Ex-Pastor Loses Bid at Promising Future

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
July 22, 2003

Father Saul Madrid had a bright future when he was ordained a priest of the Phoenix Diocese in 1985.

As a native of Mexico, he was a man who could understand the experience of modern immigrants. And he fit in equally well with the moneyed elite of the Valley.

Madrid, who is at the center of a lawsuit against the diocese, impressed then-Bishop Thomas O'Brien so much that within six years after ordination he was appointed pastor of the first of three Hispanic parishes that he would serve. The three included the Valley's first Hispanic parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary in downtown Phoenix.

But there was a darker side.

Questions about Madrid began to surface after he received his second pastoral appointment, to St. Anthony Church near downtown Phoenix. In 1994, on the eve of Mexican Catholics' greatest feast, celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe, the church burned.

Madrid raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than enough to rebuild and restore the church. But some parishioners complained there was no public accounting of the total raised or how it was spent.

"Where did the money go?" asked Julian Sodari, a former parish member. "We'll probably never know."

St. Anthony was renovated, although parishioners complained about how long it took.

A former diocesan official called Madrid one of the diocese's best priests when he was appointed pastor of Immaculate Heart in March 1999, even as he remained pastor of St. Anthony. He also pastored St. Henry's in Buckeye at one point.

But within months, questions were raised about church finances. Madrid dismissed the parish finance council.

Then the unthinkable happened. On the Sunday before Easter 2000, Immaculate Heart burned and was declared a total loss.

To this day, a cause for the $1.5 million fire has not been pinned down. Arson remains one of the possibilities.

Four months after the fire came news that Madrid had allowed use of St. Anthony in an independent movie and even took a role in the film, which O'Brien later called "offensive and of low moral quality."

But O'Brien continued to defend Madrid. In a Catholic Sun article on Sept. 7, 2000, the bishop forgave him for the movie.

He wrote that those who suspected Madrid in the two fires were practicing "character assassination."

He added, "Now it is time for the gossip, rumors, innuendoes and the unrelented barrages on Father Madrid's character to cease."

Two months later, Madrid submitted his resignation, citing stress. More than two years later, he remains on administrative leave and is not working as a priest.

He still has his defenders.

"He has never had the chance to set the record straight," said Stella Paolini of Scottsdale, a member of St. Anthony during his time as pastor. "It's really unfair."


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