Immaculate Heartbreak

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

The Reverend Saúl Madrid was agitated.

Two weeks had passed since a fire charred the interior of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in downtown Phoenix. Ever since the blaze, Madrid, the church's pastor, had heard questions and innuendoes swirl like buzzards around his head.

"They say I've been stealing from the parish, and that I set the fire to benefit myself," Madrid proclaimed to his Sunday congregation in his clipped, rhythmic Spanish. "They say I'm homosexual and that I have a lover. And that I'm taking money from the parish for my lover's business."

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.
Madrid, right, with Attorney General Janet Napolitano, 
has endeared himself to local and state political 
figures.
La Voz
Madrid, right, with Attorney General Janet Napolitano, has endeared himself to local and state political figures.
Immaculate Heart is a 72-year-old church that has 
been the spiritual hub for local Hispanics.
Paolo Vescia
Immaculate Heart is a 72-year-old church that has been the spiritual hub for local Hispanics.
Madrid's close friend Martin Piña has been a 
consistent, and controversial, presence at both of the 
pastor's churches.
Madrid's close friend Martin Piña has been a consistent, and controversial, presence at both of the pastor's churches.
Julian Sodari, a south Phoenix neighborhood 
organizer, quit the St. Anthony Pastoral Council in 
disgust over Madrid's handling of the parish.
Paolo Vescia
Julian Sodari, a south Phoenix neighborhood organizer, quit the St. Anthony Pastoral Council in disgust over Madrid's handling of the parish.
Armando Jenkins is a Madrid supporter who urges 
Immaculate Heart parishioners to stop bickering.
Paolo Vescia
Armando Jenkins is a Madrid supporter who urges Immaculate Heart parishioners to stop bickering.
Sara Perez, left, and her husband Juan stand outside 
Immaculate Heart, the church she has been banned 
from entering.
Paolo Vescia
Sara Perez, left, and her husband Juan stand outside Immaculate Heart, the church she has been banned from entering.
The Reverend Francisco "Paco" Hernandez had a 
brief, miserable experience working with Madrid at 
Immaculate Heart.
Paolo Vescia
The Reverend Francisco "Paco" Hernandez had a brief, miserable experience working with Madrid at Immaculate Heart.
Juanita Encinas, a Chandler activist and former United 
Farm Workers leader, lobbied for Hernandez's 
appointment by the diocese.
Paolo Vescia
Juanita Encinas, a Chandler activist and former United Farm Workers leader, lobbied for Hernandez's appointment by the diocese.
The Reverend Saúl Madrid is under sharp attack from 
parishioners at both St. Anthony and Immaculate Heart 
of Mary Church.
La Voz
The Reverend Saúl Madrid is under sharp attack from parishioners at both St. Anthony and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
Manuel Seda is a Phoenix pediatrician who argues that 
Madrid has devastated the St. Anthony parish.
Paolo Vescia
Manuel Seda is a Phoenix pediatrician who argues that Madrid has devastated the St. Anthony parish.

A newcomer to the church might have been shocked by the outburst. But to Immaculate Heart's regular churchgoers, Madrid's rant, while stunning, was not too surprising.

For the past year, since Madrid took over as pastor, the parish considered by many to be the spiritual hub of the Valley's Hispanic community has been increasingly shaken by dissent and dissatisfaction. Some parishioners are openly contemptuous of Madrid, even going so far as to investigate his personal life.

The discontent at Immaculate Heart on Washington Street is an uncanny echo of the unrest that has long dogged St. Anthony, its sister parish about a mile away on South First Avenue, where Madrid also serves as pastor. Problems there escalated after a similar fire in 1994, also on Madrid's watch, and the ensuing debate over how best to rebuild the 52-year-old church.

Now, it seems history is repeating itself: Madrid has begun a restoration process organized the same way as the one he set up at St. Anthony. He is again appealing to the public for substantial donations to help rebuild the church. "This is a tremendous opportunity for our community to do some things that would have never been done. There is no other way to think of it," he told a recent gathering of church members.

The April 17 fire at Immaculate Heart, a majestic 72-year-old, nationally registered historic building, was just the latest major upheaval at the church.

These days, Madrid is caught up in investigations by two federal agencies and the Phoenix Fire Department. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms continues to examine the fire in an effort to determine a cause for the blaze. Phoenix fire investigators, who are working with ATF, say they can't rule out arson.

The FBI also has been talking to people who know the pastor, looking into the possibility of financial improprieties involving church funds.

On April 30, Madrid succumbed to the stress, venting at his doubters.

He'd been interrogated for hours by federal agents, he told the gathering. They'd asked him to take a polygraph test. Moreover, he knew some parishioners were openly suggesting the fires were related and that he had set them. He called the allegations idle rumors.

Madrid and Bishop Thomas O'Brien of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix refused to talk to New Times about problems in the parish and allegations being raised by church members. Madrid did not return phone messages left with church staff or respond to a faxed summary of issues being raised in this story.

Marge Injasoulian, director of communications for the diocese, said O'Brien would not talk with New Times because the diocese believes the newspaper has in the past "demonstrated a willingness to serve as a sounding board for disgruntled parishioners" and that prior articles have engaged in "a journalism of personal destruction rather than public information."

For this story, New Times reporters interviewed more than 25 church members, several priests, former employees and longtime parishioners. Over the past two months, reporters have attended services and a restoration meeting at Madrid's churches. New Times also obtained letters written to and from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix about problems, reviewed reports and records on file with seven government agencies and talked with representatives of four law enforcement agencies about the fires and other allegations.

The investigation into the Immaculate Heart fire remains open, and fire officials haven't reached any conclusion about what started the blaze. A probe of the 1994 St. Anthony fire found no evidence of arson.

But some of the actions taken by Madrid at the churches and in his personal life appear to violate church rules as well as official directives governing how priests should conduct themselves.

Madrid has many supporters among the ranks of the faithful. Some declined to discuss Madrid and the controversy.

A few who did talk to New Times defended Madrid as a charismatic, open-minded pastor doing an admirable job under difficult circumstances.

But some also describe him as secretive, controlling and rarely available to parishioners.

