Judge Could Ax Sex Abuse Suit against Diocese

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
October 21, 2003

Central query: 'Were memories actually buried?'

A Pima County judge is mulling over a request to dismiss one of the 13 sexual abuse lawsuits pending against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

At issue is a civil action filed in March 2002 in which a Florida man contends that he was sexually abused by a priest while serving as an altar boy at Our Mother of Sorrows Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road, in 1978.

In his initial lawsuit, the man, Christopher Robin Phillip, who used to go by the name Edwin Daniel Leehan Jr., said he'd been abused by the Rev. William Byrne in a hotel room at age 13. Byrne died in 1991 and was one of four priests named in a multimillion-dollar civil settlement the local diocese reached with 10 men in January 2002 - two months before Phillip filed his civil action.

To file a civil action on an old sexual abuse case in Arizona, a plaintiff must prove he had repressed memory of the abuse, and all 10 men who settled with the diocese said they'd repressed the memories of the abuse.

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.

Phillip, 38, told an Arizona Daily Star reporter in 2001 that he'd always been cognizant of the abuse, which was an issue that diocesan lawyer Jim Campbell raised Monday in court with Superior Court Judge Charles S. Sabalos.

"There's uncontroverted evidence he knew about this abuse all along," Campbell said.

Campbell said he wants the lawsuit dismissed. Sabalos took the matter under advisement, meaning he could issue a decision on the dismissal later this year.

Phillip's attorney, Michael Medina, said Phillip, who may have schizophrenia and claims to have ongoing conversations with Jesus Christ, now says he was abused by three other priests - Monsignor Robert C. Trupia, the Rev. Michael Teta and the Rev. Lucien "Luke" Meunier de la Pierre - and he'd repressed memories of the abuse. Trupia, Teta and Meunier de la Pierre were the other three priests named in last year's settlement.

Campbell said the claim that Trupia, Teta and Meunier de la Pierre molested Phillip is a direct contradiction to testimony Phillip gave earlier in the case, saying Byrne was the only priest who molested him.

"He's still learning about it," Medina responded. "He read articles about other individuals, and it brought back memories."


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