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  Tucson Diocese Sells Downtown Headquarters
Sale Follows Deal to Settle Lawsuits over Sexual Abuse

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily [Tucson AZ]
September 14, 2003

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which is now facing 14 lawsuits claiming sexual abuse by clergy, no longer owns its Downtown headquarters.

The diocese sold the building that houses the Bishop Manuel D. Moreno Pastoral Center, 111 S. Church Ave, to the private Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Tucson, which operates as a separate entity from the local diocese. The local diocese oversees some 350,000 Catholics in nine Arizona counties.

The sale, dated June 30, is related to last year's out-of-court settlement of 11 lawsuits in a deal over clergy sexual abuse that's estimated to have cost the local diocese $16 million.

Operating with a "negative net worth," according to its top financial officer, the diocese is hopeful that insurance will cover future legal costs, as it did in a recent $1.8 million payout over accusations of sexual abuse by a former Catholic school teacher.

"The diocese has never been in a good financial condition," said Mary M. Huerstel, chief financial officer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. She said that in the event the diocese is faced with a demand for another large settlement, officials plan to "count on insurance to cover it."

The selling price for the building was $1.65 million, which was the fair market value determined by Bruce Greenberg, an independent appraiser, according to Huerstel. Huerstel said the diocese will now be paying rent to the foundation in the amount of approximately $167,000 per year.

The foundation, headed by produce broker and Yuma resident Bruno Dispoto, was formed more than 20 years ago. Its mission is to support religious, educational and charitable works in the diocese, and it helps donors establish endowments and other charitable estate planning. Dispoto did not return a phone call Friday afternoon.

Huerstel said the diocese sold its building to the foundation because a settlement over sexual abuse last year left it unable to secure a $1.5 million debt. The debt was owed to the foundation for a loan connected to the diocese's failed investment in a television station, which caused diocesan debt to reach $23 million in 1988. The long-term debt is now about $5 million.

"When we settled the lawsuits we could no longer secure our obligations," Huerstel said. "The only remaining substantial unencumbered asset was the pastoral center."

Since last year's settlement, 10 civil lawsuits have been filed against the diocese, and one - involving allegations of sexual abuse by former Catholic school teacher Phillip Gregory Speers - was settled for $1.8 million this summer. That leaves nine legal actions pending against the diocese, all involving alleged sexual abuse by clergy.

In addition, the Arizona Daily Star has learned, lawyers are preparing to file five more sexual abuse lawsuits naming the local diocese and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The Los Angeles cases relate to allegations of abuse by the Rev. Juan Guillen, the former associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Yuma who is serving a prison sentence for child molestation.

The cases also stem from accusations of sexual abuse of minors by the Rev. Kevin Barmasse, who worked in the local diocese during the 1980s at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Mammoth. Barmasse was hired by local diocese officials in 1983 although they knew there was already an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor against him, from Los Angeles.

Barmasse also worked at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Sierra Vista and at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, 8650 N. Shannon Road.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson has said that Barmasse should not have been allowed to minister in Tucson or anywhere else, and that such an arrangement would not be allowed today.

John Manly, an attorney based in Costa Mesa, Calif., said of the local diocese: "I don't care if they don't have a dime. I intend to make them answer for what they did, and at the end of the day they are going to have to look a Los Angeles jury in the face and explain their conduct."

Manly is planning to file the five legal actions involving Guillen and Barmasse against the local diocese along with co-counsel Lynne M. Cadigan, who is based in Tucson.

"I can tell you that the monetary sums we'll seek will not only be designed to compensate the victims but to deter such conduct in the future," Manly said.

"The Diocese of Tucson is co-equal with Los Angeles in these cases, and they are very significant cases. If the Diocese of Tucson had done their job," Manly said, "Barmasse would be in jail and these victims wouldn't have led a train wreck of a life for the last 20 years."

Manly in 2001 obtained a well-publicized $5.2 million settlement from the Catholic Dioceses of Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on behalf of one victim who was abused by a priest.

Manly is dubious about the Tucson diocese's claims of a negative net worth, noting that the budget figures the diocese shows do not include its parishes.

"I've heard that song before. Boston claimed it and I'm sure Tucson will claim it. That's the song you always hear, but we shall see," Manly said. "The game they play is not telling you about what's in the parishes If they think they are bankrupt they'd better get a good lawyer and think about filing indemnity against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles."

2003 Arizona Daily Star

 
 

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