Veteran journalist Thomas Kunkel profiled Madrid -- and 27 other priests -- in his 1998 book Enormous Prayers -- A Journey Into the Priesthood. Recently named dean of the University of Maryland School of Journalism, Kunkel spent only a day with Madrid. He remembers him as open and likable, but surprisingly cosmopolitan.

In the book, Kunkel describes Madrid as handsome, youthful-looking and physically fit. "Clad in chinos, sport shirt, and Italian loafers (no socks), he could easily fit in with the crowd across town having breakfast that very moment beneath the orange trees at the Arizona Biltmore."

The image was strange, Kunkel says, given not only Madrid's background as a migrant fruit picker but the nature of the church he was serving. St. Anthony, Madrid told Kunkel, was one of the poorest parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix.

As a diocesan priest, Madrid did not take a vow of poverty, only pledges of celibacy and obedience to his bishop. Pastors receive nominal salaries from the diocese that may be supplemented by donations from parishioners or extra money provided by the Pastoral Council. But diocesan priests are encouraged to make voluntary vows of poverty. They are asked to live simply and not get involved in any business. In addition, they are obligated to dress in a manner that identifies them as priests.

If Madrid doesn't always dress the part of a priest, he has certainly used his position to win respect from local power brokers. He's long been friends with County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, he recently sat side by side with Attorney General Janet Napolitano at a press conference about a citizenship drive for immigrants, and his name has been linked with other movers and shakers in the community.

He's also been a favorite of Bishop Thomas O'Brien. Called one of O'Brien's "best men" by a diocesan official in a June 1999 Arizona Republic article, Madrid has seen his sphere of influence steadily expand under the bishop's authority. He not only was made pastor of two important parishes, he was also given domain over the St. Pius X mission in south Phoenix.

In a way, it's easy to understand why he's long been viewed as a rising star within the diocese. A wiry, diminutive man with jet-black hair and sunken, melancholy eyes, he's a confident, dynamic speaker who's equally eloquent in English and Spanish. And he's remarkably media-savvy, repeatedly turning up on local newscasts, and in newspaper articles and society columns.

But Immaculate Heart is an ailing parish, and the fire is only part of the problem.

Two widely admired, Spanish-speaking priests have left the parish in the past 10 months, at a time when the diocese is desperately short of clergy to serve the burgeoning Hispanic population. The priests -- and some parishioners -- believe Madrid ran them off.

Madrid dismissed his entire Immaculate Heart finance council in January -- apparently in violation of church rules -- after the members complained that he wasn't allowing them to see the parish's financial records. Since then, parishioners have been unable to monitor hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

Attendance at Sunday Masses, which reportedly approached 8,000 a year ago, is sharply down; the number of Masses has dropped from an average of 12 each Sunday to seven.

Weekly donations, which regularly brought in between $8,000 and $9,000 under Madrid's predecessor, the Reverend Tony Sotelo, are now less than $4,000, according to church bulletins.

A dissident group called the Christian Faithful -- which gathered 6,000 petition signatures last year in an attempt to block Madrid's appointment to Immaculate Heart -- has only grown more vehement in its opposition to him. Early this year, some members of the group even hired a firm to investigate Madrid.

Disgruntled parishioners accuse Madrid of deliberately stripping his churches of statues and other traditional touchstones in a modernist drive to secularize his parishes.

Church regulars are uneasy about his role in a movie called 14 Ways to Wear Lipstick,an independent, locally made film that two casting agencies considered too pornographic to be involved with.

He's also under fire about his close relationship with a 36-year-old Mexican immigrant named Martin Piña. Piña has no official position at either St. Anthony or Immaculate Heart, but church insiders allege that he is a ubiquitous -- and highly destructive -- presence at both parishes. State records show the two share a lease on a 1999 Chevy Blazer and a past business interest.

Piña also declined New Times' requests for comment. His lawyer, Larry Hammond, confirmed Piña also has been interviewed by federal agents but says Piña is reluctant to talk to New Timesbecause of the ongoing investigation.

It was difficult for some parishioners at the April sermon to hear their pastor complain about what he'd been forced to endure; they were still mourning their own loss. After all, Immaculate Heart had been more than a place of worship for local Hispanics. It's where family members for decades had celebrated treasured rites of passage: baptisms, first Communions, quinceañeras, weddings and funerals. The interior decor was reverently formal, featuring numerous statues, images and shrines central to the Hispanic faith.

After the fire, attending Mass at Immaculate Heart meant filing into a sweltering old gymnasium that bore no relation to the adjacent church: no tabernacle, no altar, no Italian marble statues, no stained-glass dome, no pews or kneelers. Some longtime parishioners were so overcome with grief that they couldn't bear to attend Mass at Immaculate Heart.

For Madrid, any attempt to rebuild unity at Immaculate Heart is undermined every time parishioners enter their dispiriting temporary surroundings. The brightly lighted room is more sterile than sacred. Clean peach-colored walls are adorned with cantaloupe-hued flourishes. A large white statue of Jesus hangs on a blanket on the front wall. Shiny white folding chairs are arranged in a U shape around the priest standing at a makeshift altar.

To the rear of the room, a Virgin of Guadalupe statue is decorated with flowers, but none of the candles or family photographs that were essential parts of traditional devotion in the church. Nearby a few pictures chronicling the church's history end with a tragic shot, the blackened core of Immaculate Heart.

Some say the spirit of the church has also darkened.

"When you go to a Mass, you try to separate [Madrid] the man and all the things he's done from the idea that the voice of God is coming through him," says Lourdes Soto, an Immaculate Heart parishioner and member of the Christian Faithful. "But when he starts saying things that you don't believe, you start getting angry."

Even supporters of Madrid acknowledge the underlying tension at the church. Armando Jenkins, who implores his fellow parishioners to have faith in Madrid, says since the fire, he cannot bring himself to attend Mass regularly. The fighting and bickering are just too much, he told a group at a recent church-restoration meeting.

"I am ashamed," Jenkins says. "I am sick and tired of the arguments, anger and accusations."

To Jenkins, such anger leads to hatred, and hatred can only lead to hell.


Saúl Madrid's rocky relationship with Immaculate Heart began in 1998, a full year before he was named pastor of the church.

At that time, Sotelo told parishioners that Madrid would come over from St. Anthony to deliver Mass for the next three weeks. He explained that it was part of an effort to build fellowship between St. Anthony and Immaculate Heart.

