Healing Process Begins Ex-Altar Boy Was Plaintiff in Sex-Abuse Suits against Diocese

By Nena Baker
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
February 10, 2002

Bert Coderre, an unemployed, 37-year-old father of four, doesn't know what hurts more: the molestation he endured as an altar boy in 1975 at Our Mother of Sorrows parish or how a church official covered it up, suggesting toCoderre's parents their son had an active imagination.

Coderre, who recovered long-repressed memories of the molestation during clinical treatment for drug and alcohol abuse in 1997, was one of 16 plaintiffs who settled sex-abuse lawsuits against the Diocese of Tucson late last month. He contacted his lawyer, Lynne Cadigan, after reading a newsreport of another suit she filed on behalf of a former altar boy at the same parish.

Several times when he was an altar boy, Coderre said during an interview in his lawyer's office, a visiting priest he remembers as Father Luke was the only one in the dressing room when Coderre showed up for practice.

That's when the priest molested him, Coderre said.

Coderre told his parents. They complained to the parish priest, the Rev.William Byrne.

"Father Byrne suggested that I was lying or exaggerating or making things up, and asked my parents if it would be OK if it was handled just inside the church," Coderre said.

Coderre's parents agreed.

What they didn't know, but church officials did, according to Coderre's suit, was that Luke had been arrested three months earlier for molesting children and had a history of such abuse at a mission outside Yuma.

Byrne's reasons for protecting Luke might have been personal, according to documents filed by lawyers. Byrne, who died in 1991 of a brain tumor, was suspected of molesting boys himself.

In a separate lawsuit that was part of last month's settlements, victims alleged Byrne molested two boys who were brothers while he was an associate pastor at a Phoenix church. They claim that in the summers of 1968 and 1969, Byrne took the boys to a church camp in Clifton where he gave them cigarettes and alcohol, showed them pornographic movies, let them drive cars without licenses and sexually molested them.

Lawyers for the 16 plaintiffs contend Byrne and another priest he once supervised, Monsignor Robert Trupia, had relationships with some of the same altar boys.

Trupia and the Rev. Michael Teta, who was also named in the sex-abuse suits, served at Our Mother of Sorrows parish under the late Byrne. Trupia and Teta have been suspended from duties. Luke is believed to have died in prisonwhile serving a sentence for child abuse.

Coderre, a soft-spoken man who has worked as a parking garage attendant, department store salesman and Pizza Hut clerk, said he ran away from home shortly after his claims of abuse went unheeded.

He began using drugs and alcohol as a pre-teen and has always had difficulty forming trusting relationships. He was angry that his parents had taken the church's word over his. He said he is a spiritual man but has not attended the Catholic Church since he was molested.

For Coderre, the settlement means he can "hold (his) head up without walking around thinking that everybody is thinking that (he's) a liar."

"It's really helped with the healing process," he added.

He hopes to use some of his settlement money, the amount of which is confidential, to go to community college and get a degree in criminal justice.

The written apology he received from the bishops of the diocese brought him to tears, he said.

"It means the world to me," Coderre said. "They finally admitted it happened and said we're sorry and that we covered it up."

He said he wants to believe the church will respond differently to any new claims of sexual abuse.

"I want to hear a reassurance that the church is really going to change and take care of the kids," Coderre said. "That they're not going to put other people through it."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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