HOBBS, N.M. (AP) — A man who alleges a former New Mexico priest sexually abused him is suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces.
The lawsuit, filed last week against the diocese and St. Helena Parish in Hobbs, says the diocese facilitated sexual battery and assisted the Rev. Ricardo Bauza in evading authorities, the Hobbs News-Sun reports.
It comes three months after Hobbs police issued a warrant for Bauza's arrest following a complaint he sexually assaulted an adult male.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the fall, Bauza got into a shower with an adult male and washed the victim's body with a loofah in the church rectory in April 2016.
The complaint says two male church members also told police Bauza showed them cellphone photos of his genitals.
"When parish employees notified (Las Cruces) Bishop Oscar Cantu of the abuse allegations in the summer of 2017, Fr. Bauza was quietly removed from the Parish under the guise of a 'long-planned sabbatical,'" the lawsuit said. "It appears that Fr. Bauza was subsequently transported out of the state."
Cantu later told parishioners at St. Helena Parish that Bauza was in a treatment center undergoing therapy.
"The Diocese is committed to maintaining a safe environment in our parishes and schools, and is doing all that is possible to make this commitment a reality," Cantu later said in a statement. "I urge you to withhold judgment and not engage in gossip or speculation, especially when we are not aware of all of the facts."
Hobbs Police Chief Chris McCall said Bauza has not been arrested on the warrant, which remains in effect.
Fr. Enrique Lopez, chancellor of the Diocese of Las Cruces, said the diocese couldn't comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit says the victim "suffered and continues to suffer" serious emotional distress as a result of the sexual abuse, experiencing embarrassment, humiliation, loss of self-esteem and depression.
He seeks an unspecified amount in damages.
Efforts by the News-Sun to contact Bauza for comment were unsuccessful, and it was not immediately known if Bauza has an attorney.
Bauza was first assigned to St. Helena in 2014 after serving a Las Cruces parish for nine years. He joined the Las Cruces diocese in 2003 and was ordained into the priesthood in 2005.
Information from: Hobbs News-Sun, http://www.hobbsnews.com