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  Paying the Price of Sexual Misconduct by Priests
Victims, Tucson diocese bear burden

By Sheryl Kornman
Tucson Citizen (Arizona)
July 9, 2005

George Sanchez says he was 12 when he was sexually molested by the Rev. Julian Sanz during confession in the priest's office.

It changed his life forever.

For many years, Sanchez repressed the memory of what happened inside Sacred Heart Church in Douglas, where he was a devout Catholic.

The Tucson man's lawsuit claiming sexual abuse by the clergyman of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson is among cases that pushed the diocese into U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the fall.

Sanchez, 34, is a client of Tucson attorney Lynne Cadigan.

Her full-court press - with credible accusations of abuse by priests - against the diocese since the late 1990s put Sanchez where he is today, about to be awarded a financial settlement from the diocese for the injury he suffered.

His is among the civil damage cases that were headed for Pima County Superior Court last summer when Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas considered options and chose to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The bishop determined it was a bankruptcy judge, not the diocese, who should bear the burden of deciding how to settle existing damage cases and future claims of sexual abuse by clergy members.

On Monday at 10 a.m., the judge will convene a confirmation hearing that is expected to yield settlement terms.

Sanchez is one of a number of victims with repressed memory whose claims of abuse were found to be credible by the diocese.

Otherwise, under Arizona law, a person who has been injured as a child must file a damage claim by age 21.

Sanchez says he no longer considers himself a Catholic.

He says he was recruited by Sanz to be an altar boy.

The priest pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse in 2003 and is serving a prison sentence.

"I was kind of relieved when he admitted it," Sanchez said this week, "I thought he was going to deny it."

Sanz was a priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Douglas when he invited Sanchez to make his confession not in the confessional, but in Sanchez's office in the church.

Sanchez says the abuse "took a lot from me."

For many years, "I was never able to trust anybody. I was afraid to talk to people, to approach people."

Were it not for the abuse, "I would have been more outgoing, not as timid or shy."

Sanchez recently started a service business with a partner in Tucson. He and his mother attend an independent Christian church.

Sanchez said of the Chapter 11 case, "I'm glad it's coming to an end and glad that they finally accepted the responsibility for their actions."

But he is pessimistic about the future of the church.

"I don't think they ever will be able to control" priests' sexual abuse, he said. "There's too many sick people in the world and in the clergy.

"When I do see a priest in their garb, something I wonder to myself is: Is this person also going to do the same things the other man did to me?"

Ron Lehner, 47, another victim with repressed memory, suffered through years of alcohol and drug abuse, not knowing why he was working so hard to numb his feelings.

His memories of abuse came flooding back a few years ago, when he stopped at a grocery store to buy his wife flowers.

When he saw a story on the front page of the newspaper about the Tucson diocese's pedophilia scandal, "my jaw dropped and it hit me like a ton of bricks," Lehner said.

"I was very, very ill when I figured out what happened" to him, he said.

He is another of Cadigan's clients awaiting his fair share of the cash settlement of the Chapter 11 case.

Lehner was a student at Regina Cleri Seminary in Tucson when he was invited to Yuma by Msgr. Robert Trupia, who molested him there over a period of days, Lehner said.

Trupia was suspended from ministry in 1992 and removed from the priesthood by the Vatican in 2004 at the request of the Tucson diocese.

Lehner has divorced and remarried, and raised three children and a grandchild, but said his entire adult life has been a struggle.

"I'm a Christian but I don't believe in the Catholic Church," he said. "Robert Trupia stole that from me."

Lehner said he doesn't know how much money he will get from the settlement.

What is most important, he said, about the case is that the diocese admitted its priests were sexual abusers of children in their care.

"They got caught and I think it's great that they are finally being held accountable for that," Lehner said. "They're not going to forget and, hopefully, it is not going to happen again.

"We can tackle the big guys. They can't just do whatever they want."

 
 

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