The first Sunday, Madrid barely made it in time for his noon Mass, parishioners say. The following week, Sotelo waited for Madrid to arrive before leaving the church. Madrid never came. He failed to show up the third week, too, church members say. Sotelo ended up celebrating the Masses.

Despite this discouraging omen, parishioners say it was not anti-Madrid sentiment that initially caused them to protest Bishop O'Brien's March 1999 announcement that Madrid would replace Sotelo, who was being assigned to prison ministry, as pastor at Immaculate Heart.

They say their resentment was directed more at the bishop, whom they felt had demeaned the parish's storied history by forcing it to share another church's pastor. About 1,200 parishioners attended Mass at St. Anthony every Sunday, and approximately 8,000 turned up at Immaculate Heart; the demands on any one pastor seemed overwhelming. But diocesan officials insisted that Phoenix's severe shortage of priests made the consolidation necessary.

Even such Madrid supporters as Jenkins, an Immaculate Heart parishioner for nearly 11 years, were concerned by what the move would mean to their parish.

"When we were bringing in Father Saúl, I told the bishop that there has been no recruitment effort by the diocese for priests, and that's why they have a shortage," Jenkins says. "I admire Father Saúl's efforts, but I think it's too much for one person to handle two parishes."

Shortly after the announcement was made, Immaculate Heart parishioners started hearing tales from St. Anthony that suggested Madrid was having a tough time handling even one parish.

Madrid had been named head pastor at St. Anthony in the summer of 1994. St. Anthony was the fourth church he had been assigned to in the Valley since being ordained on June 1, 1985. It was all part of what had been an impressive rise from humble beginnings in Mexico.

Although New Times was not able to verify Madrid's tale of his entry into the United States, he has told others he came here as an 18-year-old illegal immigrant from a small farming town in Chihuahua, Mexico. He talks of his father making the sign of the cross on Madrid's forehead and asking God to protect his son on his journey across the border. He says that he spent 32 hours walking across the desert in summer, praying for strength the entire time.

A 1999 profile of Madrid in the Arizona Republic says he labored as a Catholic school janitor and a landscape worker before he joined the priesthood. With legal status as a foreign student, the article says, he attended college through a diocesan program.

At the College of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Madrid studied criminal law and criminal justice. He attended from 1977 to 1980, according to the school, but records do not show he received a degree. Madrid told book author Kunkel that while there, he met with Dallas Police Department recruiters and almost decided to join the force (although this would have been impossible, police there say, because he was not yet a U.S. citizen). Instead, Kunkel writes, he heeded the call of the "Ultimate Career Counselor."

From there, Madrid went to Southern Indiana, where he attended the St. Meinrad School of Theology from 1981 to 1985, according to a school official.

Jenkins, now 27, met Madrid in the early '80s, before Madrid had been ordained as a priest and Jenkins was a young boy spending his summer at a Boy Scout camp near Payson. Madrid was chaplain of the camp.

"We went on the toughest hike in the camp, and he went along with our troop on our hike," Jenkins says. "We got along well, and I always had a lot of respect for him as a person."

After ordination to the priesthood in 1985, Madrid served as associate pastor at Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral until 1989. He spent the next two years as associate pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe, and in 1991 became a head pastor for the first time, at St. Henry in Buckeye. (Persistent rumors have circulated that a small fire occurred at St. Henry while Madrid was pastor, but ATF special agent Thomas Gehlert says, "We looked into it and we believe that fire happened before Father Saúl went there.")

As Madrid moved up in local Catholic ranks, so did his public visibility. He's told others he's been exhausted by his ministerial obligations, yet he repeatedly manages time for television appearances and newspaper interviews. He's appeared in newspaper stories or on TV much more than any other Catholic priest, according to a database search of media libraries.

Much of the publicity has related to the fires at Madrid's churches -- including numerous inspirational accounts of the rebuilding of St. Anthony. But he's also been in the press for a variety of other reasons: He's been quoted regarding crimes, injustices or funerals for parish members, social issues important to the Hispanic community, and his visit to the bedside of Mary Rose Wilcox after she was shot three years ago.

He's opined on the popularity of the pope, whether President Clinton should be forgiven for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. And he's been named in society columns three times.


When Madrid transferred to St. Anthony in 1994, it looked like a perfect fit. Here was a Mexican immigrant being paired with a heavily Hispanic, working-class parish. But divisions quickly began to surface.

At the time, Sylvia Gomez operated a gift shop in one of three small houses behind the church. In the back room of her shop -- which sold religious items -- she provided boarding for a retired couple. The other two buildings each housed an elderly woman.

Gomez met Madrid shortly after his assignment to St. Anthony.

"He came in and I toured the church with him, and right away he said he didn't like saints," she recalls. "He also said he didn't like reading out of a Catholic Bible, because it wasn't accurate.

"I said, 'Father, please don't take the saints out, because all the viejitos [old men] are going to hang you, because they're very strict on things like that.' And he said he didn't give a damn, because it was his church and he could do whatever he wanted."

On Sunday, December 11, 1994 -- the day before the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day-- fire broke out at St. Anthony.

The fire department got the call at 3:23 that afternoon. Workers in the basement of the church cooking in preparation for the feast noticed smoke coming through the ceiling. According to Phoenix Fire Department investigators, the volunteers fled the kitchen while one woman called the fire department and sent some children to the rectory to summon Madrid.

Madrid has told reporters of a dramatic injury sustained during the fire. But the fire department made no mention of this in its report on the blaze.

The official account says boys pounded on Madrid's door. Then the pastor went to the front of the church (apparently ignoring a closer side door) and opened the door to flames and smoke. "He closed the door and came back to the parish and called the fire department," the report says.

But a newspaper story the next day says Madrid twisted his ankle while trying to yank open a door "in a desperate attempt to save his church."

In Enormous Prayers, Madrid says he had retired to the rectory for a nap after saying four Masses that day. Alerted to the fire, he says, he ran up the stairs to the church, and entered to see a horrific sight: the altar in flames.

Kunkel asked Madrid what such an image meant to a priest: "Madrid lowers his head, searching for words . . . 'For a priest . . . ,' he begins, then trails off. 'I would imagine for many people, but for a priest . . . to see an altar up in flames, it is an indescribable event.'"

