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  Diocese Breaks Silence on Abuse

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
October 6, 2001

Tucson's Catholic diocese is for the first time acknowledging that it suspended two priests from their jobs in the early 1990s in the wake of allegations of child abuse and sexual misconduct.

A detailed missive about alleged sexual abuse by local clergy is scheduled for release to some 300,000 Catholic Diocese of Tucson parishioners today, 25 days before the diocese is scheduled to go on trial in the first of nine civil actions alleging priests' sexual misconduct involving young boys.

In a written statement titled "Restoring Trust," appearing in today's local Catholic Vision newspaper, Bishop Manuel D. Moreno for the first time acknowledges that the Diocese of Tucson removed two priests from their parish duties in the early 1990s after investigating allegations of misconduct against both men.

Both of those priests - the Rev. Michael Teta and Monsignor Robert C. Trupia - are among clergy named in nine separate civil actions alleging sexual abuse by priests in the diocese during the 1960s and 1970s. The first case involves a former parishioner and student at St. Francis Catholic Church in Yuma who alleges sexual misconduct by Trupia during the 1970s. It is scheduled for trial in Yuma on Oct. 31.

The plaintiff in that case, 39-year-old David Donald Frei, says repressed memory kept him from reporting the allegations until recently. Eight other plaintiffs also say repressed memory blocked them from revealing their allegations.

The nine civil suits represent 10 plaintiffs who say they are victims. The lawsuits allege abuse by diocesan clergy between 1966 and the early 1980s.

A lag time is now permitted in civil suits because of a 1998 Arizona Supreme Court ruling that says the normal two-year statute of limitations for filing civil suits does not include any period when the victim is of "unsound mind." The ruling essentially removes time limits for suits by people who claim repressed memory or experiences that left them so disturbed they could not determine what had happened to them.

The pending local cases give accounts of clergy befriending and earning the trust of young boys, plying them with drugs and alcohol, and then molesting them. The lawsuits allege that priests repeated the behavior while officials with the diocese either turned a blind eye or covered up the incidents.

Churches named in the civil suits include Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church and school, 1800 S. Kolb Road, St. Francis Church and school in Yuma, and Holy Cross Catholic Church in Morenci.

At least two other cases involving accusations of sexual abuse by clergy in the local diocese have already been settled for undisclosed amounts.

Moreno's statement released today does not make any admission of fault on the part of the diocese, though for the first time he does say officials were aware of a problem with both Teta and Trupia.

"The diocese relieved Father Teta and Monsignor Trupia of ministerial duties in 1990 and 1991, respectively, in accord with its policies governing allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct," Moreno writes. "Also, through canon law (the law of the church), the diocese suspended the priestly faculties of Father Teta and Monsignor Trupia."

Authorities in Tucson so far have taken no criminal action against either Trupia or Teta, while each continues to receive a monthly salary and health insurance from the diocese - $1,475 per month for Trupia, who lives in Maryland, and $900 for Teta, who until recently had an address in Tucson.

Trupia was jailed earlier this year in connection with charges that he molested boys in Yuma during the 1970s, but he was released the next day when his lawyer proved the criminal charges violated the criminal statute of limitations.

The diocese says there is no way of estimating how much money is at stake, and the cases could take years to resolve. Just one of the civil actions names a dollar amount - $4 million.

In other dioceses across the country where allegations of abuse by priests have gone to court, judgments and settlements have been expensive.

Some examples:

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1993 sent a letter to its parishes saying the cost of settling more than 40 sex abuse cases was more than $50 million.

In July 1998 a jury in Dallas ordered the Catholic Diocese of Dallas to pay an unprecedented $119.6 million in damages to 11 men who reported years of childhood sexual abuse by former local priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos. The diocese later settled the case for $23.4 million.

In California, the Orange Diocese and the Los Angeles Archdiocese announced in August a $5.2 million payout to an alleged victim of sexual abuse by a priest.

Diocese of Tucson officials say Moreno's letter is the first time the bishop has given a comprehensive statement about the rash of civil actions.

"What's new is that the bishop gives more specific detail about efforts of the diocese to deal internally to address accusations," diocesan spokesman Fred Allison said.

"If you read it, there is no ignorance or claims of innocence by the diocese," Allison added, responding to a statement issued by nine alleged victims.

The statement, issued by the law office of Lynne Cadigan - the lawyer representing plaintiffs in eight of the cases - says: "We are truly sorry that the diocese of Tucson has chosen to make its claims of ignorance and innocence in the media before trial, forcing us to respond in some fashion. We were and are prepared to prove our allegations at trial."

The plaintiffs reiterated claims in their lawsuits that the hierarchy of the diocese failed to protect them, even when they knew that molestations were occurring.

"(We) have been the victims of a longstanding policy of the Diocese of Tucson to fail to protect us from sexual abuse of known pedophiles who have been active priests."

Most priests in the diocese will be seeing Moreno's statement for the first time today, church officials say.

The Rev. Edward Carscallen, retired priest and pastor emeritus of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 1946 E. Lee St., said the lawsuits and media attention have already had a deep effect on clergy.

"As far as morale, when we hear of a brother priest who is guilty in this area I just feel rotten about it," said Carscallen, stressing that he was speaking only for himself.

"It makes us even more desirous of following the ideals of what it means to be a priest," he said. "The thing itself is abhorrent, but because it exists there's a strength in just following our ideals."

Allison said the effect on the diocese as a whole has been tremendous.

"The fact that many of us know the two living priests and knew Father Bill Byrne has been just a devastating experience. Devastating is just the right word."

Byrne, who is named in several suits, was pastor at Our Mother of Sorrows from 1975 to 1981. He died at age 68 of a brain tumor in 1991while serving at St. Ambrose Church. Trupia, 51, was ordained for the Tucson diocese in 1973. He taught and lived at Our Mother of Sorrows from 1976 to 1981.

The diocese published guidelines to its policies on child abuse in 1993.

"Child abuse is a reality in our society and within the structures of our church. But all the good we do is a reality too," he writes. "I ask as I have before: Please pray for all who are involved, and pray that the truth will set us free."

Moreno

Portions of a written statement by Bishop Manuel D. Moreno that addresses nine pending civil suits alleging sexual abuse by Tucson clergy in the 1960s and 1970s:

"I am profoundly sorry for any child abuse that may have been committed by any worker for the diocese and for any action of any worker who may have failed to protect children from child abuse. ...

I cannot presume to know or to understand the feelings of those who have made the allegations. All I can do is embrace them in the love of Christ and trust that he will give them peace and healing.

The number of alleged acts and the awful behaviors that are alleged are overwhelming. I was shocked and dismayed to learn of the allegations, and there is just no way that I can prepare you for what is alleged in the suits and for what may be alleged during any trials."

The plaintiffs

Portions of a statement submitted by nine men who are plaintiffs in civil actions against the diocese and members of its clergy:

"We have alleged, and will prove at trial, the active participation of the hierarchy of the diocese including the immediate past and present bishops in concealing and destroying evidence of the pedophilic acts of many active priests in this diocese.

At trial, our witnesses will include active priests in the Diocese of Tucson and priests from other dioceses who will attest to the knowledge of the hierarchy of this diocese of the sexual molestations of young altar boys by the diocese's priests.

Active priests will testify for us about the destruction of records and deliberate failure of this diocese to take any steps to curtail the actions of known pedophile priests."

 
 

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