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Diocese Suspends Douglas Priest, 53

Police Are Investigating Sexual Misconduct Report

Oct 16, 2002 | ARIZONA DAILY STAR Another Catholic Diocese of Tucson priest has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.

A spokesman with the Douglas Police Department on Monday confirmed it is conducting an investigation involving the Rev. Julián Sanz, the pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Douglas. Sanz has not been arrested or criminally charged.

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson says that it has placed Sanz, 53, on administrative leave and suspended him from public ministry. The reported misconduct occurred within the last year, diocese officials said. Neither diocese officials nor the police would disclose any information about the alleged victim.

Sanz could not be reached for comment Monday.

"I know that this is very sad and troubling news for your parish. But I also know that you have deep faith and trust in Our Lord,'' Catholic Diocese of Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno wrote in an Oct. 11 letter to Immaculate Conception parishioners.

"As a church we are trying to do the right thing when we are faced with such situations. We have learned that it is always the right thing to do to encourage anyone who may have experienced harm from a worker for the church to make that harm known so that healing can begin."

Sanz is the second diocesan priest this year to be placed on administrative leave and suspended from ministry because of allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. The other was the Rev. Juan Guillen, a Yuma priest who is facing 12 felony charges related to accusations that he molested three boys under the age of 15, one as recently as this summer. Guillen, 58, remains in the Yuma County Detention Center in lieu of a $108,023 bond.

The Pima County Attorney's Office also is investigating allegations involving Monsignor Robert C. Trupia and the Rev. Michael Teta, two of the priests named in 11 civil actions settled earlier this year that alleged local clergy sexually molested young men and altar boys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The out-of-court settlement was confidential, but experts familiar with the case estimated the diocese's payment as high as $16 million.

Sanz's name brings to 19 the number of priests on a Catholic Diocese of Tucson list of clergy facing "credible" accusations of sexual misconduct involving minors.

"This is not happy news for the diocese. But we know many of these are from past allegations that have surfaced as a result of not only the scandal but as a result of dioceses across the country acknowledging past abuse,'' diocese spokesman Fred Allison said, emphasizing that only three priests on the local list, including Sanz, are connected with alleged incidents from the last five years. "We have to acknowledge the failings of the past to bring out healing."

The priests on the list date back to the 1950s. Six on the list are dead.

The standard for sexual misconduct for priests on the list is a church definition rather than a criminal one. The church definition includes actions that might not be considered criminal, such as "any behavior that could be misunderstood or be construed as an indicator of potential sexual conduct, i.e., activities that involve excessive physical contact with minors such as wrestling, tickling and other physical horseplay." It also includes any breach of professional trust "that has as its intent sexual contact or activity with a minor."

Allison would not disclose the nature of the sexual misconduct Sanz allegedly committed.

"The diocese's action in this instance indicates sensitivity and awareness of behavior we should not interpret, but that the police should interpret,'' Allison said.

Sanz, a diocesan priest since 1994, is a native of Spain who came to Arizona in 1980 as a member of the Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSallette.

He became pastor of Immaculate Conception in Douglas in July 2001. He also has ministered at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Yuma, at Sacred Heart Parish in Clifton, at St. Joseph Parish in Wellton and St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in San Luis.

The local diocese came under harsh criticism this year from people who felt it had covered up or ignored past instances of abuse. The outcry resulted in the formation of a Sexual Misconduct Review Board of mostly lay people to review accusations of sexual misconduct. The diocese also adopted a new set of policies on sexual impropriety.

The 12-member Sexual Misconduct Review Board will look at Sanz's case once the police investigation is complete. At that time, Moreno and Coadjutor Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas expect to meet in person with parishioners at Immaculate Conception, Allison said.

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