuality."

However, Kazik said in her statement, "The Archdiocese of Santa Fe does not tolerate sexual misconduct and does not cover up."

Tafoya alleges in her complaint that in 1973, when Baca was pastor of Queen of Heaven Church, he performed "a variety of nonconsensual sex acts" on her, "telling her that by having sexual contact with him, she was serving and pleasing God" and helping him be a better priest.

Tafoya, 15 at the time, was an active churchgoer, attending Mass daily and helping Baca in a variety of tasks.

And even after Baca moved from Queen of Heaven to Risen Savior in July 1979, the lawsuit says, he continued to serve as Tafoya and her family's priest, performing baptisms, first Communions, funerals and her wedding in 1982.

In 1989, when Tafoya was 31, she went to Baca for counseling for "extreme grief and depression" after her father's death, according to the lawsuit.

But, it alleges, Baca "used the counseling to once again take advantage of her fragile and wounded emotional condition" and "to coerce (her) to again begin having sex with him."

In late 1989 and early 1990, "Baca engaged Stella in sexual contact repeatedly," but when a series of lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse of children by priests began to be filed in the spring of 1990, "Baca stopped having sex with Stella," the suit alleges.

As the scandal broke, Baca "began a prolonged and intense campaign of regular, continuing psychological manipulation" to protect himself and prevent Tafoya from reporting the abuse, according to the complaint.

Tafoya continued to see Baca for counseling throughout the '90s as "her life was descending deeper into depression and emotional chaos."

The counseling continued until last year, when Tafoya drove to Albuquerque's West Side and shot herself in the abdomen in a failed suicide attempt, according to the suit.

It was only during counseling with another therapist following the suicide attempt that Tafoya was able to disclose the alleged abuse, "distance herself emotionally" from Baca, and "to understand for the first time the nature and cause of her emotional injuries."

According to the lawsuit, Tafoya "knew that Baca would likely deny having sexual contact with her if she simply pursued a claim against him."

So, "in order to obtain irrefutable proof" Tafoya arranged to have a conversation with Baca surreptitiously videotaped during one of his "many trips to her home," according to the suit.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.