Santa Fe’s Cathe­dral rec­tor step­ping down

Father Adam, for­mer Peñasco and Dixon priest, doesn’t ex­plain ‘per­sonal chal­lenges’ lead­ing to de­par­ture af­ter 6½ years

The Taos News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Robert Nott [email protected]­i­

Near the end of Sun­day’s 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi, the Rev. Adam Ortega y Or­tiz fought back tears as he told parish­ioners, “I love you.”

That state­ment may have been the last the some­timescon­tro­ver­sial rec­tor of New Mex­ico’s best-known Ro­man Catholic church makes to parish­ioners. At mul­ti­ple ser­vices Sun­day, Ortega y Or­tiz an­nounced he is end­ing his ten­ure at the cathe­dral.

He wouldn’t spec­ify the rea­sons be­hind his de­par­ture, but ac­knowl­edged it was spurred by “per­sonal chal­lenges ... some of which have been par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for me.”

He said he needs more time to deal with these prob­lems and that Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe Arch­bishop John C. Wester au­tho­rized a leave of ab­sence.

Ortega y Or­tiz then said, “It is pru­dent that I con­clude my ser­vice to the cathe­dral,” in­di­cat­ing he will not be re­turn­ing.

As he left the church fol­low­ing the mid­morn­ing Mass, Ortega y Or­tiz de­clined to com­ment fur­ther, sim­ply shak­ing his head “no” when asked if he would say more.

Wester also de­clined to com­ment, other than to say the arch­dio­cese, rocked by the de­ci­sion to file for bank­ruptcy in the face of civil law­suits that al­lege sex­ual abuse by some mem­bers of its clergy, will choose a suc­ces­sor early next year.

In the in­terim, the Rev. John Can­non of San Isidro Par­ish will over­see both that church and St. Fran­cis.

Ortega y Or­tiz’s an­nounce­ment ended months of spec­u­la­tion about the priest’s where­abouts. He had not cel­e­brated Mass at the down­town cathe­dral since at least early Oc­to­ber, rais­ing ques­tions as to where he was and why he was ab­sent.

On Sun­day, he re­turned, al­beit briefly. Clad in black slacks and a bright red sweater, Ortega y Or­tiz en­tered the cathe­dral from a back­room shortly be­fore all three morn­ing cel­e­bra­tions came to an end.

Each time, his voice broke as he thanked his fam­ily, friends and parish­ioners for sup­port­ing him.

He called the 6½ years he served at the church as a “richly re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence” full of “count­less graces for which I am grate­ful.

“I sin­cerely apol­o­gize for any anx­i­ety my ab­sence has caused you for the last three months,” he said.

Ortega y Or­tiz, in his early 50s, is one of the area’s best­known Ro­man Catholic priests, hav­ing spent 18 years in Santa Fe, first as pas­tor of Santa María de La Paz on the city’s south side, and most re­cently at the cathe­dral and as pas­tor of Cristo Rey. Known to many sim­ply as Father Adam, he grew up in the city and is a grad­u­ate of St. Michael’s High School.

Priest­hood took Ortega first to Las Ve­gas, N.M., then Ran­chos de Taos. His first par­ish as­sign­ment in 1993 was ac­tu­ally dou­ble duty: For seven years, he served at both St. Anthony Par­ish in Dixon and San An­to­nio de Padua Par­ish in Peñasco.

Ortega y Or­tiz was the sub­ject of church in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his be­hav­ior in Novem­ber 2013 af­ter a for­mer mu­sic di­rec­tor, Xavier Gon­za­les, com­plained in a letter to the arch­bishop that Ortega y Or­tiz cre­ated a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment and was prone to “crude and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior,” in­clud­ing “an in­abil­ity to keep his hands to him­self.”

At that same time, crit­ics said some of his ac­tions were driv­ing parish­ioners from the church.

Later that month the church pub­licly cleared Ortega y Or­tiz of any wrong­do­ing. At that time he said in re­sponse, “There will al­ways be those who will find some­thing wrong and mis­in­ter­pret my ac­tions or choose to see things in a neg­a­tive way. For ev­ery one of them, there are hun­dreds more who un­der­stand and trust my work and are want­ing to share in this great min­istry.”

Af­ter Ortega y Or­tiz made his an­nounce­ment Sun­day, many at the 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon ser­vices stood and ap­plauded as the priest dis­ap­peared into the back­room. Some wept or ex­pressed looks of shock or sad­ness. Oth­ers seemed to ac­cept the news as an in­evitabil­ity and dis­played lit­tle emo­tion.

One parish­ioner, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied, said, “At least now we know. We de­served that much.”

An­other woman, who said she worked with Ortega y Or­tiz and who also de­clined to be iden­ti­fied, called The New Mex­i­can

on Sun­day to say his pres­ence will be missed.

“He was such a fig­ure­head for the church,” she said. “I don’t think ev­ery­body got along with him or al­ways liked him, but in look­ing at the people’s faces in the church to­day, it’s clear he was ob­vi­ously cared for.”

This story first pub­lished in the Santa Fe New Mex­i­can, a sib­ling pub­li­ca­tion of The Taos News.

Luis Sánchez Saturno/New file photo Mex­i­can

The Rev. Adam Lee Ortega y Or­tiz cel­e­brates Ash Wed­nes­day Mass in 2017 at the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi. The priest on Sun­day apol­o­gized for his month­s­long ab­sence and said he was step­ping down, spurred by “per­sonal chal­lenges … some of which have been par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for me.”

New Mex­i­can file photo

The Rev. Adam Lee Ortega y Or­tiz cel­e­brates Good Fri­day Mass in 2017 at the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi. The cathe­dral rec­tor spoke af­ter Mass re­cently and said he’d be leav­ing his po­si­tion.

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