Archbishop: Put Faith in God, Not Men

By Jeff Tucker
Sun [Arizona]
July 21, 2003

Archbishop Michael Sheehan, interim bishop of the Phoenix Catholic Diocese, visited Flagstaff parishioners Sunday, calling on them not to put their faith in men but in the church and God.

For the past month, Sheehan, the Archbishop of Santa Fe, N.M., has worked to begin healing the Phoenix Diocese that has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals and the recent arrest of former bishop Thomas O'Brien.

But while Sheehan has begun meeting with alleged victims of sexual abuse within the church and offering apologies and encouragement to them, other, more local controversies will likely remain for a new Phoenix bishop to address.

Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson was a cosigner of a recent letter to Sheehan encouraging him to address long-standing concerns by some in the San Francisco de Asis Parish over O'Brien's plans to consolidate churches here in Flagstaff.

"It's a real concern of my community and not just the community at large, but my Christian community," said Donaldson, who is Catholic. "If I can use my position as mayor to foster some kind of healing, then great."

But Sheehan said it's very likely that any decision over the consolidation of churches in Flagstaff will have to wait.

For years, a group of local parishioners have been at odds with O'Brien over plans to limit the use of Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel in the Southside neighborhood and downtown's Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel.

Masses are currently held Monday through Friday at both churches and on Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Those parishioners have, in the past, been characterized as a small, but vocal group within the Catholic community, but their top priority will have to wait until a new Bishop is in place in Phoenix.

"I have received a letter or two on this matter," Sheehan said. "But it wouldn't be prudent to make decisions about things that have been in the hopper for so long. The new bishop will have to hear what I hear and make a decision then."

Last year, the Rev. John Picardi, one of three priests in Flagstaff, was put on administrative leave after it was reveled that he had been accused of raping a man while in service in Boston and fondling a girl while in service in New Jersey. No criminal charges were ever filed against Picardi, but the priest remains on leave from the church, Sheehan said.

"If there were elements of misconduct on his part, we have to be very careful," he said.

However, Sheehan is also trying to remind the church that many of these cases are decades old and the perception of how to treat pedophilia was different than it is now.

"It's a great temptation to perceive that everything we know today ... we knew 20 years ago," he said. "We have to be very cautious about that."

Right now, the parish is operating with just two priests. Sheehan said he would love to see more priests in Flagstaff, but added that men of the cloth "don't fall out of trees."

"Priests come from the family and we need to encourage young men to pursue the priestly vocation," he said.

Sheehan said a new bishop could be in place in Phoenix within five to 11 months.

In the meantime, the Archbishop will continue his work to begin healing within the church, saying his first priority is to provide counseling and encouragement to victims.

If settlements are necessary, they will be paid for by insurance premiums and the possible sale of property. No settlement money will come from the Church's annual charity development and appeal.

Beyond that, the Archbishop continues to remind the church that its savior has never changed.

"What I'm doing here in Flagstaff is encouraging the Catholic faith not to leave the church because of human weakness," he said. "I've told a number of people to put their faith where it can't be harmed, to put their faith in the church and the mass."

Reporter Jeff Tucker can be reached at 556-2250 or


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