Ex-N.M. Archbishop Serving Mass

By Paul Logan
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
February 17, 2004

Group Protests Sanchez's New Role in Alaska's Churches

Former New Mexico Archbishop Robert Sanchez, who resigned in disgrace in 1993 and has lived on a Minnesota farm helping nuns, has surfaced in Alaska where he celebrates Mass.

The Very Rev. Donald Bramble said Monday that Sanchez has helped out the Anchorage Archdiocese's Hispanics in recent years during such special seasons as Advent and Lent.

Sanchez may assist the understaffed Anchorage Archdiocese again this Lenten season, beginning Feb. 25, the archdiocese vicar general said.

However, leaders of the nation's largest support group for clergy abuse expressed shock and outrage after learning Sanchez continues to function as a priest.

The Chicago-based organization, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, contends the Alaska archdiocese has violated the U.S. Catholic bishops' national sex abuse policy, which reportedly prohibits anyone who has molested from working in active ministry, Monday's SNAP news release said.

The pope has allowed Sanchez to help with Spanish Masses during special events for several years. For example, during Advent he would celebrate Masses twice on Sundays at Anchorage's Holy Family Cathedral and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

But, Bramble said, he remains under strict supervision because Sanchez is a restricted priest.

He said much of the city's Hispanic community, numbering about 15,000 people, "loves him very much and knows what went on."

Bramble was referring to the sexual abuse scandal in the 1990s that rocked the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Sanchez resigned as head of the archdiocese nearly two decades after becoming one of the youngest archbishops ever at age 40.

He later admitted to having sex with women. Weeks before he resigned, three women interviewed on "60 Minutes" claimed he had sex with them when they were teenagers.

He was also accused of covering up other priests' sexual misconduct.

Dozens of priests were accused of sexually molesting children. The archdiocese ended up paying $31.1 million in settlements and court costs, including $1.1 million on counseling for 193 survivors of sexual abuse.

Last Friday the Archdiocese of Anchorage released a statement listing 16 priests with sexual abuse allegations against them who have served in the archdiocese.

It listed Sanchez and said he still has an Alaska assignment and that he is "under close supervision."

Sanchez was involved "with women while he was archbishop," the statement noted.

SNAP disputes the women characterization because three of Sanchez's victims were teenagers.

Barbara Blaine, SNAP's president, said that the U.S. Bishops Conference promised not to tolerate even one act of sexual abuse of children and said, " 'An abuser ... can indeed be forgiven his sins.' He just doesn't get a second chance to do it again. Period."

Bramble said Sanchez can only travel from Minnesota to Alaska after receiving permission each time from the Anchorage archbishop as well as the papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo of Washington, D.C.

The nuncio as well as the Archdiocese of Santa Fe's office could not be reached for comment. The latter was closed because of Presidents Day.

"This is a man who is offering very limited service under plenty of constraints and in a very humble fashion," said Bramble in a phone interview.

Bramble said reports are filed on Sanchez's work each time. Sanchez, mainly limited to celebrating Mass, also must live at the residence of Archbishop Roger Schwietz while he's in Anchorage. Schwietz was out of town and not available for comment.

Sanchez is helping out the archdiocese's 30 priests, who cover an area about the size of California, Bramble said.

Catholics believe God forgives those who confess their sins and make amends, according to Bramble.

He said different levels of restrictions are placed on priests. For those who have molested children, they may not function or present themselves as a priest, said Bramble, who by training is a psychiatric social worker.

Bramble said Sanchez has dealt with his sexual misconduct through "lots and lots of prayer. Lots of therapy and a great deal of humility. I mean a lot of humility."

Sanchez has lived for a number of years near Jackson, Minn., working as a farmhand and chaplain for the Sisters of Mercy, Bramble said.

"He plants trees, helps with harvesting and celebrates Mass," Bramble said. "It's very simple ... a very rural life."

He said Sanchez, who stays pretty healthy but is graying, is "a very different man than he was 11 years ago."

Bramble emphasized that the archbishop has humbly done everything asked of him.

"I work the 12 steps with folks all the time," he said. "The 12-step part of it is making amends and going a new direction. People have to have that opportunity, don't they?

"Do we just keep them at the bottom of the hole and let them rot, or do we let them make amends with plenty of restrictions?"


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