Parishioner Accuses Priest of Affair, Sexual Molestation

By Leslie Hoffman
Albuquerque Tribune (New Mexico)
January 13, 2000

A senior Roman Catholic priest whose career has spanned more than 50 years in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has been accused of sexually molesting a female parishioner and later conducting a sexual affair with her.

Stella Tafoya, 41, filed a lawsuit against the Rev. Paul Baca, 75, in state District Court on Wednesday in Albuquerque, alleging sexual abuse, conspiracy, battery and other charges. The lawsuit also names the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Archbishop Michael Sheehan and former Archbishop Robert Sanchez as defendants. The lawsuit seeks actual and punitive damages.

The Tribune left messages with Baca this morning but received no response.

Baca's attorney, Nancy Hollander, said today she could not comment on the lawsuit because her client had not yet been served with the complaint. She said she learned of the lawsuit Wednesday from news reports and expressed frustration that the media received court documents before she did.

"I'll be meeting with him, and we'll proceed with trying this case in the courts," Hollander said.

Sister Nancy Kazik, vice chancellor of the archdiocese, said today it had also not been served with the complaint.

In a written statement, the archdiocese would not comment about the Baca case but said it does not tolerate sexual misconduct within the church.

Baca is the pastor at the Church of the Risen Savior in Northeast Albuquerque.

The lawsuit alleges a sexual relationship between Tafoya and Baca that began in the 1970s when Tafoya was 15 and Baca was a pastor at the Queen of Heaven Church.

It went on to say the relationship ended when she was 16 and resumed in 1989.

According to the lawsuit, Baca ended the relationship in 1990 when Catholic priests began to face lawsuits for sexual abuse.

In an attempt to prove her allegations, Tafoya states in the lawsuit, she videotaped a Dec. 21, 1999, conversation with Baca at her home.

The Tribune has obtained a copy of both the videotape and the transcript during which Baca says: "You didn't seduce me. I didn't seduce you. I mean, it was something that just happened."

The Tribune has also obtained a 31-page transcript and cassette copy of another December conversation in which Tafoya called Baca at his home and discussed what she alleges to be their sexual relationship.

During the conversation, according to the transcript and tape, Tafoya questioned Baca about "having sex." Baca states that he has loved Baca as a parishioner since she was a child.

"And then you know, it just seemed to flow, which is wrong, OK, but I did not see it, as you know, really doing something wrong at that time, you know. Like I'm gonna do something bad, you know?" Baca said, according to the transcript.

Tafoya later asks: "Do you feel guilty about it all?"

Baca's reply in the transcript: "No, because I never felt that I was doing anything wrong to you. Like I tell you, it's sort of a continuation, or an expression of the love that was there."

When asked if he ever feared Tafoya could get pregnant, the transcript states, Baca said he didn't worry about it: "I don't think I would have in any way put you in that kind of situation."

Tafoya alleges in the lawsuit that Baca attempted under a guise of counseling to keep her from disclosing the relationship to anyone. She went to him for counseling throughout the 1990s. In October 1999, she says in the lawsuit, the "emotional manipulation" reached a climax, and she tried to commit suicide.

During her recovery, Tafoya received couseling from a psychologist who helped her disclose the abuse, according to the lawsuit.

The case has been randomly assigned to state District Court Judge Theresa Baca.

Defense attorneys are expected to file answers to the complaint in the coming weeks.


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