Immaculate Heartbreak

Three months after a fire gutted Phoenix's oldest Hispanic Catholic church, its pastor is feeling the heat and parishioners are steaming

Church dissidents say Madrid's role in the 1998 locally produced movie 14 Ways to Wear Lipstick shows that he doesn't take his duties as a man of the cloth seriously.

The obscure 14 Ways was coincidentally one of 14 selections (out of 1,716 submissions) to the 1999 Slamdance Film Festival, an annual independent-film showcase in Park City, Utah.

Juanita Encinas, a Chandler activist and former United 
Farm Workers leader, lobbied for Hernandez's 
appointment by the diocese.
Juanita Encinas, a Chandler activist and former United Farm Workers leader, lobbied for Hernandez's appointment by the diocese.
Parishioners say St. Anthony has never recovered 
from a devastating 1994 fire.
Paolo Vescia
Parishioners say St. Anthony has never recovered from a devastating 1994 fire.

The film's director, Daniel Pace, is a 40-year-old native of Argentina who moved to Scottsdale 10 years ago. Three years ago, he struggled to put a movie deal together in Mexico. When that opportunity fell through, he decided to return to Phoenix and make a film on a small budget ($80,000) with help from friends.

The screenplay revolves around a selfish loan shark named Carlo, who becomes bored with his devoted wife, Mary. But when he senses that she has lost interest in him, he perversely finds himself falling in love with her again. The film contains full-frontal male nudity, graphic sodomy, and numerous displays of extreme violence, which are handled with a post-Pulp Fiction sense of detachment.

Pace's script called for a scene in which a group of loan sharks sits around a patio table chatting with a priest, who is best friends with the brutal boss, Maximo. Pace called Madrid -- whom he says he'd never met -- to play the part of the priest, primarily because he was at a loss to find seasoned actors for the movie.

"I presented the script to a couple of recruiting agencies in town and they rejected it," he says. "They thought it was pornographic. So I got my door completely shut in town.

"So I had to go and start calling people. I called Father Madrid and said, 'I need this favor.' He said, 'Well, I'll need to read the script.' So he read the script and he didn't find it pornographic. Imagine this: A priest doesn't find it pornographic, but a recruiting agent, who is supposed to be open-minded, finds it pornographic. I found it the most ironic thing ever."

Pace describes Madrid as "a real trouper," and estimates that he paid the priest about $200 for his one day of work. Madrid also allowed Pace to shoot a separate scene inside St. Anthony.

"I shot a scene there that many people will find incredibly offensive, and he let me do it, and I did it on top of a Christ that was laying on a table."

The scene at St. Anthony features Carlo and Maximo kneeling before a statue of Christ, while they discuss the impending marriage of Maximo's son to another man. At one point, Maximo angrily blurts out the word "cocksuckers," in reference to homosexuals.

In his two scenes, Madrid appears without his glasses, frequently squinting, and generally looking uncomfortable. When Maximo derides his son for being gay, Madrid, as Father Fernando, reminds him, "Maximo, we're all children of God."

On Saturday, April 15, the day after Hejdak was removed from his post, Madrid apparently could not find another priest to assist him with his Palm Sunday Masses the next day. So he asked Hejdak if he would stay one last day. Hejdak says he agreed to do two early Masses at St. Anthony, and two afternoon Masses at Immaculate Heart.

But he says Madrid acted strangely on Palm Sunday. For one thing, he forbade Hejdak from informing the congregation that he was leaving the parish. He also says Madrid insisted that Hejdak celebrate the final Mass of the day at 7 p.m. Hejdak refused, and Madrid was forced to celebrate the Mass.

Eight hours after the final Mass began, Immaculate Heart was in flames.

"Imagine if I had celebrated that Mass on Sunday and then the church burns down the next morning," says Hejdak. "They're going to be thinking, 'Father Andrzej was the last priest to do Mass.' Then I would be accused, because of the fire.

"I felt that I should not take the last Mass," he adds. "For me, it was divine providence that intervened."

During that evening Mass, the church was filled to capacity. And -- as was often the case at Immaculate Heart -- someone called the fire department to complain that it was dangerously overcrowded.

Phoenix Fire Department spokesman Deputy Chief Bob Khan says a fire prevention specialist who visited the church at 9:30 that night found no unsafe crowding. And even though it was Palm Sunday, meaning there were plenty of palm fronds as well as hundreds of candles in the church, she didn't spot any other potential problems. "If she had, she would have stopped it," Khan says.

Madrid later told investigators he was one of the last people in the church that night. He says he locked the large, double front doors. But others had keys. And investigators would discover only a side-to-side bolt -- and not the vertical one going into the floor -- was put in place. So anyone pushing on the double doors could have gained entrance into the church.

Security video cameras, installed on the church's side walls, were useless because they weren't connected to a video recorder, Khan says.

A passerby called 911 about 3 o'clock Monday morning to report a fire starting at the church. Firefighters entered through the improperly secured front doors and found a fully involved fire.

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