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  Woman Charges '75 Abuse by Priest

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
September 6, 2002

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson has been sued for a second time this week over allegations of sexual abuse by a priest.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Pima County Superior Court marks the fifth lawsuit the diocese has faced since it reached a multimillion-dollar settlement in January with 10 men who said they were abused by priests as boys.

The most recent suit was filed by a Tucson woman in her 30s who says she was abused by the Rev. L. Luke Meunier de la Pierre in 1975, when she was 7 and a parishioner at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road.

De la Pierre, who diocese officials believe to be dead, was convicted of child molestation in the 1970s and was one of the four priests named in 11 civil lawsuits the diocese settled this year with 10 men who said they were sexually abused. The settlement prompted new diocesan policies on dealing with sexual abuse that it put to use last month by reporting abuse allegations against a Yuma priest who is now in jail.

Diocese spokesman Fred Allison classifies de la Pierre as an "itinerant, pedophile priest who used the priesthood in Canada and the United States as a way to molest children."

The woman, who filed under the name of "Jane Roe," says she repressed her memory of the abuse until January or February when she heard about past abuse by local clergy.

An Arizona Supreme Court ruling has made an exception to the statute of limitations for any time periods when the plaintiff was of "unsound mind," which some attorneys have interpreted to include periods of repressed memory. All 10 men in the recent settlement claimed repressed memory.

Tucson attorneys Lynne M. Cadigan and Kim E. Williamson are representing the woman. They also represented the 10 men in this year's high-profile settlement, and expect to file another lawsuit against the diocese either today or Monday, they said.

De la Pierre was never a diocesan priest, though he was allowed to work at Our Mother of Sorrows Church under the Rev. William T. Byrne, who was also one of the four priests named in the civil actions.

The lawsuit says that the diocese allowed de la Pierre to work as a priest without checking into his background or calling the Diocese of St. Hyacinthe in Quebec, where he became a priest.

"He was connected with Bill Byrne in at least two parishes," Allison said of de la Pierre.

De la Pierre worked under Byrne in Yuma, then followed Byrne to St. Joseph's Church in Wellton, and then followed Byrne again to Tucson, where he worked with the altar-boy program in 1975, the lawsuit says. Byrne died in 1991 of a brain tumor.

De la Pierre was arrested in June 1975 on charges of molesting three children, and the diocese revoked his privileges. But the lawsuit says the priest was able to gain access to children at Our Mother of Sorrows after he got out of jail. Albert Coderre Jr., a Tucsonan who settled with the diocese earlier this year, says de la Pierre began molesting him in the fall of 1975.

The lawsuit says that because no one warned parishioners at Our Mother of Sorrows about de la Pierre, he was able to get close to Jane Roe's family by providing Mass to them in their home, and by baby-sitting and caring for the children.

In 1975, Jane Roe's mother called Byrne and Tucson police after finding what had happened with her daughter, and de la Pierre was arrested for a second time, sentenced and sent to a state psychiatric hospital, the lawsuit says. The civil action also says Byrne did not report the molestations to the police.

Jane Roe was unable to understand the nature and cause of her injuries until this year, her lawsuit contends.

Allison said Cadigan and Williamson asked for $2 million in their first letter concerning the Jane Roe lawsuit, and they asked for $4 million in the letter concerning another suit they filed earlier this week, though the lawyers say those numbers are only starting figures based on other similar settlements.

"This is frightening. How does the church respond when the accused is dead and the events happened so long ago?" Allison said, reacting to the recent legal actions and another similar suit that's expected to be filed.

"We know about the failings of the past. The records have shown it, and the victims know the tragedy of what happened in the past. But we also know that Catholics today do not favor large cash settlements. This is the church today. Not the church of the past."

Cadigan said her research shows the diocese is worth at least $100 million, though Allison said the resources of the diocese primarily relate to parishes.

"Parishes belong to parishioners. The land belongs to parishioners. That is the wealth of the church," Allison said.

"You don't put a price tag on places where people were baptized and married."

 
 

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