Family Reveals Pain of Sex Abuse; Faith Has Been Kept at a Huge Cost

By Joseph A. Reaves
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
December 4, 2002

The Kulina family represents everything good about the Catholic Church.

And everything hurtful about the way sex abuse has been handled in the Phoenix Diocese.

Benedict and Peggy Kulina were born into the church and raised their children to love it.

In his youth, Benedict Kulina was an altar server who wanted so badly to be a priest that he pretended saying Sunday Mass for friends.

Peggy thought Catholic priests were God's greatest creatures on Earth.

When they married, the Kulinas had four children and raised them to love the church. They were proud parishioners at St. Joseph's parish in Phoenix.

Then the Rev. John Maurice Giandelone entered their lives.

Giandelone was named youth minister at St. Joseph's in 1979. Almost immediately he began showering attention on 15-year-old Benjamin Kulina.

Peggy and Benedict thought it was a blessing. For a priest to grow so close to one of their sons was an honor and a privilege.

Then, one day in late 1979, Jay Abraham, another youth counselor at St. Joseph's, went to Peggy with some ugly news. Benjamin had confided to him that Giandelone had sexually abused her son.

"It felt like someone punched me in the stomach," Peggy said Tuesday. "My first thought was, 'How could this happen in the church that we trusted?' "

Benjamin, now 39 and a Mesa police lieutenant, struggled to tell his parents about Father John in 1979.

He struggled again months later when the family reluctantly confronted church officials.

And he is struggling still, more than two decades later, because, he says, the church he and his parents love so much has refused to deal openly with their nightmare.

Kulina and his parents went to Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley earlier this year and told a grand jury that church leaders told them in 1979 to keep quiet about the abuse allegations. They said those same leaders, including future Bishop Thomas O'Brien, quietly arranged for Giandelone to be transferred to another parish where court records show other molestations occurred.

The Kulinas were devastated by what they considered to be a cover-up, but said they kept silent for years because they were afraid to cause Benjamin any more hurt and harm.

Now the silence is over. They aren't speaking directly, but they released an eight-page statement through their attorney, Dick Treon.

"I could see the pain on Benjamin's face when he acknowledged the abuse," Peggy said in the statement. "He had that same helpless expression on his face that I was feeling in my heart."

Through the suffering, the Kulinas somehow have kept their faith. But at a huge cost.

Benjamin went into the Navy, married in 1984 and later divorced. He became a model police officer in Mesa, serving as a field training officer, bike detail sergeant and undercover detective.

He wants to investigate sex crimes. He knows how perpetrators prey.

"Never once during the time that this was being reported to the church nor thereafter did the church ever say they were saddened or that they were sorry," Treon said.

That, Peggy said, is what leaves her staggered.

"We had been taught all of our lives to respect and trust the church," she said. "That if everyone else fails you, the Catholic Church would not fail you and would help you."


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