The Deposition of Former Archbishop Sanchez

Albuquerque Tribune
September 18, 1996

* Excerpts from former Archbishop Robert Sanchezs newly released deposition from 1994, in which he was questioned about his knowledge of sexual abuse by priests, among other topics. On why he wrote a letter to a priest accused of pedophilia, calling the priest a good man and a very sincere person: I have said to countless people that they are good people when they have come to me with their own personal shortcomings and failings I have to try to reaffirm them in the basic goodness that is there, so they can rebuild their life on that goodness.

On whether he had an obligation as archbishop to report allegations of child abuse:

"I was unaware of an existing statute in New Mexico law that required that type of reporting. If I had any type of concern on any individual, I normally would share that with an attorney, but I was unaware of that statute until the late 1980s."

On whether he knew sexual molestation was a crime:

"I did not understand that to be a crime. I considered it to be a moral infraction of his (the priest's) own life, and it was an offense against a child."

On whether his sexual activity was more frequent after he became archbishop:

"It was more frequent, at the -- especially the early years. I don't know whether it has any bearing here, but I have tried to examine my own life as to why I failed against my promise of chastity. And one very strong reason, which you may not accept or believe, but it's very, very important to me, is the fact that to live a life of chastity and celibacy for anyone, you have to be able to surround yourself with a spiritual structure that, in fact, will support you in those efforts. You have to be faithful in your prayer life to the Lord and very open and honest with yourself, so that actions contrary to your promises do not occur.

"I believe that I had allowed my own spiritual practices to be neglected. I was dedicating myself solely to work and to the responsibilities, perhaps at times feeling very overwhelmed with the burden of the office, and I neglected that very source that should give me the strength that I needed to be faithful to my life, as well as to the ministry.

"I think the world in which you and I live today . . . I would call it a permissive world. And what I'm saying is that when you live in a world that continually promotes sexuality, it's like an environment becoming polluted. Everyone is affected by it. And unless you're very keen to what's occurring and are very conscious of it, it can begin to cloud your thinking, begin to cloud your judgment and eventually affect your actions.

"And I think that, to some extent, my life was also affected by the general environment, you might call the spiritual environment or the lack of the spiritual environment of our country. I know it's a concern for parents today. I know it's a great debate about schools today. Today we find ourselves offering condoms in schools, an action that would never have been even contemplated or allowed even to have been mentioned 10 years ago, 20 years ago. That would have been forbidden. And yet society is speaking openly about it."

On his responsibility to set an example for the community and priests:

"I know that I have a responsibility. I don't set myself up as an example. No priest dare set themselves up as an example. We try to live an integral life. I know that my life was not integral. I failed from time to time. I lost that integrity, of which I am not proud. I am very shameful about it. And I've resigned because of reasons that tell me that I have just not been living the type of life as perfectly as I should have.

"So all I can say is that I have failed, and ask God's forgiveness, and I have to see what I can do for the future and remain faithful to my God."

On whether he felt a discrepancy between his personal behavior and what he was preaching:

"Well, yes, there's a hypocrisy a person feels, much like a parent again would, correcting children, would feel if they have themselves failed. But it's an ideal that I have to continue to proclaim. It's the gospel of the Lord, and it's his ideal and the virtue that can be received both with prayer and with self-discipline.

"So in spite of the fact that a person fails, that is not an indication that anyone should give up. Otherwise, the world would be in a real mess, because everyone fails from time to time in one thing or another. And so you have to continue to strive for that ideal, which I did, and in my preaching, as well."

On whether he ever spoke to boys who stayed at a boys' ranch headed by Father Ed Donnollan about allegations of sexual abuse:

"I did not speak to any of the boys personally. I did ask a priest to visit the hacienda for me and speak to the people who were there to give me an idea of how it was being operated and so forth. I did not receive any allegations from that priest in reference to his visit. The Health and Social Services apparently would visit the home, or the Ranch, regularly for their own reports, since they had an outreach in that area of the state. It was their responsibility, since it was a state operation, to be able to inquire from the boys, inquire from the staff, as well as from the director, as to the appropriateness of the facility and its operation. If anything was to be revealed, it would have been revealed to those officials, because that was their principal responsibility."

