Diocese Names 15 Accused in Sex Abuse Cases

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
June 22, 2002

The names of 15 priests who have had "credible" accusations of child sexual abuse lodged against them were released Friday by the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

All the accusations against the priests have been deemed "substantive and credible" by the diocese, even though not all of the cases went through the criminal justice system.

"The reason for the action is to bring to light all we know about sexual abuse by priests from the past," Coadjutor Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said Friday. "This is all we know."

None of the priests on the list is currently working in a local parish, diocese officials said. Six of the priests' names have been previously publicized in connection with child abuse accusations - four of them in connection with an out-of-court settlement the diocese made in January with 10 men who said they were abused as youngsters. The four named in recent civil actions are Monsignor Robert C. Trupia, the Rev. Michael Teta, the Rev. Lucien Munier de la Pierre and the Rev. William T. Byrne.

A catalyst for the disclosure was last week's U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas, when the bishops approved a charter that calls for dioceses to deal, "as openly as possible with members of the community," and for them to reach out to victims, survivors and their families with a demonstration of sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being.

Friday's announcement also came after the diocese faced harsh criticisms of cover-up and secrecy following the settlement of the civil actions in January. Dioceses around the country have faced similar scrutiny and intense public pressure for more openness as instances of sexual abuse by priests have come to light in recent months. The Dallas meeting was such a media event that more reporters than bishops were in attendance.

"At the Dallas meeting, we committed ourselves to protecting children . . . and to be as transparent as possible with what we're doing," Kicanas said. "It's a new era of openness, and I pray for openness in the larger society as well."

The standard for sexual abuse for priests on the list is a church definition rather than a criminal one. It's a standard that bishops set in a charter they adopted in Dallas. Sexual abuse refers to any instance when a child is "being used as an object of sexual gratification for an adult."

All the priests' names on the local list have been disclosed to authorities in the jurisdictions where the alleged abuse took place.

Kicanas said other dioceses around the country have made similar gestures with lists of known abusers, including the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. In addition to releasing the names, the diocese is offering counseling resources at no expense to anyone who has been abused by any employee or volunteer of the diocese.

The oldest accusation of sexual abuse on the list dates to the late 1950s; the most recent was in 1999. Five of the 15 priests, including Byrne and de la Pierre, are dead. About 1,200 priests have served in the diocese since the late 1950s, officials say, which would mean the 15 priests represent about 1.25 percent of the total.

All the living priests on the list have been suspended. Suspension means the priests are not allowed to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical garb or to present themselves publicly as priests. The retired priests will continue to receive retirement pay of $1,000 a month from the diocese, and officials will not try to defrock them.

The diocese said it will file petitions to begin the process with the Vatican of defrocking - removing from clerical status - other priests on the list, though they would not be more specific. It has already begun that process with Teta and Trupia.

Among the local living priests on the list whose names were not previously made public is retired Monsignor John A. Oliver, who was the subject of a Pima County Sheriff's Department investigation into the molestation of a 14-year-old boy in 1967. The Sheriff's Department report from that case includes a comment suggesting prior cover-ups by the diocese.

Sgt. Peter Frank, a now-deceased Sheriff's Department investigator who worked on the 1967 Oliver case, wrote in his report that an alternate approach to turning Oliver's name over to the Pima County Attorney's Office for prosecution would be to hand the evidence over to then-Bishop Francis J. Green, "and let him handle the matter, as has been done in the past."

Oliver, now 76, was sentenced to six or seven years of probation in connection with the incident, according to a detective associated with the case. Oliver continued to serve as a priest, was promoted to dean of the Yuma parish area and was later given the prestigious title of monsignor. Among Tucson parishes he has served are St. Augustine Cathedral, 192 S. Stone Ave., and, most recently, St. Jude Thaddeus Parish, which serves Pearce and Sunsites.

In the 1967 Oliver case, a 14-year-old Tucson boy said he'd been hitchhiking home from bowling when a man he later identified as Oliver picked him up and offered to drive him home. The boy said that rather than drive him home, however, Oliver drove him to a home in Oro Valley, gave him alcohol and molested him. Oliver could not be reached for comment.

John H. Rock, a retired detective sergeant with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, investigated the 1967 case and says there's no doubt the man who molested the boy was Monsignor Oliver. Rock said the case was not handled like other similar investigations. The diocese never made Oliver available for an interview, he said in sworn testimony contained in court documents for the civil actions. "I think it got covered up in a way," Rock said this week.

Diocese officials say Oliver pleaded guilty in the case, though it is unclear what the plea involved. No records are available at Pima County Superior Court. While in Yuma during the early 1970s, Oliver oversaw a new, young priest named Robert C. Trupia.

The diocese has classified Trupia as a "notorious and serial abuser." The 53-year-old Maryland resident was suspended from ministry in 1992 in the wake of child abuse allegations.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is currently talking with the Vatican about speeding up the defrocking process for serial abusers, and Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno has already said he'd use an expedited defrocking process against Trupia.

The Rev. Ted Oswald, now pastor at a Catholic church in Lakeport, Calif., has recalled telling superiors, including Oliver, in 1976 that several boys in his class at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Yuma said they had been fondled by Trupia.

Oswald, a former police officer, said in sworn testimony connected with the recent civil cases that he took written statements from the older boys in 1976 and turned them in to Oliver, who at the time was dean of the Yuma parish.

In sworn testimony given in October 2000, Oliver said he recalled forwarding a letter of concern about Trupia to then-Bishop Green.

Oswald said when he contacted the diocese in 1977 about the boys' statements, officials denied having them.

Moreno became bishop of Tucson in 1982. Kicanas, a bishop from Chicago, will automatically become bishop when Moreno retires. Moreno is 71 and the retirement age for bishops is 75.

Abuse victims can call for help

Anyone who has experienced abuse by a priest, deacon, employee or volunteer of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson may call 623-0344 from within the Tucson area or 1-800-234-0344 from outside the area. A victim's assistant at Catholic Community Services is prepared to hear concerns and respond to situations, according to a letter sent Friday to parishioners.

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson stretches across nine counties and includes 350,000 Catholics.


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