Hispanics Protest, Seek Ouster of Pastor, Bishop

By Maureen Jenkins
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
August 12, 2000

Chanting and carrying signs, a group of Hispanic Catholics protestedoutside the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix on Friday, calling for theresignations of a pastor and Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien.

"They can step on us (Hispanics) or whatever," said Juanita Encinas, 46,a Chandler activist and protest organizer, "but when it comes to religion orour children, watch out. When people do wrong and disrespect our church, (ithurts us).

"We're, like, mourning right now."

Friday's protest was the latest aimed at Father Saul Madrid, pastor of bothImmaculate Heart and St. Anthony Catholic churches, and who oversees St. PiusX Mission in south Phoenix. Immaculate Heart, regarded as the Mexican nationalparish in Phoenix, sustained an estimated $1.5 million in fire damage inApril.

A pastor who has been a controversial figure at his parishes, Madrid, whooften is described as charismatic and likable, inspires emotional responsesfrom supporters and detractors alike.

He was unavailable for comment Friday. Immaculate Heart staff membersreferred questions to the Phoenix Diocese, whose officials also refused tocomment.

Madrid's tenure at the historic church at Ninth and Washington streets hasbeen troubled since his appointment in July 1999. Even before he was namedpastor, petitions with 6,000 signatures were delivered to the bishop's office,protesting Madrid's selection. Many were upset at having one pastor lead twomajor parishes and feared that Immaculate Heart would lose its traditionalMexican identity, which some members felt happened to St. Anthony underMadrid's pastorship. After a 1994 fire at St. Anthony, former Pastoral Councilmember Julian Sodari said, pews were replaced with chairs, wood floors wereredone in tile, and kneelers and statues were removed from the church to thedismay of many longtime worshipers.

"We have tolerated enough abuse from the diocese," said Manuel Seda, 65,a protester and former member of St. Anthony who attended Immaculate Heartuntil Madrid's appointment last year. He doesn't feel O'Brien has done enoughto address their concerns as Hispanic Catholics.

"The main thing is we want the bishop to step down. His lack of leadershiphas allowed this to go on too long," Seda said. "We want Saul Madrid to go.We don't know where, we just want him gone."

In addition to other complaints some current and former parishioners voiceagainst Madrid - that he's often unavailable to members and charges what theyfeel are steep fees for events like quinceaneras, the traditional LatinAmerican celebration of a girl's 15th birthday - some question his leadership.

Built in 1928, Immaculate Heart is more than just a structure to Hispanics,who travel from across the Valley to attend. The Phoenix Diocese establishedthe church in the 1920s as a refuge for Mexican-American Catholics who wantedto worship in their traditional style and who previously had to attendSpanish-language Mass in the basement of downtown's St. Mary's Basilica.

During Friday's protest, Father Dale Fushek, vicar general of the PhoenixDiocese, briefly spoke to the group. Encinas says protesters hoped the bishopwould address them, but Fushek said O'Brien was out of town.

"I said if there was a respectful message for the bishop, I would takeit," Fushek said. "We wanted to be pastoral, we wanted to be present, andlet (the protesters) know they could be heard."

However, "this is not how we operate as a church," Fushek said, referringto the protest outside the diocese office, "and these are not the channels weuse (for lodging complaints)."

If Friday's protest doesn't bring results, Encinas says, parishioners willmake an appeal to Rome.

"I hold O'Brien more responsible than Father Saul," she said. "As abishop, he has to look after his sheep, and he's not. And that's not right."


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