Abuse Investigation of Priest Dropped

By Louie Gilot
El Paso Times
November 28, 2002

Authorities have dropped investigations of child abuse against a former Las Cruces priest because nearly 30 years have passed since the alleged incident and there is no evidence.

In July, a 40-year-old Texas man accused the Rev. Denis J. Tejada, pastor of St. Genevieve's Roman Catholic Church in Las Cruces for 12 years, of inappropriate touching. The incidents allegedly occurred on two occasions in the 1970s when the victim was 11. One incident allegedly took place at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso where Tejada was an associate priest from 1972 to 1975, and the second in La Mesa.

Officials with the Diocese of Las Cruces will make a decision about possible disciplinary action against Tejada, said diocese lawyer Mike Lilley. Tejada was relieved of his pastoral duties at St. Genevieve's on July 22 and sent to an undisclosed out-of-state facility for a spiritual and psychological evaluation.

But the criminal cases against the former priest are now buried.

"The allegations could not be substantiated by the investigation. It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but under the law, there was not enough evidence," said El Paso police spokesman Javier Sambrano. He added that the case was presented to the district attorney and rejected in the past week or two.

Do?a Ana County sheriff's Sgt. Ed Miranda said the New Mexico case stemming from the alleged La Mesa incident could not be prosecuted because it exceeded the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations on criminal sexual contact of a minor in this case expired after five years.

The New Mexico Legislature changed the law in 1987 to say the statute of limitations for sexual abuse crimes would begin after a victim turns 18, but the law cannot be applied retroactively.

Tejada was a priest at St. Matthew's in El Paso from 1975 to 1978, St. Patrick's in Canutillo in 1978 and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hobbs from 1981 to 1990 before coming to St. Genevieve's.

As an associate pastor at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso from 1972 to 1975, he was in charge of altar boys, former altar boys said.


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