New Mexico Catholic bishops stand by spokesman after racism comment

New Mexico Catholic bishops stand by spokesman after racism comment

By Steve Terrell | The New Mexican – 

  • [Their Excellencies’ version of “playing the race card” or “waving the bloody shirt”! – AQ moderator Tom]

New Mexico’s three Catholic bishops on Tuesday rejected a call by 33 Republican state legislators to punish the Catholic Church’s spokesman for saying racism played a part in the defeat of an initiative to expand early childhood education.

In fact, Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces and Bishop James Wall of Gallup released a statement saying that “structural racism took root long before our time” and that the history of the fund that would have been used for more early childhood programs “is based in inequitable and unfair policy practices.”

Allen Sánchez, executive director and spokesman of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, tied racism in the Legislature to the measure’s demise.

“We feel there’s an element of racism here,” Sánchez said. “If you look at the footage of the hearings around this proposal, the opposition came from people with power and wealth. They don’t understand what is going on in our communities with poverty.”

The letter from Republicans in both the House and Senate, released Monday, said: “The political debate is divisive enough in this country and this state without unwarranted accusations of racism being thrown about without evidence. … Are you comfortable with the Catholic Church being represented in this manner? Does the Church wish to set the example that the political ends justify the rhetorical means?”

In a statement, the bishops had nothing but praise for Sánchez.

“For 15 years, Allen Sánchez, our advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, has served us and the Church well,” they said. “Mr. Sánchez’ deep love for the Gospel, the church and the people of God are shown through his dedicated ministry, and his extensive educational background.”

Sanchez declined to comment except to say the bishops’ letter “speaks for itself.”

The proposed constitutional amendment that Sánchez and the bishops supported cleared the House of Representatives on a 36-33 vote. No Republicans voted for it, but it received support from 36 of 38 Democrats. That was the bare minimum needed to advance the proposal.

Hispanic, black and Navajo lawmakers were among those who opposed the proposal in the House.

Days later, the measure died in the Senate after the chairman of the Finance Committee, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, declined to give it a hearing. Smith said he believed it would be fiscally irresponsible to take another 1 percent from the $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood programs. Five percent of the fund already is spent annually for beneficiaries, mostly K-12 public schools.

The bishops argued that the state property that creates revenue for the endowment “are lands seized from the Native Americans by using treaties that were facilitated under coercion and then violated after ratification. Later, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Spanish or Mexican claims to the land were denied through legislative and judicial procedures.”

The proposed constitutional amendment offered an opportunity to change “inexcusable inequities in our state,” the bishops said.

“The fact that 90 percent of Native Americans and 83 percent of Hispanics are not proficient in reading at the fourth-grade level should be of the utmost concern for us all,” the bishops said. “The horrible irony is that many of the children impacted are descendants of people from whom the land was taken.”

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