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Sanchez's star rose over heads of silent bystanders.

A nagging question remains after the sex scandal that brought down Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez of Santa Fe: Why wasn't something done before the personal agony of a man exploded into headlines and disgrace?

The question is not directed at the vague they who are in charge. Nor is it occasioned by the particularly shocking nature of Sanchez's womanizing.

Most of Sanchez's exploits would barely cause eyes to blink at a convention of salesmen. Yet, as abuse of trust by clergymen comes to light in far graver circumstances, I notice that the recurring theme in each successive scandal is that misbehavior was hidden, rather than addressed. In the instance of Sanchez, I was involved in the hiding.

I knew about Sanchez's problems more than 10 years ago, when I was a midlevel lay professional on the staff of the the Hispanic Affairs Committee, a panel he chaired as part of his activities in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of Washington, D.C.

In fact, I know for certain that one top church official knew about it as well. Proof? This is embarrassing but, well, this piece is all about shame.

The story is simple. A little more than a decade ago, I sat in the office of the NCCB general secretary, who was then Msgr. Daniel Hoye. I had been fired at the end of a long-running internal memorandum war in which, I now realize, I was more youthfully exuberant than wise. I'd made a pest of myself and eventually was fumigated out of the organization.

In my exit interview, Hoye brought up Sanchez, asking me what I knew about him. A cynic might infer that Hoye was gauging whether my silence was worth buying. Actually, I'm convinced that to an East Coast priest like Hoye, the church in New Mexico might as well have been on Mars.

"If you dig deep enough," I told him, "you'll find a Cardinal Cody situation."

The late Chicago archbishop's own scandal, involving in part the use of church money to buy a condo for a female friend, was a fresh image in those days. Hoye dismissed my comment about Sanchez as rumor-mongering of the sort that had made a top-dollar novelist out of Andrew Greeley. The monsignor could afford to ignore me: No one was going to believe someone just fired from the NCCB.

But the point today is that while I still had institutional support behind me and the opportunity to act, I had held my tongue. In the end, my only recourse was to join Hoye in a conspiracy of silence. Why?

The easiest excuse is that everyone else was doing it. I don't mean Hoye, who probably didn't know until I hinted it to him, but the legion of diocesan officials and hangers-on in Albuquerque and Santa Fe who could name names, places and dates that I have long since forgotten.

I first heard the story of Sanchez from people who assumed that I already knew. People in church circles in adjacent Texas also were aware of the Sanchez escapades. Who was I to stick my neck out when I knew less than they?

Another reason to keep quiet has to do with the insiders' zeal to play the ecclesiastical game at least as well as the Borgias - in America, without bloodshed. My game was getting a piece of the power pie for Hispanics in the church.

The piece that was at play at that moment was the soon-to-be-vacant Los Angeles see, with its likely bonus of a cardinal's red hat. Was getting California's first Hispanic-American cardinal worth any price? Not to me. But as much as I was unwilling to help promote Sanchez, who sorely wanted Los Angeles, I hesitated to deal the one card that would block him.

Besides, a would-be Catholic church whistle-blower faces more than discouragement. He faces disbelief. My experience told me that if I said anything I would be dismissed as campaigning for Bishop Roger Mahony, who was also on the Hispanic affairs panel and was as eager for Los Angeles as Sanchez. To tell the truth, I never had particularly strong feelings about Mahony one way or the other, and I suspect that those who eventually chose him for the see feel the same way.

My feelings about Sanchez were nowhere near as undefined. Once I went so far as to have lunch with two religion reporters with the intention of spilling the beans. In the end I left them wondering what my call was all about. Perhaps others in my position have agonized as I did what public revelations would do to the faith of those I whimsically called "Joe and Jane Pew." In now realize the frightful arrogance implicit in the thought: I dared to think that people's faith hinged on what I chose to keep secret, rather than on God's grace.

I had been corrupted to the core of my intellect by the perquisites of the human side of the church, and I complained about it in 1983 as I left Hoye's office for the last time.

The general secretary smiled sadly. "Imagine what it does to me," he said.

Msgr. Hoye responds:

Some things you don't forget.

I suppose I have forgotten many things that were said to me while I was general secretary of the NCCB/USCC. Being told an archbishop was allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct is not one of them. That type of conversation would tend to be remembered!

Cecilio Morales states ... that he "knew about Sanchez's problems more than 10 years ago" and that he "knew for certain that one top church official knew about it as well."

He meant me. I'm just as certain I did not know anything about the archbishop's "problems"(to use Morales' word).

I have no reason to doubt Morales' sincerity in thinking that he shared with me his knowledge of Archbishop Sanchez's "problems." His references, however, must have been so indirect that I did not pick them up.

Confession is good for the soul but, in this matter at least, I have nothing to confess.

Some things you simply don't forget.

Cecilio Morales is the publisher at MII Publications in Washington, D.C., where he is a "Joe Pew" at St. Ann's Catholic Church.
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Title Annotation:Archbishop Robert Sanchez sex scandal; includes rebuttal article
Author:Morales, Cecilio; Hoye, Daniel F.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Biography
Date:May 7, 1993
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