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Archbishop pressed on racism charge

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Archbishop John Wester, center, joins Jessa Cowdrey, left, and Allen Sanchez, both with CHI St. Joseph’s Children, in a candlelight vigil outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe last month. The vigil was in support of a proposed constitutional amendment for early childhood programs. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE – Thirty-three Republican lawmakers are asking Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester to confirm or disavow a charge that racism contributed to the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment for early childhood programs.

Their 2½-page letter centers on what they called a “deliberately inflammatory” and false statement made by Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Sánchez led the campaign this year to win approval for a resolution that would have asked voters to tap into New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to pay for pre-kindergarten, home visiting and other early childhood services.

The proposal narrowly cleared the House – along party lines for the most part, with 31 Republicans and two Democrats opposed – before dying in the Senate.

Afterward, Sanchez told The Associated Press that there was an “element of racism” in the opposition to this year’s proposal.

The legislators who signed onto the letter to Wester asked him whether Sanchez’s statement reflects the view of Catholic bishops in New Mexico.

They described the comment as a “direct attack on the character” of legislators.

“The political debate is divisive enough in this country and this state without unwarranted accusations of racism being thrown about without any evidence,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

They pointed out that the Legislature has repeatedly supported increased funding for early childhood programs.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sánchez is a lobbyist for the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops and CHI St. Joseph’s Children, a nonprofit Catholic group focused on the health of children ages 5 and younger.

Sánchez told the Journal last month that he isn’t accusing anyone in particular of racist behavior, just raising an uncomfortable truth.

“What we’re talking about is institutional and systemic racism,” Sánchez said. “When you look at disparities between minority children and other children, there’s been a wide gap.”

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