Bishop's Health Not His Only Worry
Stress of Sex-Abuse Scandal May Be behind Resignation
By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic
March 8, 2003
Tucson - His health problems were severe, but there can be little doubt that Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno resigned Friday largely because of the sex-abuse scandal haunting the Roman Catholic Church.
Moreno became the 10th U.S. bishop to step down amid allegations of sexual abuse or cover-up since 1990.
"I've personally seen the impact on him," said Fred Allison, spokesman for the Tucson Diocese and a close friend of Moreno. "I can only imagine for anyone struggling with health problems, the additional stress this must be on your mind and your body."
Moreno, 72, suffered from severe prostate problems that made it difficult for him travel even relatively short distances by car or sit for prolonged periods at ceremonies and functions. He was scheduled to retire in three years but asked permission from Pope John Paul II to step down early.
A carefully worded statement from the Vatican noted the pope agreed to Moreno's request under a church law that says a bishop should offer to step down if health "or other serious reason" impedes him from carrying out his duties.
The groundwork for Moreno's resignation was laid 17 months ago when his successor, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, was named co-adjutor, a formal title that made him bishop-in-waiting with rights of immediate succession. He became the sixth bishop of the 107-year-old Tucson Diocese at a Mass just eight hours after the Vatican accepted Moreno's resignation.
Kicanas was named co-adjutor Oct. 30, 2001, as the Tucson Diocese was fighting a series of lawsuits by 11 men who claimed they were abused by priests over three decades.
Those lawsuits were settled last year for an estimated $15 million, and some of the records were sealed.
But a chronology compiled from the personnel files of priests, testimony from witnesses and depositions of senior church leaders revealed Moreno was deeply involved in covering up allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
The chronology showed that after Moreno was appointed bishop of Tucson on Jan. 9, 1982, but before he was ordained, March 11, 1982, he was told by an archbishop in California that a priest from the Tucson Diocese had been found in bed with a young boy.
Court records show that same priest was accused of numerous other sexual molestations during the next decade and that Moreno consistently failed to take action. In fact, sworn testimony and copies of personal letters confirmed that the priest admitted his indiscretions to Moreno and that the bishop continued to cover them up.
The court records also show that Moreno repeatedly ignored warnings from public school counselors, parishioners, seminary officials and others who told him of abuse by priests under his authority.
In one case, a priest testified under oath that Moreno admonished him in the summer of 1989 for cooperating with a Tucson police detective investigating allegations of sexual molestation. He said the bishop made him "feel like an idiot," grew hostile and wanted to know why he was getting involved.
Another lawsuit filed last fall accused Moreno of refusing to ordain a seminary student as retaliation for reporting sexual misconduct he says he witnessed by priests in the Tucson Diocese.
Support groups for victims of sexual abuse across the nation were quick to respond to Moreno's resignation.
"We hope this provides some degree of healing and closure for the many women and men who were severely and needlessly harmed under Bishop Moreno's watch," read a statement from the San Diego chapter of SNAP, the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests.
"We also hope that lay Catholics and survivors in Arizona will continue pushing for true openness and genuine healing in the weeks and months ahead."
The Arizona chapter of SNAP deplored what it called Moreno's "20-year history of failing to deal adequately or effectively with priests in his diocese who molest children."
But Paul Pfaffenberger, president of the Arizona chapter, said he hopes Moreno's resignation will clear the way for the church to become better at dealing with abuse victims.
"We would hope that Bishop Kicanas would restore some sense of moral authority to the Tucson Diocese," Pfaffenberger said. "SNAP hopes that one of the new bishop's goals would be listening to survivors and making sure that abusive priests are removed."
In the past year, Moreno and Kicanas have worked together to implement a tougher policy on sexual abuse. They also have been aggressive in releasing names of priests accused of sexual abuse and removing them from ministry.
In June, shortly after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued new guidelines on sexual abuse, Moreno released the names of 15 priests accused of molesting children in the Tucson Diocese. Five of those priests are dead, one had left the priesthood and four are retired. All the rest were removed from public ministry.
Since then, Moreno has publicly named four other priests accused of abuse in the Tucson Diocese.
"Bishop Moreno shepherded the people of the Tucson Diocese through good times and difficult ones," said Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien, a longtime friend of Moreno.
"I will miss him, but I am grateful the people of Tucson will be served by another capable and loving religious leader, Bishop Gerald Kicanas."
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