At this point, the book says, Madrid hurried downstairs to look for a fire extinguisher. In the smoky confusion, he says, he missed a step and hurt his foot. Later, he would learn it was broken.

Fire investigators ruled the blaze accidental, concluding it was likely caused by a candle in a large Advent wreath suspended over the altar. The burning wreath then fell on the altar, officials say.

Sylvia Gomez had nagging questions about the fire. And, after the blaze, she was bothered by Madrid's eagerness for publicity.

"He started coming out on TV a lot, crying and saying that he needed money," Gomez says. She adds that a laughing Madrid once told her whenever he used his crutches in public, he got things for free.

Although the church was covered by insurance, Madrid appointed church member and county supervisor Wilcox to head up the restoration committee, charged not only with planning the new, improved church, but raising money to pay for it. Madrid and others sought donations from parishioners, outside groups and businesses. (Wilcox did not respond to a New Timesrequest for comment on this story.)

There were heartwarming news reports of the renovation efforts, and accounts of fund raisers -- simple ones like burrito sales after Masses and fancier affairs like a $75-a-plate dinner and a Renaissance-themed "magical evening," described by Wilcox in a society column.

Julian Sodari, a neighborhood activist with the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, was a member of the St. Anthony Pastoral Council. He's worried that the fund-raising effort hasn't been properly monitored.

"And my wife, who does the counting [of church collections] every Monday morning, said checks are still coming in for that purpose," Sodari says.

The fire, which had caused $125,000 in damage, had spurred enough donations to pay for a $500,000 restoration project. Two years passed before St. Anthony was renovated sufficiently enough to reopen.

But it has never been fully restored. Six years after the fire, the church still has holes in its ceiling, walls that have not been painted, doors that have not been finished, confessionals that have not been rebuilt. The stations of the cross are gone. The pews have been replaced by wooden chairs.

Madrid also rid the church of kneelers. Sodari says when Bishop O'Brien found out about that, he ordered Madrid to replace them. Parishioners raised money for the kneelers. They have yet to be installed.

During the St. Anthony renovation period, Madrid decided to tear down the three houses behind the church, forcing Gomez to close her shop. As a result, four elderly people also had to find new homes. She says Madrid told her that the church's insurance company insisted the houses be torn down, but she refuses to believe his contention.

Gomez says such experiences permanently soured her -- and other St. Anthony parishioners -- on the Catholic church. "A lot of the regular people left and we went our way," she says. "I don't go to church anymore, because St. Anthony was my church. My husband died three years ago, and that was about the last time I set foot in there."


In early 1999, the diocese announced that Father Tony Sotelo was leaving Immaculate Heart to pursue his jail and prison ministry full-time. The Reverend José Corral, his associate, had accepted an appointment in California. Suddenly, this hugely popular parish desperately needed two new pastors.

O'Brien went to Immaculate Heart on March 26 for what parishioners expected to be an open-forum discussion of the vacant head-pastor position. Instead, he announced that Madrid would be named pastor of Immaculate Heart, while retaining his post at St. Anthony.

Despite the mounting unrest at St. Anthony, O'Brien had decided Madrid was the right man to succeed Sotelo. O'Brien promised the parish would not be weakened by the change. Masses would not be reduced; Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony would remain distinct parishes, with separate staffs.

As soon as the announcement was made, an unholy war of words broke out at Immaculate Heart. A small group of protesters calling themselves the Christian Faithful organized a demonstration outside the church and gathered 6,000 signatures on a petition, which they submitted to the diocese, calling for Corral to be named head pastor.

They also wrote a series of letters to Catholic officials, beginning with O'Brien. In an April 22, 1999, letter, the group carefully avoided criticizing Madrid, but simply urged the bishop to ask Corral to stay in Phoenix.

They say O'Brien failed to respond to their letter, so the group wrote to Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillian in Washington, D.C. They informed Cacciavillian: "We believe that, due to our Hispanic heritage, Bishop O'Brien and the diocesan staff that advise him in these matters, disrespected and gave no consideration to our feelings, needs or opinions."

On June 13, 1999, O'Brien made a surprise appearance at Immaculate Heart for the 10:30 a.m. Mass. He again endorsed Madrid, but did not take questions from the congregation.

That same day, the Christian Faithful sent another letter to O'Brien. By this time, the group was also going after Madrid. They attacked him for telling Immaculate Heart employees that they would all need to reapply for their jobs if they wanted to stay on after July 1. Group members say Madrid's action reminded them more of a number-crunching government bureaucrat than a Catholic priest.

Amid this emotional turbulence, Madrid officially became pastor at Immaculate Heart on July 1, 1999. On his first Sunday at Immaculate Heart, parishioners say, he showed up for church with a black eye. When curious parishioners asked about it, he told them that he'd been punched by a drunken teenager at a St. Anthony church-hall party that he'd gone to monitor.

Sotelo declined to comment on Madrid or the parishioners' accusations, saying he does not want to get involved in the controversy at Immaculate Heart. He will talk about the years when he was in charge there, a time when Masses increased from four on Sunday to a dozen, a time when he and others say there was a warm, welcome feeling to the church.

Corral, associate pastor for the last year of Sotelo's assignment, describes the atmosphere at Immaculate Heart similarly and says he enjoyed his time there immensely.

"I felt like in heaven," he says in a telephone interview.

Corral, who says he does not know Madrid, says it pains him to hear of not only the fire, but the animosity at Immaculate Heart.

"It's not just the church that has been burned down," he says. "I think it is very much like the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in the year 70. It was a national catastrophe. The faith and the moral situation went all the way down. Because they identified with that church so much. They just loved it."


By October 1999, dissatisfaction was growing among parish regulars over what they perceived as Madrid's secretive management approach. Among the most irate were the five members of the parish's finance council, a church body that reviews parish records and helps the pastor make decisions on expenditures.

In his final bulletin to parishioners in late June 1999, Sotelo had reported that Immaculate Heart's bank balances totaled more than $346,000. Parishioners say that since then, however, financial disclosure at the parish has been scarce to nonexistent.

