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  New Lawsuit Claims '70s Abuse by Priests

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star
September 14, 2004

Another lawsuit alleging sexual molestation of a child by local clergy members was filed Monday against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which already is weighing bankruptcy in the face of costly litigation.

The latest civil action brings to 22 the number of lawsuits pending against the Tucson diocese over reports of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Diocese officials did not return phone calls about the new case Monday.

The new suit, filed by a 35-year-old Tucson man, names as abusers the Rev. Luke Meunier de la Pierre and Michael Teta - both of whom are on the diocese's public list of clerics with "credible" accusations of child sexual abuse against them.

Meunier de la Pierre is presumed dead and Teta was last known to be living in Tucson, but could not be reached for comment Monday. The Vatican last month approved Teta's permanent removal from the priesthood.

The man who filed the lawsuit is identified only as "John Roe" and says he only recently remembered being abused by the priests during the 1970s, when he was a parishioner at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road.

Under Arizona's statute of limitations on civil lawsuits, an abuse case from the 1970s would be too old to stand up in court. But an Arizona Supreme Court ruling has made an exception for time periods when the plaintiff was of "unsound mind," which some attorneys have interpreted to include periods of repressed memory.

All 10 men who reached a $14 million settlement with the diocese in 2002 said they repressed memories of their abuse, which they said occurred in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The 10 men in that settlement had named four members of the local clergy, including Teta and Meunier de la Pierre, as their abusers.

The man who filed the latest lawsuit says he was abused by both Meunier de la Pierre and Teta in the mid-'70s - when the diocese had enough information to detect a pattern of abuse and prevent the molestations.

The local diocese is considering filing for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the face of potentially expensive lawsuits over sexual abuse.

In his weekly Monday Memo, Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas wrote to parishioners that the diocese remains committed to responding "fairly and equitably" to anyone - presently or in the future - seeking compensation for harm he experienced, while also continuing the "sacred mission" of the Catholic Church.

"I truly believe that achieving any one of these wants doesn't have to be - and should not be - at the expense of the others," he wrote. "I will be thinking about and praying about all these wants while I am out of the diocese this week" performing administrative and pastoral duties.

 
 

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