On why people in a Los Lunas parish weren't told that a priest assigned to the parish was a child molester who was being sent away for treatment:

"No specific reason was given. It is not the habit of the church to make public the weakness of any individual and say that someone is going away for alcoholism or going away for this or going away for that. He was going away for treatment at a center and asked for prayers for his success, his well-being.

"My main concern with any allegation that is brought to me that if a priest is being accused of misconduct is to confront that priest and to remove him from the situation immediately. And I was able to do that in this case successfully and did not feel an obligation, then, to explain to the people in general the reasons for his departure."

On whether he was concerned that the priest might have had more than one victim:

"There is concern. Again, as I have mentioned, parishes have a way of speaking to another and of letting any type of abuse be known. It wasn't as though they were going to keep it a secret. His departure, I am sure, caused a lot of talk among the parishioners themselves, and it is simply not our tradition to make obvious statements to people about an individual, because of the situation within the parish itself. Parishioners begin to become suspicious of one another. It become a divisive issue. They begin to wonder, 'Well, who caused this, and what's involved?' So I have not made it a practice to announce to parishioners the reason for any transfer of any priest."

On his resignation:

"I reached the decision to tender my resignation due to the fact that three women had . . . offered information to you and subsequently went to "60 Minutes," a national television program, where they stated that we had had a relationship in the 1970s . . .

"Once that became public knowledge, I felt that it would become an issue with the people of the Archdiocese, that there would be those who would feel that they could still accept me as their archbishop, but there would be others who would probably feel they couldn't. And I have always felt that unity within any church group is essential, just as unity within a country is essential.

"And if I could no longer effectively lead the church as their archbishop, uniting them together, then it would be best for me to submit my resignation and allow another person to be appointed in my place."

On compassion for priests who violate vows of chastity:

"I had always been steeped in that concept of compassion. I cannot say honestly whether I was more compassionate to any man who admitted guilt to me because of my own sin. I would like to believe that I would have been as compassionate if I had never sinned, because that is how I was trained, and that is part of my character.

"I would say this, that knowing my own failure, I would have been able to speak directly to them perhaps with more serious admonition about the care for their own spirituality and their spiritual life, how to improve their own life and to be honest before God.

"I suppose it would be like -- well, maybe like a parent, a parent who was imperfect and recognizes their own failure as a parent, and then they catch their son or their daughter in whatever, and they have to correct them."

On priests seen at gay bars:

"He (one priest) said he had been there, but he had not gone there for pick-ups or anything of this nature. He had gone there for a drink. . . .

"He said he had been to -- I don't know the name of the place, but he'd been to this so-called gay bar, and he had gone there for a drink and wondered why that was so wrong, if people go to other bars.

"I said, 'It's not the same, and you will not visit that again, because it's not the place for any Roman Catholic priest, period.' . . .

"I was very strong in voicing my opinion after confronting these men. . . .

On helping victims of sexual abuse by priests:

Question: "On the occasions when allegations were brought to your attention of priests having sex with parishioners or with children, did you feel that you had an obligation to help those parishioners or children?"

Answer: "Yes. I certainly felt within my own heart a concern for them. I wasn't aware totally of what damage could be suffered from a person who has been abused. I wasn't aware of that in the '70s. I'm only becoming more and more aware of it today as all our sciences increase.

"But our concern was there for the people to see that whatever need that they may have expressed would be met.

"The first thing, of course, was to remove the priest who would have been alleged to have done something wrong, to remove him from the situation so that there would not be that fear any longer."

On parishioners' respect for and trust in priests:

"I think when they recognize an individual who is outstanding in his life, his holiness and his self-denial, they may call him "un angelito," a little angel of God, or even better than that, "un santo," a saint of God, because he reflects that in his life, his holiness of living, but it's not an expression that is given to every priest.

"They're pretty discerning. They have respect, but they would withhold that for those very special individuals. . . .

"But I think especially in northern New Mexico, you have to prove yourself to the people before they give you that real total trust and love. People of southern New Mexico, a little more lenient to offer trust, but the north, they're more demanding."