"Under Father Tony, we met monthly, and we used to see the documents -- bank statements, invoices and checks -- and there was never any problem with us seeing those things," says Carlos Nolasco, a former member of the finance council. (Sotelo confirms that during his pastorship, finances were strictly scrutinized by parish committees.)

"After Father Saúl took over in July 1999, there wasn't a single finance committee meeting between that date and the end of October," Nolasco says.

Madrid has also taken the unusual step of splitting up weekly donation-counting at Immaculate Heart into two groups. Rather than the traditional practice of having a single group come in Monday morning to count all of Sunday's donations, he now has one group count money from the early Masses on Sunday afternoon, while another group comes in Monday to count donations from the last two Sunday Masses. It's a move that not only defies practicality, it also prevents the money counters themselves from knowing the weekly total.

Finance-council members were so frustrated that, by fall, they had written a letter to O'Brien. In November, the bishop sent two men to Immaculate Heart to discuss ways for Madrid and the finance council to work together. It was agreed that they would wait until after the Christmas holidays, and then reconvene in January.

"Prior to the January meeting, we sent a letter to Father Saúl, requesting certain pieces of information, so we could have them for that meeting," says another former finance-council member, who wants to remain anonymous. "He never responded to the letter."

Former finance-council members say when they met with Madrid in January, they asked to see these documents, and the pastor refused to turn them over.

"He flat-out told us we didn't have a right to see it, didn't have a need to see it," the former council member says. "He had a couple of pieces of paper that had the amount of money we'd collected for the month, but there were no official bank documents that we could see, to see if there was really money there."

Finance-council members wrote to O'Brien, expressing their concerns. They say diocesan representatives told them that if they couldn't work with Madrid, that perhaps they should quit. Before they had a chance to do so, Madrid sent identical letters to all five council members, dismissing them from their duties.

The letters, dated February 18, 2000, made reference to the finance council's correspondence with O'Brien, pointedly quoting their use of the phrases "deep mistrust" and "a severe credibility issue." Such thoughts, Madrid argued, "will render us both incapable of fulfilling our ministry positions effectively. For this reason, I am dismissing you from any and all responsibility to the parish finance council."

Since the dismissal of the council, Immaculate Heart has continued to operate without any financial accountability to parishioners. In response to criticism over the dismissals, Madrid has begun to publicly refer to one of his supporters, Angel Torres, as a finance-council member. But insiders allege this is an artificial attempt to defuse criticism, and insist Madrid has yet to share any of the church's financial records with parishioners.

Disbanding the council would seem to put Madrid afoul of both the Code of Canon Law and diocesan practices. Canon 537 states: "Each parish is to have a finance council which is regulated by universal law as well as norms issued by the diocesan bishop." The Phoenix diocese, in its list of guidelines, stipulates that a parish finance council "should have a minimum of five members."

Such concerns about parish finances are intensified by what some parishioners see as exorbitant pricing practices on Madrid's part. They say he has charged as much as $500 for quinceañera Masses, a staggering figure considering that most of his parishioners are blue-collar workers with very little money to spare. By comparison, most Valley Catholic churches charge a small stipend of $50 or less and sometimes nothing for quinceañeras, a Hispanic celebration of a girl's 15th birthday.

Madrid also rents out the halls at Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony for $2,000 and $1,800 a night, respectively, according to former finance-council members. And his frequent Saturday-night rentals of the St. Pius X Mission in south Phoenix for parties have annoyed members of the Black Catholic Ministry, which uses St. Pius X two Sundays each month for Masses.

"A couple of times, parents have come in with their kids on Sundays and seen 30 or 40 beer cans in the courtyard that they've had to pick up," says Keith Williams, a council member with the Black Catholic Ministry of Phoenix. "To me, it's a disgrace, and Father Saúl knows about it."

One of Immaculate Heart's biggest financial controversies in the past year concerns Madrid's handling of new doors for the church's entrance.

Because the year 2000 is a jubilee year in the Catholic church -- an event that occurs every 25 years -- and Immaculate Heart was designated by O'Brien as one of seven holy churches in the diocese, part of a special pilgrimage, Madrid decided to order new doors to greet the expected flood of visitors who would enter the church this year.

Parishioners say he did so without receiving approval from the parish. He then announced that parishioners would have to raise $35,000 to cover the cost of the doors.

The move confounded longtime parishioners, because the church's wooden doors had been part of Immaculate Heart since it was built, and had historic value.

They were replaced by ill-fitting metal doors that many considered an eyesore. Parishioners raised more than $37,000 for the effort, according to the parish's weekly bulletins, but some questioned whether the new doors were really as expensive as Madrid said they were. And if there was money left over from the fund-raising effort, where did it go, they wondered.

The Reverend Andrzej Hejdak, a Poland native who spent seven years as a missionary in Venezuela before moving to Phoenix in 1999, served as an associate pastor at Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony from October 1999 until April. Hejdak says he was at Immaculate Heart the morning the doors were being installed, and he struck up a conversation with the craftsman who said he'd made the doors. He says the man told him that the doors had cost only $12,000.

Since the diocese and Madrid wouldn't respond to questions, New Times couldn't review records that might show the actual cost.


In the past year, two associate pastors have left Madrid's parishes on bad terms, blaming Madrid and his friend Martin Piña for driving them out. This perceived mistreatment of Spanish-speaking priests has galvanized animosity toward Madrid.

On July 1, 1999, the same day that Madrid was named pastor at Immaculate Heart, the diocese appointed an associate pastor for both parishes: the Reverend Francisco Hernandez. But everyone called him "Father Paco."

Hernandez, 39, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, the seventh of 11 children. He says he studied philosophy and theology in a Monterrey, Mexico, seminary, and spent his early years as a priest in Juárez, working to rehabilitate gang kids.

Hernandez suffers from asthma, and doctors had told him that moving to a dry climate would improve his condition. So in May 1997, he came to Phoenix at the invitation of his friend, the Reverend Julio Higuera, associate pastor at St. Anne in Gilbert. For three months, Hernandez stayed at St. Anne, helping out on weekends by celebrating Masses there.

Higuera took Hernandez to meet Bishop O'Brien, who assigned Hernandez to San Martin Des Porres, a small, impoverished parish with no full-time pastor. His living quarters would be at St. Catherine of Sienna, in south Phoenix.

