Resigned Archbishop Runs Retreats

By Greg Toppo
Santa Fe New Mexican (New Mexico)
October 29, 1997

Former Archbishop Robert Sanchez, who since 1993 has lived in seclusion at an undisclosed location, apparently is involved in leading retreats for priests.

Sanchez last week led a retreat for Tucson-area priests at the invitation of the bishop of Tucson and evidently has led several such retreats in the United States and abroad.

A spokesman for the southern Arizona diocese said Sanchez "seemed very, very serene, very happy."

Sanchez resigned as archbishop of Santa Fe after revelations that he had sexual relationships with several young women after he was appointed archbishop in 1974.

An Aug. 1 letter from the Most Rev. Manuel D. Moreno, bishop of Tucson, to the priests of the Diocese of Tucson says Moreno invited Sanchez to be "our retreat master" at an annual two-week session of prayer, contemplation and discussion held Oct. 12-24 at a church retreat center in Tucson.

"Before extending the invitation, I prayed and I consulted several priests," the bishop's letter says. "All approved and encouraged me to ask the Archbishop."

Diocese of Tucson officials made no secret of the invitation.

"The priests of this diocese knew who the retreat master was going to be," said Fred Allison, director of community relations for the diocese.

Allison on Tuesday said Moreno, who chose Sanchez to lead the retreat, was "very pleased" that Sanchez could make it.

Allison said he briefly met Sanchez last week near the end of the retreat. "What I saw of the archbishop," Allison said, "he seemed very, very serene, very happy."

He called the retreats "an opportunity for the priests of the diocese to get together in a spiritual setting, for a spiritual purpose." A good portion of the retreats, Allison said, are spent in silence.

He said Sanchez "set the spiritual theme or spiritual tone of the retreat," as well as leading priests in prayer. Allison didn't know whether Sanchez spoke with the priests about his experiences.

He also couldn't say how many of the diocese's 250 or so priests attended, but said those who did were "very, very pleased they thought it was a wonderful event." He said Moreno was also "very pleased" with the results.

But at least a few parishioners in Tucson weren't so happy with Sanchez's invitation.

Sheila Schreiber-Parkhill, an officer of the Holy Family Society, a conservative Catholic group in Tucson, said several parishioners protested Sanchez's appearance at the retreat.

"We were very upset because we thought it was not appropriate to bring in someone who admitted being involved with teen-aged girls," said Schreiber-Parkhill. "We're wondering what kind of spiritual advice he could be giving with all of the problems that he had."

The October retreat evidently isn't the first such event Sanchez has led. According to Moreno's letter, Sanchez "has been giving retreats successfully to several religious communities around the country and abroad."

Moreno continues, "I believe that he will be a good retreat master and that we will benefit from his spiritual journey."

Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Sanchez's successor, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

News of the retreat is the first word of Sanchez's whereabouts since 1995, when, according to church officials, he visited relatives in Socorro and Albuquerque and spoke briefly to Sheehan and staff members at the Catholic Center.

In 1994, he was in Albuquerque to give two lengthy depositions in connection with lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

In the deposition, released last year, Sanchez said that sexual-abuse claims pending against the church were not made public because he did not want to incite gossip and divisiveness in the parishes. He also said he did not report the allegations of pedophilia at least in the early 1980s because he did not understand it was a crime.

In the deposition, he also admitted having sexual relationships with several young women after he was appointed archbishop.

The first native New Mexican and the first Hispanic to lead the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Sanchez was a well-loved figure who was praised for his insight into cultural and political issues relevant to the state's Hispanic and American Indian communities.


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