Cases Vs. Priest Accused of Abuse Unresolved
By Michael Clancy
April 7, 2013
More than 2 1/2 years have passed since Mike Pain reported an allegation of abuse against the Rev. Jack Spaulding to the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
The report led to a civil lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court and a canon-law case in Vatican offices, both of which remain unresolved.
Both cases show the church’s reluctance to deal openly with the issues, said Patrick Wall, a former priest who now is an investigator in clergy-abuse cases.
“I don’t think they have the ability to improve the situation,” Wall said of church officials. He said he believes if church leaders were thorough in dealing with sex-related cases, the church would lose so many priests that it would be hard to continue.
The delay in the civil case, which Pain filed last June, is the easier matter to figure out. Pain, who in the lawsuit says Spaulding abused his now-deceased son, David, is awaiting fulfillment of a public-records request filed with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Pain and his attorney requested all records pertaining to former Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien, who was in charge of the diocese at the time of the alleged abuse. Pain said he was told the records filled an entire file room and would take a while to process.
Pain added that he has been told by attorneys for the diocese not to contact the recently hired youth-protection officer, Anne Vargas-Leveriza. He had tried to reach her to inquire about the status of the case against Spaulding in Rome.
Pain said he was told to communicate only through attorneys.
The case against Spaulding in Rome is less transparent. None of the documentation has been available to the public.
Spaulding, who served as pastor at several Phoenix-area parishes in his 40 years as a priest, was suspended in June 2011 after a diocese investigation determined the allegations from Pain and three other reported victims were credible.
Complicating, and perhaps slowing, the case is the turnover at the Vatican. Cardinal William Levada retired in July 2012 from the Vatican post that handles the cases. He was replaced as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by a German bishop, Gerhard Muller.
The new pope, Francis, reappointed Muller and other Vatican officials on a temporary basis last month. Thus far, he has not appointed any replacements.
Nor has Francis said a word about the abuse scandal.
Terence McKiernan, who operates the website bishopaccountability.org, said the nature of the case against Spaulding is uncertain. It could relate to laicization, the removal of a man from the clergy, or it could be an appeal of the diocese action filed by Spaulding himself.
The Vatican has a range of options, McKiernan said. It could return Spaulding to the state of a layman, or it could tell the diocese to require that he live a life of penance. It also could determine that the case against the priest is faulty.
Wall, the abuse investigator, said often the Vatican wraps up cases but does not announce them immediately.
Diocese of Phoenix officials have provided no information on the status of the case, other than to say the matter is still pending.