Lawsuit Accuses Bishop of Continued Cover-up

By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
June 11, 2003

A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Bishop Thomas O'Brien of continuing a decades-long pattern of "cover-up and obfuscation" by publicly backing off admissions he made in an immunity agreement released last week.

The suit, filed under the pseudonym "John Doe" to protect the privacy of the plaintiff, is the first in what is expected to be a series filed in the wake of O'Brien's written acknowledgment that he reassigned "offending priests" into "situations where children could be further victimized."

O'Brien signed that admission last month in return for immunity from prosecution on possible charges of obstruction of justice in covering up sexual-abuse allegations. Six hours after that admission was made public, O'Brien read a statement denying he ever covered up sex abuse by priests or "intentionally placed a child in harm's way."

A lawsuit filed in Pima County Superior Court says those remarks by O'Brien are indicative of how church leaders have dealt with sexual-abuse allegations for decades.

Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic bishop says a former U.S. priest wanted on sex-abuse charges in Arizona headed two churches in Mexicali, across the border from Calexico, Calif., but that officials there no longer know where he is.

Isidro Guerrero said the Rev. Joseph Cervantez Briceno came to Mexicali in 1992, shortly after he left the Phoenix diocese.

Cervantez Briceno and five other current and former priests were indicted in the past five weeks on allegations they sexually abused children while they worked for the Diocese of Phoenix.

When the indictments were made public June 2, Cervantez Briceno met with Mexicali church officials and resigned, telling church leaders he wanted to return to the United States to clear his name, Guerrero said.


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