Pope Accepts Resignation of Santa Fe Archbishop

Associated Press
April 6, 1993

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An archbishop's resignation was accepted Tuesday, a move that parishioners and priests hoped would signal the start of the Roman Catholic Church's recovery from a series of sex scandals in New Mexico.

Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation of Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez, 59, the nation's first Hispanic archbishop. Sanchez offered to step down March 19 after allegations surfaced that he had sex with several women in the 1970s and possibly into the 1980s, when at least some of them were teen-agers.

Sanchez had issued a statement March 9 asking forgiveness for any pain caused by the allegations, but he has neither confirmed nor denied them.

The pope appointed Bishop Michael J. Sheehan of Lubbock, Texas, as acting head of the Santa Fe archdiocese, which is based in Albuquerque and covers 300,000 Catholics in 90 parishes.

"I feel really peaceful today that the beginning of the end is near," said Elizabeth Gallegos. "I feel the church, in its infinite wisdom, chose Holy Week to select a new leader. Holy Week is a time of hope for a new life."

"It's a beginning, a new beginning," said the Rev. Bill Sanchez, a priest at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Bernalillo who isn't related to the former archbishop. "People are still grieving over the resignation. But I think that all things are possible with time and patience."

Catholic clergy take a vow of celibacy. But in recent years the church has been beset by scandals involving priests' sexual relationships with women or molestation of boys. In apparent response, John Paul has stepped up calls for clergy to remain celibate while asking forgiveness for their "failings."

In the Santa Fe archdiocese, about a dozen lawsuits have been filed in the past year alleging priests and former priests sexually molested more than 30 people, many of them when they were children in the 1960s and 1970s.

Parishioner Richard Lucero of Santa Fe said Tuesday he hopes the controversy will die down now. "People are judging the whole church by a couple of men who fell out of grace," he said.

Sheehan will continue serving as bishop in Lubbock and will commute to Albuquerque, about 250 miles away. Selection of a permanent archbishop is expected to take as long as a year.

Sheehan told reporters in Lubbock that he has no blueprint but truth and directness for handling what he called a formidable challenge.

"We'll be getting through the pain of these difficult days just like the church gets through the pain of Holy Week and Good Friday," he said.

Sheehan, 53, was the first bishop to head the Lubbock diocese when it was created in June 1983. He was at the time the youngest U.S. bishop.

The Lubbock diocese is predominantly Hispanic, and Sheehan speaks Spanish. Many of New Mexico's Catholics are Hispanic.


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