On not revealing the allegations of priest sexual abuse:

"We were trying to not make a public scandal, it is true. We were trying to protect the good name of the people who had come to us, because they're entitled to that, as well. And it appears that there were other victims that did not come forward immediately or were not known to us who have since then surfaced. And apparently these victims who have come forward have, in fact, been hurt to one degree or another because they did not receive counseling earlier.

"If a rape of a child has occurred, any type of molestation, and it's brought to our attention, that action is taken seriously. The family is received and provided with whatever is necessary for that child. But the need to make a public announcement simply has not been the tradition."

On whether it would be considered scandalous to announce from the pulpit that a priest had admitted molesting a child, and invite others who may have been molested to come forward:

"It would be offensive to people to hear a public announcement of that nature. . . . It's scandalous -- anything that's done that is sinful or shameful in a church that's (made) public is scandalous."

Sanchez said he "did not feel a responsibility" to let parishes know about pedophilic priests, "because I felt that if any child -- or additional child had been violated, that they would come forward."

He said the church was also "concerned what would happen with public gossip and public and malicious accusations of one another, how this would result in the perhaps defamation of one family or children or cause children to be hurt because of general allegations and suspicions of others."

"The Church has a great concern for all of its people. Its children are God's gift to us. We have to protect them. We're not going to do something that would endanger the children."

On why he did not conduct an investigation of Father Arthur Perrault after learning of molestation allegations in the mid-1970s:

"This was my first allegation that had been brought to me as a new archbishop. I certainly had no experience whether investigations needed to be done or whether I simply needed to confront the priest who was accused, and if such was -- if such was the truth, if he had admitted to that, to see that he would receive proper therapeutic psychotherapy, help for himself, so that this action would not be repeated in the future."

On hearing Perrault describe acts of sexual abuse during an evaluation with his attorney and therapist present:

"He mentioned that it occurred on several occasions. I don't recall the number or whatever. But the vivid description was certainly very shocking."

On why, before 1990, he assumed that pedophilia might be curable:

"Simply by the fact that in dealing with the psychologists and psychiatrists who had dealt with our priests, they were recommending for them to be able to be placed in another setting, to be -- to act as priestly ministers of people. I had to assume . . . that they were saying to me that this man has, in fact, reached a stage of a level of cure, that he is functional without being a danger to others."

Sanchez also said he heard an address around 1990 given to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops "where we had a panel of psychiatrists addressing us, and one of them addressed the issue saying that in his opinion, that this was not yet a settled issue . . . that he felt that the final word has not yet been spoken in that regard."

Later, Sanchez said, he began to realize that pedophilia "is a type of illness where a person has to monitor it always, much like alcoholism; that it's not simply an illness that, once treated, can hopefully be overcome immediately; that it's going to have to be treated and re-treated continually in their life."

On efforts to contact other victims:

"We did have in place . . . public notice to everyone that if there had ever been any type of sexual molestation by any priest in the Archdiocese, they could kindly call the 800 number and speak directly with us, and we would have interviews with them and give special attention to them . . . We used the 800 number to try to reach the greatest number of people possible in this whole area who may have had any knowledge of any priest that they wanted to report."

On allowing Perrault, a known pedophile priest, to administer the church sacraments:

"There is in our Church . . . a concept of sacramental forgiveness, and it is a sacramental forgiveness that we regard as essential for a person to continue to administer the sacraments. The concept of a person having been a child molester with an allegation dating back 20 years would not prevent him from celebrating Holy Mass 20 years later."

On whether it was "reasonable" for him to forgive Perrault and allow him to continue in parish service:

"In my own faith, Our Lord Jesus asks us to forgive one another as He has forgiven us. We pray that in the Lord's Prayer as Christian people repeatedly, because we recognize that as we ask God to forgive us, so must we be willing to forgive others. So forgiveness is a spiritual act that I have always felt is important to extend to people who have shown their own contrition . . . I believe that if the therapist at any time had indicated to me that Father Perrault constituted a continual danger to children, that I would not have allowed him to function in that way."


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