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May Sanchez become the man he wants to be.

Nineteen years ago, I was present at San Jose Parish in Albuquerque when Father Robert Sanchez faced the clergy and mariachis gathered to celebrate the nation's first Hispanic-American archbishop (and, at 40, by far the youngest archbishop).

I wrote an article for NCR about that joyous day, the title coming from Sanchez' opening remark: "I'm very happy today, but also sad because I had to cut off my mustache."

Aside from his grooming, one of the first problems confronting the new archbishop was me. I had fallen in love and wanted to be laicized so we could marry in the church. Archbishop Sanchez treated me with with dignity, understanding and charity -- qualities often lacking in the church's dealings with priests who want to leave. He was nonjudgmental and supportive, both emotionally and financially.

I was the first priest in the history of our diocese to be allowed, after requesting laicization, to continue living at my rectory and collecting my salary until either I had found a job or my laicization petition was ruled on. And I didn't eve have to pay rent.

Even after my fiancee callously dropped me (not all priest-female involvement ends up with the woman's being the victime) and I wandered depressed for years in a vast no-man's land (or, more accurately, no-woman's land) -- neither married not active clergy -- Sanchez continued to be supportive. At one point he even ventured the theologically avant-garde opinion that I might be able to return to the active ministry because I had never been married and, thus, my laicization had "never been consummated."

In season and out of season, in love and in war, the church judges everything by whether or not it has been consumated. Since Sanchez has not admitted to having sex with his accusers, but since he did offer his resignation, one can only guess whether some of his female relationships were sexually consummated.

One thing, however, is for certain: Sanchez's 19-year tenure as archbishop has been consummated. For nearly two decades, his accessibility and affability made him a beloved pastor. He had a gift for making Christ real to all he met, to all four (Anglo, Hispanic, American Indian and African-American) of the diverse ethnic groups in his diocese. The great good he accomplished on behalf of Christ cannot be erased nor will it be forgotten.

In my 1974 article I had written that, with Sanchez "we people here in New Mexico will, at long last, reap some of the attention we deserve." Attention always has accompanied the archbishop.

Unfortunately, as often happens, Sanchez's strong points also were his weaknesses. His charm, grace and boyish (some would say impish) smile appealed to members of the opposite sex. Apparently, neither he nor they had the willpower to withstand the temptations.

When I left the active priesthood, I was filled with profound sadness at leaving a happy life I had known for many years and a joyful longing for a new life as lover,husband, father and social activist. I imagine Sanchez feels the same sadness for the past and longing for the future.

So while I say, "Adios, archbishop," I can also say "Bienvenido, Bobby." Welcome back to the human race. Maybe now you can be the kind of person you want to be and not what the institutional church, your role, your people or various women wanted you to be. Be yourself -- and grow back your mustache.

Spencer Stopa lives in Alamogordo, N.M.
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Title Annotation:ex-Archbishop Robert Sanchez
Author:Stopa, Spencer
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Biography
Date:Apr 16, 1993
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