Archbishop's Troubles Pain Santa Fe's Hispanics

By James L. Franklin
Boston Globe
May 4, 1993

ALBUQUERQUE — Emilia Santillanes remembers the bells ringing all day in the church of San Felipe de Neri, the center of the 18th-century adobe settlement from which this modern city grew.

Not since V-J Day, the day that marked the Allied victory over Japan in World War II, had they tolled as they did that day in 1974.

The occasion: The pastor of San Felipe, Rev. Robert Fortune Sanchez, was named archbishop of Santa Fe, the first Hispanic archbishop in the United States.

He was a native son, the chancellor under Archbishop James Davis, and he was the top-ranked nominee of the three recommended by a committee of clergy and lay people named by the archbishop.

"We cried for joy. We were so proud to have an archbishop born in New Mexico and of Hispanic descent," said Santillanes, who cried again as she read the column she had written for the Albuquerque Journal on the fall this year of Archbishop Robert Sanchez.

Even in 1974, some knew that the popular priest had not always stayed within the lines. Catherine Stewart-Roache, who served on the committee, said in an interview that panel members knew Sanchez had been involved with a woman in Albuquerque.

"But in the context of the 1970s, with so many clergy opting for laicization - in my parish we had seven priests in five years who left to get married - Sanchez seemed to have indicated . . . that he wasn't going to get married," said Stewart-Roache, who is a hospital chaplain. "I said, with others, that he would make the best candidate."

Archbishop Sanchez, 59, offered to resign on March 19 after acknowledging to associates that he had had sexual relations with at least five young women from well-known New Mexico families in the 1970s and 1980s. He was less explicit in two letters to the people of the archdiocese.

The result was great anger and even denial. Some in the Hispanic community blamed the archbishop's accusers, particularly because the charges were first made in a television program, a CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast in March. Others, from a variety of backgrounds, are still urging him to return.

Church officials complain about news coverage. Reporters have asked about the archbishop and the handling of sexual abuse charges against 14 Santa Fe priests and residents of the Paraclete House in Jemez Springs, a retreat for clergy with alcoholism and other problems.

Bruce Pasternack, a lawyer who says he represents the three women who took part in the "60 Minutes" broadcast, sees a connection between Sanchez's personal life and the problem of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese.

"The tragedy is the requirement of celibacy. Robert Sanchez for his whole life wanted to help people, and to help people he made a vow that nobody could keep. . . . When priests and families told him Father So-and-So had molested children, Robert Sanchez was paralyzed by hypocrisy. His whole sexual activity crippled him."

Santa Fe is a rural diocese, with 90 parishes and 300,000 Catholics in 75,000 square miles. Relatively few of the Hispanic and Native American Catholics who make up a large part of the local population have become priests, so many clergy come to New Mexico from elsewhere.

In this setting, Archbishop Sanchez was a reconciler. He changed the name of a chapel in his cathedral in Santa Fe from La Conquistadora, celebrating the Spanish conquest of the heathen Americas, to Our Lady Queen of Peace, and he was careful to visit native peoples on the feast day of their patron saints.

Although Hispanics predominate in the state and in the Santa Fe church, they, too, had felt at odds with its leadership, which is often drawn from outsiders.

Some priests and bishops "have no concept of our culture and make no allowances for tradition, which has caused a lot of pain," Santillanes said. "Being one of our own, Archbishop Sanchez was able to pull us all together, and everyone was accepted without judgment."


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