Alaskans Pull Sanchez Invitation

By Paul Logan
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
February 20, 2004

Sex allegations against former N.M. archbishop cited

Former New Mexico Archbishop Robert Sanchez will not spend the Lenten season in Alaska.

The Anchorage Archdiocese decided not to invite Sanchez, in part because of past allegations that the archbishop had sex with teenage girls, the Very Rev. Donald Bramble said Thursday in an e-mail apology to anyone abused by New Mexico priests.

Sanchez was expected to celebrate Mass during Lent for Anchorage's large Hispanic community, said Bramble, the archdiocese's vicar general. In recent years, Sanchez has traveled to Anchorage to help out during busy seasons.

The decision to stop that practice was made after "more extended and careful reading" of background information about Sanchez, Bramble said.

Bramble said officials knew about allegations against Sanchez but were not aware of the number of cases and thought those who claimed the archbishop took advantage of them were "young women, not teens."

Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz and Pope John Paul II's papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo of Washington, D.C., discussed the Sanchez matter and made the decision, Bramble said.

Sanchez resigned as archbishop of Santa Fe about 11 years ago amid a scandal involving sex-abuse allegations against 44 priests. He himself was accused by three women of having sex with them when they were teenagers.

Bramble said the more archdiocese officials looked at past news stories regarding the sexual abuse allegations, the more they decided the Sanchez invitation "was problematic."

"I have come to the conclusion that I need to apologize to any victims in the Archdiocese (of Santa Fe) who may have been offended by my comments in defense of my friend, Archbishop Sanchez," Bramble wrote, referring to comments he made in a Tuesday Albuquerque Journal story.

"The priest I have known has been the soul of humility in my presence. However, I was unaware of the full extent of events that took place in New Mexico. Given all of this, Archbishop Sanchez will not come to Anchorage this Lent."

The Journal story told of how Sanchez resurfaced in Alaska after a number of years out of the limelight. The last few years, he has been allowed -- under strict supervision -- to help understaffed Anchorage priests by celebrating Mass during such special church seasons, as Advent and Lent.

Sanchez ministered to some of Anchorage's approximately 15,000 Hispanic Catholics last December for Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. It was believed that Sanchez would be coming again next week for the start of Lent -- Ash Wednesday.

Last Friday, the Anchorage Archdiocese released a statement listing 15 priests with sexual abuse allegations against them who have served in the archdiocese, including Sanchez. The release was part of a national review board report on the status of Catholic dioceses regarding abusive behavior by the clergy.

On Monday, the Chicago-based organization, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, sent out a news release claiming that the Alaska archdiocese had violated the U.S. Catholic bishops' national sex abuse policy by allowing Sanchez to function as a priest with parishioners.

The Journal's story on Tuesday quoted that news release and Bramble's comments defending Sanchez.

"I feel very sad," Bramble said of the Sanchez situation. "You don't stop being a friend when bad things happen."

Bramble said he had not talked or corresponded with Sanchez about the decision.

Sanchez, who is about 70, has been living near Jackson, Minn., working as a farmhand and chaplain for the Sisters of Mercy, Bramble said.


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