Hernandez says the diocese provided him with no food and no transportation. It made no effort to help him obtain a visa. It paid him only $180 a month and did not help him to learn English.

Despite these obstacles, in a short time, Hernandez stirred new enthusiasm at San Martin.

"San Martin Des Porres was a lost parish," says Juanita Encinas, 46, a Chandler activist and former United Farm Workers leader. "There were only about 30 people when he went there, and after a while he had 500 people."

Encinas has long been a parishioner at St. Mary's Church in Chandler, but when she saw Hernandez celebrate Mass at St. Anne, she was so impressed that she wanted to bring him to her parish.

"Father Paco is a beautiful priest," she says. "He finds those words that are inspiring. When he celebrates a Mass, you live the Mass."

"He preached the faith," agrees Sodari. "He was interested in the way people thought, and he got along well with people. He really cared for the congregation."

Encinas sought a permanent appointment in Phoenix for Hernandez, and urged Father Thomas Zurcher, vicar for the diocese, to find a church for him.

She says Zurcher was initially reluctant, but he eventually assigned Hernandez to Immaculate Heart. Meanwhile, Encinas prepared the paperwork to obtain a religious visa for Hernandez.

In a May 21, 1999, letter to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Zurcher announced Hernandez's appointment and added: "Hernandez will provide a valuable service to the Catholic Church of Phoenix -- ministry to immigrant Catholics at a time when we have a shortage of priests who are able to do so. Also, he will have sufficient financial compensation for his ministry that will allow him to live reasonably well in the United States."

Zurcher is listed as the petitioner on Hernandez's September 2, 1999, INS application for a special religious visa. The processing period was expected to be 320 to 360 days, but there was every reason to believe Hernandez would get his visa.

Hernandez worked at both Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony, and lived in the St. Anthony rectory. His pay immediately jumped to slightly more than $700 a month. He remembers that his first two weeks working with Madrid were pleasant, but that the relationship quickly soured.

Hernandez says he began to question the presence of Martin Piña, who, according to Hernandez, had keys to the church and seemed to spend much of his time there even though he was not an employee.

"He's the one who runs things there," Hernandez says. "He tells the secretaries what to do, the cooks, everyone. He treats them very poorly."

When Hernandez asked Madrid who Piña was, he says the pastor told him Piña was his cousin. Hernandez says it wasn't long before he grew alarmed over Piña's behavior.

"He would answer the phone, he would get involved in conversations that were none of his business, and he would be rude to people," Hernandez says. "I told Saúl, 'If this boy continues to be this way, I'm not sure how long I can work here. I may have to leave.'"

Hernandez says after he expressed his concerns to Madrid, he also called Piña to say he wanted to help him. But he says Piña only became more belligerent. The tension between them reached a crescendo in late July 1999 at the St. Anthony rectory.

Hernandez says Piña threw a plate lunch at him, then punched the priest with his fist. The two men rolled around on the floor, and Hernandez grabbed Piña in a headlock. He says Piña tried to break out of the headlock by lifting his head, which smacked right into Hernandez's mouth.

To Hernandez's dismay, both Madrid and diocesan officials sided with Piña. He says Madrid asked him to get on his knees and beg Piña's forgiveness, which he grudgingly did, because "my brother priest was asking me to." Also, what Hernandez describes as an inadvertent collision of his mouth and Piña's head was depicted by church officials as Hernandez maliciously biting Piña.

In an August 13, 1999, letter to Hernandez, Zurcher called the priest's actions "completely inappropriate," and said, "Even if you were provoked, it is not appropriate for you to physically confront a man in the rectory." The letter also expressed concern for Hernandez's "spiritual and emotional health," and suggested that he get counseling.

Finally, Zurcher said the diocese would reassess the future of Hernandez's Phoenix ministry if he had not learned to speak English by January 2000.

The requirement to speak English seemed at odds with Zurcher's visa recommendations to the INS only three months earlier. In it, Zurcher had emphasized Hernandez's Spanish proficiency as his primary asset to the diocese. After all, both Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony were dominated by Spanish-speaking parishioners. Between the two churches, they offered 12 Sunday Masses, and only two of them were in English.

After the fracas with Piña, Hernandez says he barricaded his door at night, fearful that Piña might attack him. He felt frozen out of the parish by Madrid, and says he overheard Madrid's staff dismiss him as "the wetback priest." He also says the diocese stopped paying him after August 1999.

He says Madrid dumped extra responsibilities on him, in one case requiring him to celebrate an astonishing 13 Masses in a single weekend. He also performed countless weddings and funerals.

On top of his parish duties, Hernandez says he would visit hospitals on a regular basis, and began taking afternoon English classes at Rio Salado College. He had no car, so he either walked, got a ride from parishioners, or hitchhiked.

Finally, in late September 1999, Hernandez suffered what doctors later determined to be an anxiety attack. He was hospitalized for three and a half days.

By that point, Hernandez had decided that he couldn't return to Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony. The diocese sent him back to San Martin Des Porres.

But on March 15, 2000, the bishop wrote to inform him: "After prayerful consideration of your presence in the Diocese of Phoenix over the past few years, I regret that I must withdraw the faculties for your ministry as a priest in this Diocese." O'Brien cited Hernandez's lack of a visa as a reason for the decision, despite the fact that Zurcher -- on behalf of the diocese -- had petitioned for Hernandez's visa, which was still pending.

O'Brien's letter continued: "I am aware of your frustration at not being able to fully exercise your priestly ministry in the United States. Language, health and pastoral circumstances together with the legal issue of the visa have served to curtail your efforts to live and work as a priest."

Hernandez returned to Chihuahua in April. He blames Piña, more than Madrid, for his problems at Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony.

Hejdak succeeded Hernandez at Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony last October. Now at St. Francis Parish in Seligman, Hejdak describes the six months he spent working with Madrid as "a horror movie." He says Madrid never communicated with him, adding, "I would learn about any changes through the public bulletins."

Like Hernandez, he says he was loaded down with work by Madrid, who spent little time at the church and seemed to have little interest in his duties. When Hejdak began to complain, he says, Madrid ostracized him, ordering parish staff workers not to talk to him or assist him in any way.

