International Church Abuse Scandal in Yuma

By Chris McDaniel
Yuma Sun
April 4, 2010

ARIZONA -- The current scandal rocking Rome has finally made its way to Yuma. The abuse case of Robert Trupia, a former monsignor and associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Yuma from June 1973 until March 1976 was reviewed by Pope Benedict XVI and possibly ignored, documents reveal.

After leaving Yuma, Trupia worked in the Tucson Diocese Tribunal Office until 1989. He was later placed on non-active status in 1990.

These documents, which were studied by the Associated Press, may contradict the Catholic church's insistence that the pope played no role in shielding pedophiles before becoming the head of the Catholic Church.

Trupia was suspended in 1992 after being named in three separate lawsuits alleging that he molested teenage boys during the 1970s.

The documents show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over Trupia's abuse case, and ignored the matter.

Tucson Bishop Manuel Moreno wrote to then-Cardinal Ratzinger about Trupia's case.

Moreno called Trupia, "a major risk factor to the children, adolescents and adults that ... many have contact with."

There is no indication in the case files that Ratzinger responded.

The future pope also took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from Moreno for the man to be removed from the priesthood.

The details of these cases come as other allegations emerge that Benedict — as a Vatican cardinal — was part of a culture of cover-up and confidentiality.

"There's no doubt that Ratzinger delayed the defrocking process of dangerous priests who were deemed 'satanic' by their own bishop," Lynne Cadigan, an attorney who represented two of Teta's victims, said.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, called the accusations "absolutely groundless" and said the facts were being misrepresented.

The case of Trupia shows the fragmented nature of how Rome handled such allegations before 2001, when Ratzinger dictated that all abuse cases must go through his Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Before then, files were sent to varied Vatican departments, as they were in the case of Trupia. Moreno suspended Trupia in 1992, but again faced delays from the Vatican in having him formally removed from the church.

Documents show at least two Vatican offices — the Congregation for the Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority of the Catholic Church — were involved in the case at least as early as 1995.

Moreno pleaded with the Congregation for the Clergy to do something, writing, "We have proofs of civil crimes against people who were under his priestly care" and warning Trupia could "be the source of greater scandal in the future."

Ultimately, the case landed in Ratzinger's office, and finally, in August 2004, Trupia was defrocked, or what the church calls laicized. Being defrocked meant that Trupia could no longer perform church ceremonies, wear clerical garb or identify himself by any church title.

As reported in an article that ran in The Sun in August of 2004, David Donald Frei of Yuma filed a suit in Yuma County Superior Court in December of 1997 alleging Trupia molested him on several occasions while he was a student at St. Francis School from 1973 to 1974.

In a similar suit filed in Pima County, Todd Michael Diaz alleged that Trupia molested him and held him against his will in the church rectory in the summer of 1975.

The parents of a former altar boy at Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Tucson also filed a suit against Trupia after their son confided that the former priest had sexually assaulted him between 1976 and 1979.

"The holy father's decision (to defrock Trupia) is a fulfillment of the commitment that there is no room in the priesthood for those who would harm children," Monsignor Richard O'Keeffe, the spiritual leader of the Immaculate Conception Church, told the Yuma Sun in 2004.

Cadigan said Moreno and his successor Bishop Gerald Kicanas were faced with a tough decision.

"The tragedy is that the bishops have only two choices: Follow the Vatican's code of secrecy and delay, or leave the church. It's unfortunate that their faith demands that they sacrifice children to follow the Vatican's directions."

Trupia's former attorney, Stephen A. Shechtel of Rockville, Md., said he never dealt with the church on his client's behalf and that Trupia was aware he would be defrocked and didn't fight it.

Kicanas defended the Vatican's handling of the Arizona cases, citing the prolonged process of internal church trials that he acknowledged could be "frustratingly slow because of the seriousness of the concerns."

Kicanas said suggestions that Ratzinger resisted addressing the issues of sexual abuse in the church were, "grossly unfair. Cardinal Ratzinger, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was always receptive, ready to listen, to hear people's concerns. Pope Benedict is the same man."



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