Douglas Priest Gets Five Years

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
October 17, 2003

BISBEE - The former pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Douglas was sentenced to five years in prison for sexually abusing an 11-year-old altar boy during confession in 1982.

The Rev. Julian Sanz, a priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson and the founder of an orphanage in Mexico, was handcuffed and led out of the Cochise County Superior Court courtroom here Thursday morning.

Sanz's sentencing marked the third time this year that a priest who once worked in the Tucson Diocese was sent to prison for sexually abusing a young parishioner.

The diocese said Thursday that Sanz, a native of Spain, will never again be allowed to act as a priest. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said he plans to begin the process for defrocking Sanz, which would mean a permanent removal from the priesthood. The diocese will also stop sending Sanz a monthly paycheck.

"We pray for those who have been harmed by the misconduct of Rev. Sanz, for Rev. Sanz and for the Catholic community of Douglas. Our prayers are for peace of mind and heart and for healing and reconciliation," Kicanas said in a prepared statement.

The victim, now a 32-year-old man who lives in Tucson, says he's relieved Sanz is locked up because he said he believes the priest abused more than one boy. Cochise County Attorney Chris Roll said the worst thing Sanz did was abuse his position of trust. Roll also said Sanz "sullied the reputation of an entire organization."

The victim said he had been reluctant to speak to authorities about the case because he worried about the repercussions. He did not think anyone would believe him, though he said he has lived with the memories for the past two decades. He finally told his story to a detective from the Douglas Police Department in 2002 while Sanz was under investigation for inappropriate sexual activity because of an allegation from a 15-year-old boy.

Five years was the maximum allowable sentence under the agreement Sanz, 54, reached with the state in April, when he pleaded guilty. On Thursday Sanz changed his plea to "no contest," which did not affect his punishment. A no-contest plea means the defendant does not admit or deny the charges.

The key difference between a plea of "guilty and "no contest" is that the victim under a "no contest" plea is not allowed to sue Sanz using the facts of the case. None of the numerous lawsuits over sexual abuse filed against the Catholic Diocese of Tucson have named Sanz.

Sanz told Cochise County Superior Court Judge Tom Collins that he changed his plea from guilty to no contest because he didn't commit the crimes. Sanz has been out of custody since February when he was able to post a $75,000 bond. Until Thursday he had been living with friends in Pirtleville, outside Douglas.

Sanz's defense attorney, Ramon Alvarez, told Collins that the accusations have effectively "killed" the priest.

"I submit, your honor, that Father Julian is a good man who has lived an honorable life," Alvarez said, asking Collins to keep Sanz out of prison. "There's not that much control over prisons. That would be a death sentence for this man."

Alvarez said he found it unsettling that the victim waited 20 years to come forward with the accusations. The lapse of time made the charges difficult to defend, Alvarez said.

Sanz is the founder of La Casa Hogar San Judas Tadeo, an orphanage in San Luis Rio Colorado, near Yuma. Detectives from Douglas last year interviewed children at the orphanage but none said Sanz had ever acted inappropriately.

One youth said Sanz had asked him to take off his shirt for a photo, but the child didn't know why.

Sanz, who was ordained in 1977, came to Arizona in 1980. He has been a diocesan priest since 1994.


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