Things came to a head, according to Hejdak, when he asked the secretary at St. Anthony to place a call to the bishop on his behalf, because he needed help with his English. At Madrid's insistence, she refused, he says.

He also clashed with Piña, whom he describes as "a very strange man."

On Tuesday, April 11, Madrid and Hejdak argued over what Hejdak considered to be the abusive treatment he was receiving. He says Madrid attempted to fire him on that day.

Three days later, on Friday, April 14, the two priests met with O'Brien, and it was agreed that Hejdak would be reassigned.

Sodari was infuriated when he found out how Hejdak was being treated. In response, he quit his post on St. Anthony's Pastoral Council.

"Whenever I asked [Madrid] about it, he would say, 'That's between Father Andrzej and myself. No one else should get into it.'"


Many parishioners interviewed for this story think Saúl Madrid and Martin Piña are involved in a sexual relationship. However, New Timesfound nothing to substantiate claims of such a relationship.

Still, the perception has only added to the ill will directed at Madrid, particularly from those who were upset by the dismissal of Hernandez and Hejdak.

At the very least, Madrid's critics are convinced that Piña is a harmful, overbearing force at Immaculate Heart and St. Anthony.

"He's always getting people agitated," Sodari says. "He'll hang around the church and talk grossly to people."

Indeed, records show, tensions between Piña and church members have resulted in Phoenix police being called on more than one occasion.

Unhappy with what she perceived to be Madrid and Piña's poor treatment of Hernandez and Hejdak, Sara Perez, a 50-year-old Immaculate Heart parishioner, left three hostile phone messages on Piña's answering machine in February and March of this year. After the first message, Piña called the police.

On the morning of March 12, when she turned up at the St. Anthony parking lot with a video camera -- she says she wanted to document the interior changes at the church, and send the videotape to national Catholic officials -- Piña again called the police, telling them that he feared for his life.

Madrid also spoke to police officers after the incident and said he was "very concerned about what she may be capable of doing to him or the church," according to a March 14 police report.

As a result, officers informed Perez that she would be considered a trespasser if she again set foot in either of Madrid's churches. Perez hasn't attended Mass at Immaculate Heart since then.

State records show Madrid and Piña not only share a lease on a vehicle, they have been involved in the same business, an apparent violation of the church directive for priests to "avoid all greediness and carefully abstain from every appearance of business."

Lupe Enriquez, owner of Pelazzo Hair Salon in west Phoenix, met Piña as a client at her old salon, No Appointments. She says Piña introduced her to Madrid, telling her that they were cousins.

She says Madrid suggested that she go into business with him, adding that the pastor put up $2,000 cash in March 1999 to back the salon, at 6701 West Thomas Road.

Enriquez says that shortly before Pelazzo opened, Madrid changed his mind, and told her Piña would take his place as her business partner.

"He told me, 'Lupe, I'm having some problems here at the church and it's not wise for me to be recognized as the owner, so is it okay if Martin handles everything?' So he made Martin an owner."

State Board of Cosmetology files list Piña and Enriquez as co-owners of the salon as of March 1, 1999, with Madrid and Enriquez shown as lessees of the property. In a document dated February 25, 1999, and signed by Madrid, he and Enriquez promise to pay $1,000 a month, beginning March 1, 1999, for three years. The paperwork gives no indication that Madrid is a priest and lists his home address as 909 South First Avenue, the address for St. Anthony.

Enriquez says she had a miserable experience working with Piña, so she bought him out as a business partner in May of this year. State records confirm that she removed Piña as owner of her salon and took Madrid off the lease.

"He wanted to run the salon and boss me around like I was an employee, not an owner," says Enriquez, who was recently questioned by federal agents for three hours concerning Madrid and Piña's financial relationship.

She says agents asked her about the possibility that the hair salon was being used to hide money that Madrid and Piña may have been taking from the church. She says she told agents she had no evidence of that.


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 Wayswas 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.

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 Fictionsense 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.

But efforts to contain it were hampered when enormous chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling. A fire department video shows some firemen carrying out an organ, others blasting hundreds of gallons of water into the church, another standing knee deep in water as he doused the space beneath the hacked-up church floor.

When it was over, Immaculate Heart's interior was a wreck. The federal ATF -- which investigates church fires as part of a national effort to stem hate crimes -- worked with Phoenix fire investigators for weeks to solve the mystery of how and why the blaze started.

Phoenix fire, the ATF and the FBI are continuing to investigate, but officials haven't yet determined what caused the fire. Investigators say it could have been caused by overheating of some lights that were wired for spotlights but contained regular bulbs. A burning candle could have been left too close to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, either accidentally or on purpose. Or someone could have intentionally started the fire with an open flame.

Phoenix fire officials, who have heard about the unrest at the parishes and the rumors about Madrid, say they've learned nothing that would make them change their designation of the 1994 fire at St. Anthony as accidental.

But there are striking similarities between the two fires that have added to parishioners' persistent yet unproved suspicions.

Both occurred at churches presided over by Saúl Madrid, who was not universally accepted at either parish. Both broke out within hours of services on major feast days.

Both began near an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The St. Anthony blaze destroyed a portrait near the altar. The Immaculate Heart fire's point of origin was near the shrine to the Virgin.

The St. Anthony fire was caused, investigators said, by a candle igniting some greenery in the Advent wreath. The Immaculate Heart blaze may have been caused by a candle burning too close to a palm frond.

Both blazes caused only interior damage. But they spurred sympathetic publicity, and an outpouring of public concern, spiritual support -- and generous donations.

In both cases, insurance covered the losses. Yet Madrid sought money above and beyond the costs of the destruction. The fund-raising campaign for St. Anthony raised enough for $500,000 worth of renovations, four times the damage estimate of $125,000.

Damage at Immaculate Heart has been set at $2 million. In June, at the first renovation committee meeting at the church, a diocesan official said insurance would cover "full replacement value" of the damage, and provide another $500,000 to bring the renovated church up to code. But minutes later, Madrid declared, "insurance will only cover so much" and announced a community-wide fund-raising campaign to supplement the nearly $70,000 already donated since the April fire.

After both fires, more modern houses of worship -- stripped of the lush, formal decor that more traditional Catholics associate with reverence -- have emerged.

