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  Diocese Abuse Victims Speak As Bankruptcy Case Nears End

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star [Tucson AZ]
July 10, 2005

If you go

  • Confirmation hearings for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson's Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Monday on the second floor of the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse, 405 W. Congress St.


    As lawyers negotiated a morass of numbers and deals in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson's bankruptcy reorganization during the last nine months, those at the center of the case were mostly silent.

    Now that the case is coming to a close, many of the people who say they were abused as children by local clergy members feel a sense of vindication and freedom.

    Fifty-four who say they were affected by the sexual-abuse crisis are scheduled to receive initial payments of $15,000 to $600,000 for incidents that took place as far back as the 1950s and as recently as 2002. The money for settlements is expected to come from insurance, parish contributions and real estate sales.

    A majority of creditors approved the diocese's bankruptcy plan Friday. Confirmation hearings begin Monday. Pending approval from federal bankruptcy Judge James M. Marlar, Tucson will become the first Catholic diocese in the country to complete a Chapter 11 reorganization, possibly this month.

    "I have finally been heard as a survivor of clergy sexual abuse," said 36-year-old Troy Gray, who says he was molested by the Rev. Kevin Barmasse, who led youth groups at local Catholic churches in the 1980s.

    "They took the church on and won. They were brave enough to do that," said attorney Lynne M. Cadigan, who believes there are dozens more victims than those receiving settlements.

    Cadigan, who represents 31 claimants, said some victims did not fit into the statute of limitations while others didn't want to file claims.

    Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas was out of town and unavailable for comment Friday, but he repeatedly has said the diocese filed for bankruptcy to heal pain, to fairly and equitably compensate victims and to continue the church's mission.

    Among priests named in multiple claims that will be settled was the Rev. Robert Gluch, who worked at St. Gregory's Catholic Church in Phoenix in the 1960s, when Phoenix was part of the Tucson diocese. Gluch, who worked at other diocese churches and died in 1993, is on a diocesan list of 30 priests who have served in the local diocese since 1950 and have faced what the diocese deems as "credible" accusations of sexually abusing children.

    Also on the list is the Rev. Juan Guillen, a former associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Yuma, who is now in prison. In a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted child sexual molestation. He is the reason three young brothers from Yuma each will receive $600,000 under the plan.

    Another priest on the list is Barmasse. In a letter to parishioners, Kicanas said Tucson accepted Barmasse from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for ministry with an understanding he would get treatment related to an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor. Kicanas said Barmasse should not have been allowed to minister here or anywhere else and such an arrangement would not be allowed now.

    Now 50, Barmasse lives in California and could not be reached for comment. His petition to return to ministry in Los Angeles in 1999 was denied.

    "Barmasse abused children in his first assignment in Los Angeles and he was shipped to an area that at the time was underdeveloped, which was Tucson," said John Manly, a California attorney working with Cadigan on the Barmasse cases. "What is really tragic is that he targeted boys during prayer because they were devout and innocent."

    This is how Gray and two other sexual-abuse claimants tell their stories:

    TROY GRAY

    When Troy Gray played football for Marana High School, he could count on the Rev. Kevin Barmasse to be in the stands.

    When Gray played guitar in concerts, Father Kevin was a constant fan.

    And when Gray began thinking about the future, he considered the priesthood because of Father Kevin, the leader of his youth group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church, on the Northwest Side.

    When Father Kevin, then in his 20s, made sexual advances toward Gray in private celebrations of Mass, Gray fell silent. He says he sometimes was aroused by the encounters, which left him horrified, full of shame and confused about his sexuality.

    Gray feared life without Father Kevin, his confidant.

    "I liked being around him and it's hard for people to understand that," Gray said.

    He also enjoyed the intimate friendship cards Father Kevin gave him, the gifts and summer trips to California.

    "Church was my life. Father Kevin knew how Catholic I was. He would always share Bible verses with me, especially a particular one that always got me alone with him," said Gray, who now lives in Colorado and is an assistant manager at a ski resort and a part-time musician.

    "He would tell me the Bible states that God says 'whenever two or more come together in my name, then I am there with them' so we could have our own little Masses anywhere."

    Gray said the private Masses included confession and the laying of hands to heal - which is how Barmasse began the molestations.

    Gray never forgot the abuse, and it haunted him through several years of heavy drinking and six years of marriage. He was divorced in 2000.

