Goal: to Speak for Hispanics to Bishop

The Arizona Republic [Phoeniz AZ]
June 8, 2003

The sex abuse scandal in the Phoenix Diocese has split Catholics, raised questions about separation of church and state and triggered a rift between Latino politicians.

Last week, Rep. Ben Miranda, a rising political star, squared off with Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the most influential Latina backing Bishop Thomas O'Brien.

Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat, and other Hispanic lawmakers, demanded that O'Brien resign after he avoided prosecution by signing a deal with the Maricopa County Attorney. As part of the deal, he agreed to take certain steps to prevent sexual abuse by priests.

But that isn't enough for Miranda and other Latino leaders, who say O'Brien sent priests accused of sexual misconduct to predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. Reacting to those calls for him to quit, the bishop asked Wilcox to come up with ways to calm Catholic Latinos.

Arizona Republic reporter Elvia Díaz sat down with Miranda to discuss his campaign against O'Brien and the consequences of that decision.

Question: As a Latino state lawmaker and a Catholic, you decided to speak up. Why?

Answer: Nobody seemed to be willing to step forward and speak on behalf of the victims. I thought somebody had to speak up for the vast majority who want the bishop to resign after he signed a document that acknowledges responsibility for placing priests (accused of sexual wrongdoing) in parishes without informing parishioners.

Q. Why do you believe the bishop sent priests accused of sexual misconduct to predominantly Hispanic community?

A. That's taken directly from the County Attorney's Office. Why he placed those priests in Hispanic communities is something for the bishop to explain.

Q. If most people want him to resign, why do you think they are not speaking up for themselves?

A. It's very difficult to go against your own religion. The idea of speaking out against the Catholic Church is still uncomfortable. It's very uncomfortable for me, but I feel I did the right thing.

Q. O'Brien has made it clear he will not step down. So what are you going to do next?

A. I'm hoping an individual within the church's hierarchy would step up and call for his resignation. I don't think that will happen. It will have to come from parishioners speaking up.

Q. This issue has clearly split not only Hispanic Catholics but Hispanic leaders as well, wouldn't you say?

A. I don't think there is so much of a split. Mary Rose has her reasons, and she's committed to her position defending the bishop. However, I firmly believe that she is in the very extreme minority. I'd be less than candid to say this won't have political implications for both Mary Rose and myself.

Q. What will those political implications be?

I'd not expect a Catholic who supports the bishop to support me during my next election. But that's not important to me.

Q. Have you met with the bishop?

A. No. But I'd welcome a meeting with him. I'd also ask him to meet with the victims.

Q. What do you think you have accomplished since the bishop won't resign?

A. I think I offered some hope and some support to victims. I've done what I could. It's unfortunate that I had to do this as a state legislator. I'd have preferred to do it as a citizen. But I do know that I command public attention by being a legislator, and I chose to use my position to do good.

Q. Will you still remain Catholic?

A. It's my religion. It's my church, and I refuse to be driven out from it.


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