When St. Anthony was being repaired, services were temporarily held in a church hall. Madrid told reporters then that without kneelers or pews, parishioners sat in folding chairs and learned it was just as respectful to stand rather than kneel during the Eucharistic celebration -- the holiest part of the Mass. A new modernistic baptismal font, an oversize bowl, was placed in the center of the room.

Today, St. Anthony -- renovated with the help of a liturgical consultant -- has kept those new traditions. The church's walls and the altar -- a cube of wood -- are nearly bare. Only a few statues are placed inside. The large baptismal font is still in the center of the church and folks still sit on wooden folding chairs. They still stand during the parts of the Mass where they used to kneel.

And the gym at Immaculate Heart looks like it came out of the same spartan church design book. Stark walls. Folding chairs. A plain altar. A large white baptismal bowl in the center of the room. And no kneelers.

Members of a church committee overseeing the restoration -- including Madrid -- promise the new sanctuary will respect the past but make improvements. But, they say, some changes can be expected, as a liturgical consultant will again provide expert advice on how to rebuild the church according to acceptable practices.

Madrid's supporters see his modernist leanings as evidence that he's a progressive, open-minded thinker -- a man trying to relate to the contemporary world.

"Father Saúl's a different type of person," says Jenkins, who was taught by Jesuits at Brophy High School. "He's very opinionated. He had some tough battles at St. Anthony, and he knew he was going to face even more at Immaculate Heart. And he did. People attacked him flat-out. Some of the lingering anger from St. Anthony, people tried to sow that at Immaculate Heart."

Adan Ledezma, an Immaculate Heart parishioner since 1994, agrees with Jenkins, saying Madrid is doing "a great job" heading both churches.

"I think he's doing his best," he says. "I think he's doing more than he's supposed to do. Our responsibility as members of the community is to take responsibility for the church. It's not the church of Father Saúl and it's not the church of everybody. It's the church of God."

Ledezma, who sits on the renovation committee, says the anti-Madrid forces are small but determined. Particularly upsetting to Ledezma are the scandalous accusations some are "inventing" about Madrid. "I ask them, 'Where is the proof?' And they say, 'I just heard people say that.' You have to have clear evidence to make those claims. They are denigrating his dignity."

Other priests say they were well aware of the fire potential at Immaculate Heart and took extra precautions to ensure the safety of the buildings. Sotelo, the former pastor, says he kept a watchful eye on the security video monitor inside his office. Corral, the former associate pastor, says he checked inside the church 50 to 60 times a day. Both say they made a nightly ritual of checking inside Immaculate Heart to make sure every candle was extinguished. "We even looked under the pews," Corral says.

Investigators have heard all the accusations and rumors. Khan says he got an earful on Easter Sunday, when he attended Mass at Immaculate Heart as a gesture of support. Half the people who approached him suggested Madrid started the fire; the others thought the anti-Madrid forces were behind the blaze, he says.

ATF agent Tom Mangan says investigators have interviewed "dozens and dozens" of people in connection with the case. They are trying to focus on evidence, not just rumors, he says.


On Thursday, June 22, the diocese unveiled its restoration plan for Immaculate Heart at a two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the parish hall. More than 60 parishioners were introduced to the restoration committee -- 12 parishioners chosen by Madrid -- and to the other key members of the effort.

Anti-Madrid forces had their first chance to directly express their fears in a public setting. Considering how confrontational the gathering was, it may also turn out to be their last.

For more than an hour, the gathering was civil. Architect Ben Barcon discussed the stages involved in the building's reconstruction, explaining that it would take a year before work was completed, at an estimated cost of $1.5 million to $2 million. Already, he said, the church is reaping benefits: A sound system worth $18,000, 650 new chairs valued at $13,000 and an air-conditioning system for the gym have been purchased with insurance proceeds.

A 10-minute video was shown, which contrasted the ornate state of Immaculate Heart last Christmas with the pile of plaster-caked rubble it is now.

But the tone changed about halfway through the meeting, when Madrid allowed parishioners to ask questions. Manuel Seda, a Phoenix pediatrician and former St. Anthony parishioner, practically choked on his own anger. He sarcastically asked if the church would really be completed in a year, "or will it take three years like St. Anthony's to reopen it?"

Despite Madrid's request that Seda step to the microphone so he could be heard better, Seda stubbornly refused to leave his seat. He pointedly called the pastor by his first name, unwilling to recognize his religious title.

The most telling moment came during an exchange between Madrid and an Immaculate Heart parishioner named Cecilia Echeveste. In a shaky but determined voice, Echeveste defined her concerns.

"Since July of 1999," she said, "when Father Saúl came to this parish, a lot of us are concerned about the money coming in. Since then, we've had no accountability of any kind. Finance committee members were fired.

"The issue is one of accountability," she added, before assuring Madrid, "once we have that, I'm sure that everybody will get together behind you."

Madrid responded with barely contained rage. "This meeting is about a restoration of Immaculate Heart. Not whether Father Saúl may be stealing the money from the parish or not. I am very, very offended that you have alluded in public -- you are publicly bringing an accusation that there are doubts about monies that are missing from Immaculate Heart."

Madrid then explained that the money sent in voluntarily to aid in church restoration had amounted so far to $67,000. It all went directly into a diocese account, he said. "I do not touch a single penny," he said. He ended his angry discourse with a single directive: "We will not discuss the issue of money anymore."

It was a surprising dismissal, since the purpose of the meeting was to lay out the plans for the rebuilding of the church, including not only the timetable but the costs.

People at the meeting turned to defending Madrid. When other speakers in the audience pleaded for unity in the parish, many applauded. Several members of the committee called for peace. Diana Chavez, a committee member with deep family roots in the church, tearfully condemned the treatment of Madrid.

"I have faith in my pastor, Father Saúl. Why should somebody of the cloth be scrutinized the way he has . . . it's the way Jesus was crucified," she said.

Ultimately, even when Madrid tries to reassure people, as he did the night of the meeting, he only manages to leave his critics more worried.

"I am not here to destroy Immaculate Heart," he told the gathering. The comment was reminiscent of another he made in a June 1999 Arizona Republicarticle, trying to ward off the protesters who didn't want him at Immaculate Heart: "I have not destroyed St. Anthony in the last five years and I do not intend to destroy Immaculate Heart."

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Phoenix Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...