Diocese Sincerity Doubted
Apologies Widen Rift, Sex-Abuse Victims Say

By Michael Clancy
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
August 25, 2003

Sex-abuse victims are calling apologies from Archbishop Michael Sheehan callous and ill-timed, widening the rift between the Phoenix Diocese and victims of sexual abuse rather than closing the gap.

As a result, a spokeswoman said, the diocese will provide details for each person's case to Sheehan, the diocese's temporary administrator, and ask him to withhold apologies until victims' assistance efforts are in place.

The issue arose Aug. 7, when two men filed civil lawsuits against the diocese. John Starkey said that after repeated attempts he had been unable to reach Sheehan. Ben Kulina, a Mesa police lieutenant, said he and his mother had met with Sheehan, only to leave unhappy with their reception.

Kulina said Sheehan had no details about his case. Former priest John Giandelone was sentenced in March to 22 months in prison for molesting Kulina in 1979 and 1980.

"We deserve more than a standard, canned apology," said Paul Pfaffenberger, director of the local chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Mark Kennedy, who sued the church in May over claims that he was abused by the Rev. Patrick Colleary, said he will not even seek an apology.

"I am hearing from people with the same opinion as Ben Kulina, that this guy is not sincere," he said. "It just adds insult to injury at this point."

Catholic bishops around the country, including former Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien, have apologized frequently for the sex-abuse scandal. But only a few, including Sheehan, have reached out to speak or meet personally with victims, on a one-on-one basis.

Sheehan has made giving the apologies to victims one of his top priorities, building on his efforts in his home diocese, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. He was widely hailed for his contrition to victims there, but he acknowledged in a recent interview that he spoke to about 35 of the more than 200 victims there. The others either were unreachable or declined to speak to him.

Phoenix Diocese officials were unable to say how many victims Sheehan has reached here. At last count, he said he had talked to about a dozen victims.

Betty Shannon of Scottsdale said Sheehan called her late in the evening on July 23.

Lacked information

She said he apologized but, as in Kulina's case, had no information on her situation. Three of her children were abused by the Rev. Mark Lehman in the late 1980s.

"I am glad he called, glad he made the effort, but that's all I can say," she said.

Sharon Roy, who says she was raped by and had a child with Colleary, said she has not talked to Sheehan herself. Another mother asked Roy to call on her behalf, but Roy says she was told the archbishop was "too busy."

"It's just extremely frustrating," she said. "It's all a farce. That's the only word we can use."

Jennifer O'Connor, youth protection advocate for the diocese, said the diocese reconsidered the apologies after Kulina's comments. Sheehan, who spent last week on vacation, said a week ago that Kulina was the first victim to decline his apology.

O'Connor said the apologies now will follow other church efforts to assist victims, including setting up counseling and working out financial arrangements. Sheehan previously had been contacting victims as names were presented to him, regardless of other aspects of individual cases.

Diocesan spokeswoman Mary Jo West said Sheehan would have full information on the victims' situations, as well.

O'Connor said Kulina's anger stemmed from a misunderstanding.

Sheehan's calls are not meant to accomplish anything more than an apology, she said.

"His purpose is not to invade their privacy but to reach out to them in healing," she said.

"But sometimes it feels like nothing we try to do is working."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8550.

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