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  Diocese Records Subpoenaed

By Kelly Ettenborough and Joseph A. Reaves
Arizona Republic [Phoenix]
June 28, 2002

A grand jury on Thursday subpoenaed all church records of any criminalsexual misconduct by any clergy or agents of the Roman Catholic Diocese ofPhoenix.

The records request had been anticipated since last week, when BishopThomas J. O'Brien pledged full cooperation with an investigation beingconducted by Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley.

"The bishop has said to go back as far as we have records," MichaelManning, O'Brien's attorney, said Thursday.

Because grand jury proceedings are confidential, the subpoena allows thechurch to fulfill its promise to report all cases of sexual misconduct betweenpriests and minors to authorities without making details public.

Names of victims and offenders could become public only if the grand juryindicts someone.

Romley said this is a first step in an in-depth investigation. "Our generalphilosophy is that I'll be trusting the church," he said Thursday night. "ButI'll be verifying everything they provide us and we'll go from there."

Phoenix is at least the ninth diocese in the country to have a grand juryconvened to look into criminal misconduct, according to A.W. Richard Sipe, anexpert witness in 56 such cases since 1993.

"Across the country, the bishops have proven not to be accountable, andthey have not been able to monitor themselves. This is the natural consequenceof that deficit," said Sipe, of La Jolla, Calif.

The number of grand juries, investigations and public announcements of theremoval of priests from ministry has grown since bishops met earlier thismonth in Dallas.

"If the bishops want transparency and they want oversight, they have to dothis," Sipe said. "You don't convene a grand jury unless you have some realreason to suspect there's something."

In some cases, the bishops may face indictments, Sipe predicted.

Manning said that individuals are the focus of the Phoenix investigation,not the bishop or the diocese, and he does not expect O'Brien to be indicted.

O'Brien announced last Friday that three priests had admitted impropersexual conduct with minors and were banned for life from celebrating Mass inpublic, wearing clerical garb or identifying themselves as priest.

Only the Rev. Harold Graf, 60, was still in active ministry. The two otherpriests, the Revs. Joseph Lessard, and Joseph Briceno, 56, were removed fromactive ministry years ago, but never had been formally banned from acting aspriests.

O'Brien also encouraged victims to come forward. So far, Manning said, heknows of one victim who has come forward to the diocese.

 
 

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