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Sanchez Kept Abuse Quiet
He shielded pedophile priests while wrestling with his own demons over his affairs with women

September 19, 1996
By Bruce Daniels
Journal Staff Writer
Archbishop Robert Sanchez was the beloved spiritual leader of 275,000 Roman Catholics in New Mexico for nearly two decades. A native son, he was an intelligent, thoughtful man who exuded strength and humility.
He was the seemingly perfect pastor.
But testimony made public Wednesday shows he also was a man with two dark secrets: growing allegations of child sex abuse by priests in the archdiocese and his own affairs with women.
Here are excerpts from the 1994 deposition of former Archbishop Robert Sanchez, taken during lawsuits against the Catholic Church alleging sexual abuse by priests:
"In 1981, I did not understand (the sexual molestation of a child) to be a crime. I considered it to be a moral infraction of (a priest's) own life, and it was an offense against a child."
"I was -- I felt no obligation (to report allegations of sexual molestation to the authorities) inasmuch as I was unaware of any obligation ..."
"I did not bring (a certain abuse) case to the attention of the authorities because this occurred in 1981, and I certainly had no idea that I had any obligation to bring that type of an offense against a person to the authorities' attention. ... I just felt that it was not something that had to be brought to the attention of authorities. I took the action that I took against the gentleman by removing him from the place of assignment and removed him from the situation that might bring harm to others. That was serious action against that man and against his position. And we did our best to assure the families that were there that their children would no longer be in harm, they need not be afraid, and to bring some type of consolation and comfort to them. I did not realize that there was any legal obligation to report this to the authorities."
"... it was not our policy that we had to keep this within the Church. We never insisted that way. If any parent felt that they wanted to go to civil authorities, they had a right to go to civil authorities."
''I feel I did the best I could. I wish I had known more about it. I wish that the awareness of pedophilia as we know it today had been known to all of us at that time, certainly to me, so that I could have done a better job and more effective one in helping families, children, and protecting others."
When asked if after he became archbishop, he realized there were allegations of priests having sex with children, Sanchez responded:
"Not as a major issue, not until really the late '80s. That is when it began to sort of mushroom as an issue and a concern. ..."
"Like I just said, we didn't really discuss those issues (priests involved in sexual activities). That was not an object of discussion among the bishops. When the issue surfaced in the late '80s, it was strictly on pedophilia, not on simple, 'How are our priests behaving? What's happening among priests today?'..."
"I was of the opinion, as a priest in the 1960s, that there were many priests who were not honoring their promise of celibacy or chastity, due to the fact that many were leaving the priesthood."
"I'm saying that given human nature, the vow of chastity or just the life -- a chaste life for any individual will be fraught with difficulties throughout their life because of human nature, just as the promise or the virtue of honesty is difficult throughout a person's life. But we're obliged to live those virtues as perfectly as we can."
"No, sir, I have never had any children. Now, I want to repeat that, so that it's very clear. I have never had any children."
When asked what his reaction would have been if a grown man had sexually molested one of his nieces when they were 10 years old, Sanchez responded:
"I would have been very angry, very upset, concerned for her, and making certain that she would be able to adjust after the event had occurred, that she could recapture her -- the natural life that she had been living prior to the event that we're referring to."
When asked if he felt an obligation to help parishioners or children once he learned of allegations of priests having sex with them, Sanchez responded:
"Yes. I certainly felt within my own heart a concern for them. I wasn't aware totally of what damage could be suffered from a person who has been abused. I wasn't aware of that in the '70s. I'm only becoming more and more aware of it today as all our sciences increase. But our concern was there for the people to see that whatever need that they may have expressed would be met. The first thing, of course, was to remove the priest who would have been alleged to have done something wrong, to remove him from the situation so that there would not be that fear any longer."
He kept the lid on the sex abuse charges as long as he could, fearing they would plunge parishes into "scandal" and "division." His own sexual relationships were his private shame.
Former Archbishop Robert Sanchez, shown here in 1991, said in a just-unsealed 1994 deposition that a "lack of the spiritual environment" affected his life and his decisions involving sexual-abuse allegations against Catholic priests.
In the end, there were no secrets. Only lawsuits, pain, turmoil and an archbishop who resigned in disgrace.
Sanchez described his thoughts in a deposition in which he was forced to answer questions, under oath, from lawyers for plaintiffs suing the church over the alleged sexual abuse by priests.
He said he didn't believe -- in 1981, at least -- that child molestation was a crime that had to be reported.
"I considered (child molestation) to be a moral infraction of (a priest's) own life, and it was an offense against a child," he said in the heavily edited 760-page transcript unsealed when the New Mexico Supreme Court refused to hear further appeals to block its release.
Sanchez also was questioned about his own sexual activities as a priest and as archbishop.