    Gray is scheduled to receive an initial payout of $300,000 minus legal fees. He said suing the church and receiving a settlement has been important. While he once felt victimized and alone, he now feels empowered.

    "Catholics blame us, the victims, for causing the church to file bankruptcy," he said. "We didn't start this. The church could have prevented this a long time ago. If victims of clergy abuse didn't come forward, who knows how many thousands more children would have been subjected to this horror?"

    THOMAS A. GROOM

    Thomas A. Groom has been married for 16 years, has a daughter and a job as an accountant, and lives in the small town of Clarkdale, in north-central Arizona, near Jerome.

    What's not easily detectable is that Groom, 54, can fly into a rage when confronted with authority. He has bouts of sadness, is conflicted about his faith, and his wife wonders if stress from repressing memories of clergy sexual abuse is what caused him to have heart trouble that resulted in triple bypass surgery when he was 50.

    Groom said he was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Gregory's church in Phoenix when he was abused by the Rev. Robert Gluch.

    The eldest of four boys in a devout Catholic family, Groom did not know Gluch also was abusing his younger brother, now 51. Gluch died of cancer in 1993 at age 56. He worked at St. Gregory from 1964 to 1968.

    "We lived only one house away from the church," Groom said recently. "Father Gluch used to show up at the house all the time."

    Groom's abuse began in 1965 and continued for two or three years. Molestations occurred in the sacristy at St. Gregory after Mass and in Gluch's bedroom. Groom never told anyone about what happened and buried his memories until 2001, when he heard a radio broadcast on the Boston sexual abuse scandal.

    "I remember I had to pull over to the side of the road. I broke down," Groom said.

    As one of five members of the bankruptcy's court-appointed tort creditors committee that reviewed 103 claims of sexual abuse filed against the diocese, Groom felt his wounds reopen as he reviewed claim after claim describing the same kind of abuse he suffered as a child.

    "We'll get semi-closure when this is all over. The rest of the closure has to be within my heart and my mind," said Groom, who is slated to receive an initial settlement of $425,000 minus legal fees. "Bankruptcy has been an interesting process. It's a business transaction, so in that respect the individual cases become secondary, except when you read them - then it comes right back again."

    JIM O'BRIEN

    Gentle and soft-spoken, Jim O'Brien never wanted to talk about what happened when he was a shy Marana High School student who became friends with a priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

    Like Troy Gray, O'Brien was a member of the church youth group and was befriended by Barmasse, who liked to be called "Rev Kev."

    "He thought that name was cool and we thought he was hip and cool, too," O'Brien said.

    Now 36, O'Brien, the eldest of three, says that while he was growing up his family was "hard-core Catholic."

    "My parents were divorcing at the time," O'Brien said, recalling high school. "Father Kevin and I started hanging out. He was fun. He gave me friendship cards, mementos."

    Barmasse took O'Brien and Gray to Phoenix to see Pope John Paul II in 1986. When O'Brien was having trouble studying for confirmation, Barmasse took him to a hotel for a "retreat." The year he met Barmasse, O'Brien dressed as a priest for Halloween.

    "I was a geek. I was nothing throughout high school. So it was nice having an older person think I was cool," O'Brien said.

    Like Gray, O'Brien recalls private prayer sessions with Barmasse that eventually escalated to molestations.

    After graduating in 1987, O'Brien began drinking a lot. He was charged with driving under the influence and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He works at the same restaurant he did as a teen, though now he's a manager. He's been in several relationships but none lasted longer than two years. He and his latest girlfriend just split up.

    "I don't know if it's me or something I do, so maybe it's the trust factor, but I don't really know," he said in a recent interview at the Tucson apartment he shares with two cats.

    He hasn't been to church since he was 18.

    "I do believe in Jesus and God and all that but I don't think I could go back to Catholic Church," said O'Brien, who will receive an initial disbursement of $300,000 minus legal fees.

    Now that the Diocese of Tucson's bankruptcy case is wrapping up, O'Brien said he anticipates a new phase of his life.

    "Talking about it is step one. If I keep talking about it, hopefully more people will talk about it, and it won't happen to anyone else," he said. "It's sad to hear about other people who went through what I did, and worse. If there's a way to be a voice, you know, I'm living and I know it's going to get better."

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