Cruces Priest Removed in Alleged '73 Abuse

By Michael D. Hernandez
El Paso Times
July 24, 2002

After serving more than 30 years as a priest throughout the El Paso-Las Cruces region, the Rev. Denis Tejada has been removed from his pastoral and administrative duties because of alleged sexual misconduct with a minor in 1973 in El Paso.

According to a joint statement released by Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso and Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, the alleged misconduct took place 29 years ago while Tejada served as associate pastor at St. Patrick Cathedral.

Tuesday, Ramirez was unavailable for comment, and Ochoa referred all inquiries to Michael W. Lilley, a Las Cruces lawyer who is acting as a spokesman for both dioceses in the matter.

Ramirez removed Tejada from his duties at St. Genevieve Catholic Parish in Las Cruces, and Tejada is "undergoing an in-depth spiritual and psychological evaluation" by people who specialize in treating priests, Lilley said. He would not disclose the name of the facility or the location, but said only that it is far from the El Paso-Las Cruces region.

Tejada has not been charged with any crime, authorities said. The statement urges "anyone with knowledge of any sexual misconduct with minors" by Tejada or any other priest to contact the Office of the Chancellor in either diocese as well as local law enforcement agencies.

Lilley said the recent allegation against Tejada is the only one of its kind in the Las Cruces diocese.

"As far as I'm aware, this was the only incident," said Lilley, adding Tejada did not have a history of sexual misconduct.

Ordained in 1972, Tejada began his vocation at St. Patrick Cathedral and has served at parishes in El Paso and Canutillo as well as Chapparal, La Union and Hobbs in New Mexico.

Diego Lucero is skeptical about the allegation made against Tejada and surprised by his abrupt removal. He doesn't think the man who guided him through his First Holy Communion and confirmation at St. Genevieve in central Las Cruces could be capable of sexual misconduct.

"I just don't believe he would do that and I would back him up 110 percent," said Lucero, who is a maintenance worker at the parish. "He's a good man. He's my boss, and he's also my friend."

Details about who made the allegation were not released. Lilley said the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces received word of the alleged incident several weeks ago as a result of an investigation by the El Paso Police Department. But Sgt. Al Velarde, spokesman for the El Paso Police Department, said Tuesday that there has been no such investigation.

The statement from the two bishops notes that Tejada's removal from his duties are in keeping with civil and canon law and adhere to the guidelines set in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on June 15.

The Vatican has not yet given its approval to the charter which would be the church's toughest and most definitive stance against clergy guilty of sexual abuse.

This is the second time in recent months the church's national sex scandal has been felt regionally.

Ramirez allowed the Rev. David Bentley to work in Las Cruces from 2000 until April when he was recalled by Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Albany, N.Y, diocese after a review of his files. Though Bentley never faced criminal charges, Ramirez was aware that Bentley had been accused of sexual misconduct more than two decades ago.

Tejada's work history

April 3, 1972: Ordained by Sidney M. Metzger, bishop of El Paso, at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Las Cruces.

June 1972-April 1975: Associate pastor, St. Patrick Cathedral, El Paso.

April 1975-April 1978: Associate pastor, St. Matthew Catholic Church, El Paso.

June 1976-November 1981: Administrator and priest in charge, St. Thomas More Catholic Mission, Chaparral.

April 1978-November 1981: Pastor, St. Patrick Catholic Church, Canutillo.

October 1979-November 1981: Priest in charge, Our Lady of Refuge Church, La Union.

November 1981- January 1990: Pastor, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Hobbs.

February 1990-July 22, 2002: Pastor, St. Genevieve, Las Cruces.

June 1991-July 22, 2002: Administrator, Santa Rose de Lima Church, Las Cruces.

Oct. 1992-July 22, 2002: Canonical pastor, Our Lady of Purification, Do?a Ana County.

Feb. 1994-July 22, 2002: Canonical pastor, Our Lady of Perpetual Health Church, Truth or Consequences.


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