In an interview on the television show "60 Minutes" in March 1993, three women said Sanchez took advantage of them sexually when they were teen-agers.
The interview, seen by an estimated 250,000 New Mexicans and upward of 30 million U.S. viewers, came only a few weeks before Sanchez announced his resignation as archbishop.
In the deposition, Sanchez admitted he had sexual contact with women for at least 18 years before resigning as archbishop.
He said his own sexual contact with women became "more frequent" after he was named archbishop.
He said he "failed against my promise of chastity" in part because he failed to maintain a "spiritual support structure" and wasn't "faithful" in his prayer life.
By neglecting his own spiritual practices, he said, he opened himself to "a permissive world ... a world that continually promotes sexuality," which he said is "like an environment becoming polluted."
Everyone is affected by it, he said.
"Unless you're very keen to what's occurring and are very conscious of it, it can begin to cloud your thinking, begin to cloud your judgment and eventually affect your actions."
During questioning about sexual abuse allegations against priests, Sanchez said he was unaware of a statute requiring the reporting of suspected child molestation, saying, "I'm not too certain how many people were aware of it in the '70s. It had not become a major issue among the legal profession or even among the teaching profession, people dealing with children."
Sanchez admitted that in earlier deposition testimony given to plaintiffs' attorney Bruce Pasternack that he recalled having dealt with just "four or five" allegations of abuse by priests.
But during the four-day deposition taken at a secret location in Albuquerque in January 1994, he discussed some 20 names of accused priests with Pasternack.
"The list that we dealt with today is actually quite extensive," Sanchez said. "Many I said yes to; many I said no to. But it seems to me that many of these people whose names that were included on there actually were not brought to my attention as the archbishop but have since surfaced during all of these investigations that have been taking place in the last couple of years."
The first of more than 100 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests was filed in 1991. Nearly 150 claims -- including lawsuits -- have been settled by the archdiocese to date, church officials have said.
Sanchez said he knew of allegations of abuse as early as 1976, two years after being named archbishop.
But he said he wasn't aware of widespread sex abuse by priests "until really the late '80s ... when it began to sort of mushroom as an issue and a concern." Before that, he said, "it simply wasn't a topic of major concern."
During the 1960s and 1970s, Sanchez said, priests having sex with children "wasn't really discussed. It wasn't a common issue. The big issue was priests leaving the priesthood for marriage."
Sanchez told Pasternack, who questioned him about a dozen cases occurring before 1991, that if "it was even one priest who is breaking his promise of living out a chaste life, that would be one too many."
The "spiritual illness" of child abuse by priests, he said, "wasn't like a plague had suddenly descended upon the Archdiocese of Santa Fe at one time. It was people at different times being alleged to have broken their promise of celibacy or the promise of chastity."
Pasternack said, "Forgive me again, but there would be one more that we should really add to that list that you knew of before August of '91 ... Namely yourself?"
Sanchez said yes.
Details of Sanchez's own sexual activities were edited out of the transcript by state District Judge Susan Conway to protect his privacy rights and those of his partners.
But he told of "embraces" and "kisses" with a series of women, identified in the transcripts as "Ms. A" through "Ms. K" -- mostly women in their 20s.
He denied ever having fathered a child, as was alleged at the end of the "60 Minutes" broadcast that drove him to resign as archbishop.
Asked why he never told parishioners why a priest might have been transferred or sent to treatment for sex abuse, Sanchez said, "the Church has always expressed sensitivity to the privacy of all people, the privacy of individuals, so that no one is being falsely accused or being made objects of suspicion of others within a parish, so that there is no division of that parish."
Asked whether he could have done better as archbishop in dealing with sexual abuse allegations, Sanchez said, "I was inexperienced with pedophilia. I did not know what allegations entailed. I was unaware of any extensive and continued damage that a child might suffer from that.
"I acted according to what I knew and what I thought was best. The information that we have now would lead me to take a different course of action, so as to offer greater protection to our children, because that is the greatest concern of our Church -- is the common good of the people whom we serve," he said.
"Today, with knowledge that I have, I would want to do things more effectively, more thoroughly, and perhaps with greater continual follow-up, so that all children would be protected," he said.
Pasternack asked him, hypothetically, "if some grown man had sexually molested one of your nieces when they were 10 years old, what would your reaction to that have been?"
Sanchez said, "I would have been very angry, very upset, concerned for her, and making certain that she would be able to adjust after the event had occurred, that she could recapture her -- the natural life that she had been living prior to the event that we're referring to."
But, Pasternack persisted, "Even as a Godly man and a holy man, which we all know you are, wouldn't you have just wanted to kill the guy?"
Sanchez said, "I would have been very angry, very upset. I don't think I would have taken it to that point."

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