Santa Fe Archbishop Faces Sexual Misconduct Charges

By Gustav Niebuhr
Washington Post
March 10, 1993

Less than three years after a Roman Catholic archbishop was forced to resign in a sexual scandal, another leading church official has been accused of "sexual misconduct" by at least three female parishioners and might be forced to resign.

The latest charges involve the Rev. Robert F. Sanchez, Catholic archbishop of Santa Fe, N.M. The Rev. Ron Wolf, chancellor of the Santa Fe archdiocese, acknowledged the charges Monday in a television interview.

Asked in the interview with KOAT-TV in Albuquerque if Sanchez's future as archbishop is in "jeopardy," Wolf said that "in terms of ministry, in terms of functioning as archbishop," it may be "problematic."

The archdiocese's spokeswoman declined to discuss the matter, referring all inquiries to Wolf, who did not return calls seeking comment.

Any sexual involvement by the archbishop would violate the church's requirement that its all-male clergy remain celibate after ordination. Sanchez was ordained a priest on Dec. 20, 1959.

A highly popular figure in his archdiocese, Sanchez holds the historic distinction of being the first Hispanic ever appointed to head an American archdiocese. The Santa Fe archdiocese -- geographically one of the largest of the 31 U.S. Catholic archdioceses -- spans northwestern and central New Mexico, and includes more than 290,000 Catholics, many of them Hispanic, out of a total population of 850,000.

In the KOAT interview, Wolf said Sanchez felt "profound sadness" over the allegations. The archbishop's accusers "were hurt and are hurt and they're very angry," Wolf said, according to the transcript. "And I don't blame them if what they said is true, and I go on the assumption they are telling the truth."

Wolf did not identify the accusers, but said he had seen videotapes of their statements. An Associated Press story said the tapes were made by the CBS program "60 Minutes." A spokesman for the program could not be reached for comment.

In a case like Sanchez's, the ultimate decision rests in the Vatican's hands, said the Rev. James H. Provost, chairman of the department of canon law at Catholic University of America. An investigation of the case would be directed by the Vatican Embassy in Washington, which is under Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the papal nuncio, Provost said. An embassy spokeswoman declined to comment.

Should he decide to resign, Sanchez would be the second American archbishop to do so in the past three years as the result of a sexual scandal. On July 10, 1990, Archbishop Eugene A. Marino resigned after a two-year tenure as head of the Atlanta archdiocese after he was romantically linked with a 27-year-old singer. Before his appointment in Atlanta, Marino served as an auxiliary bishop of the Washington archdiocese.

Pope Paul VI named Sanchez as Santa Fe's 10th archbishop on June 1, 1974. He is "an extremely well-liked archbishop, very pastoral in his dealings with people," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, and an expert on the nation's bishops.

In November 1991, Sanchez was elected secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops-U.S. Catholic Conference, which serves as the policymaking and legal arm of the nation's Catholic bishops. He is a member of the conferences' powerful five-member executive committee and the much larger administrative committee.


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