September 18, 1996
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A former Roman Catholic archbishop says he frequently violated his vow of celibacy and kept quiet about charges that priests sexually abused children because he did not know it was a crime, The Albuquerque Tribune reported today.
Robert Sanchez, who resigned in disgrace in 1993, gave details in a 1994 deposition of physical or sexual contacts with 11 women, all in their 20s, the newspaper reported.
He said his sexual contacts increased after he became archbishop of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1974, the newspaper reported.
"It was more frequent, at the -- especially the early years," he said.
Sanchez gave the pre-trial testimony for lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by priests. The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for public disclosure of about 700 pages of the testimony heavily edited by a judge. Disclosure was sought by The Tribune, the Albuquerque Journal and KOB-TV in Albuquerque.
The archdiocese, which serves some 275,000 Roman Catholics, was rocked by scandal in August 1991 with the filing of the first of a series of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests.
Investigations revealed that for decades pedophile priests from around the nation had been sent to the Servants of the Paraclete, a treatment center for troubled priests near Albuquerque. Many of them were then given positions in New Mexico parishes, and several abused children again.
Victims alleged the church had covered up the scandal, and Sanchez resigned after his own sexual misconduct with women was revealed.
Sanchez, now 62, said he often did not notify parishes about child sex-abuse cases by clergy because he did not want to promote divisiveness and gossip, and because church law urged discretion.
"In 1981 I did not understand that (molestation) to be a crime," he said. "I considered it to be a moral infraction of his (the priest's) own life, and it was an offense against a child."
Sanchez remains in seclusion, The Tribune reported. In a statement issued Tuesday by his lawyer's office, he said:
"If my silence has been misleading or has given offense, I ask your forgiveness."
Mary Ryland, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Archbishop Michael Sheehan was not available for comment this morning.
The Tribune said most of the more than 140 sexual-abuse lawsuits filed against the archdiocese had been settled.