Vatican defrocks 2 former Tucson priests

By Sheryl Kornman
Tucson Citizen
August 5, 2004

Monsignior Robert Trupia and Rev. Michael Teta have been removed from the priesthood by the Pope, Fred Allison, communications director of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, said this morning. Both were priests in the diocese.

Allison said the action means neither priest can wear clerical garb, perform the functions of a priest or collect further monies from the diocese.

Both men were receiving what the diocese calls "sustenance payments" after being suspended by the diocese after what Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas called credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving children.

Neither has been criminally charged with abuse because of the statute of limitations.

The announcement of the removal of the two priests was made this morning in a letter from Kicanas to the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Tucson. The letter was posted on the diocese Web site under the heading "Restoring Trust."

In his letter, Kicanas explained that the decision was made by the Pope with the assistance of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, which was given the task by the Pope of determining whether the priests should be removed

Kicanas said Trupia and Teta were "released from the priesthood under the penalties of canon law." Canon law is church law, separate from any civil law.

The diocese began attempts to remove Trupia from the priesthood more than 10 years ago, but under Canon, he is entitled to numerous appeals, which he used. But about a year ago, the Vatican decided to speed up its handling of priest-sexual abuse cases by using an administrative process instead of a canonical trial.

In the letter, Kicanas said, "While many would have wished that the process that led to their removal could have moved more quickly, it is important that all persons have a right to due process, including the right to make a defense."

This decision cannot be appealed, Kicanas said a letter sent today to all parishes.

Plaintiffs who sued the diocese for damages said in depositions that Teta and Trupia sexually abused them as children in the 1970s.

Trupia's removal from the priesthood is "long overdue," said Jim Parker, head of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Trupia "pretty much got away with it (his alleged abuse of minors) because of the statute of limitations" Parker said.

"I don't think it's going to make any of the victims' pain any less. I hope people keep a very close eye on him. Just because he's defrocked doesn't mean he won't be a pedophile anymore. I really hope people protect their children if they're anywhere around him. This is not the end to how he behaves."

Parker asked anyone abused by Trupia who has not come forward to speak out.

"Until they come out, it's hard to begin the healing process," he said.

Teta was an associate pastor at Our Mother of Sorrows, where Trupia also provided pastoral services while he was assigned to the diocese Tribunal, which hears annulment requests.

Trupia's attorney, Stephen Shechtel, in Rockville, MD., said in June that Trupia was living in the area but he did not know precisely where. He said he had been forwarding Trupia's mail, including his payments from the diocese, to a location he would not disclose, where Trupia picks it up.

Trupia has collected more than $130,000 from the diocese in sustenance payments since being suspended from the diocese in 1992.

Allison said Teta's whereabouts are unknown.

Both priests were removed from pastorial duties by now-retired Bishop Manuel Moreno, after the suits were filed.

Tucson attorney Lynne Cadigan, who has won an estimated $14 million for her clients in sex abuse claims against the diocese, said, "It's about time" Trupia was removed from the priesthood.

"The shame of it is, they knew he was a serious danger to children in 1976 when he was molesting boys.

"It's a pity it's taken 12 years to remove him," she said.

"It's a shame the parishioners have had to pay money to this man every month. Any other organization would have removed him. The diocese points at Rome and says, 'We're helpless. We have to follow canon law and not protect the children.' These bishops have been hiding behind technicalities of canon law to protect Trupia."

The diocese has paid out millions to settle claims of abuse by Trupia, now 56, Allison said.

Trupia has never been convicted of a sex crime or charged with any criminal acts related to his service as a Tucson priest.

The Pima County Attorney's Office investigated allegations against Trupia, but criminal charges were not filed because the alleged incidents occurred before 1978.

According to Arizona law, people accused of child sexual molestation that occurred before 1978 cannot be tried criminally for those acts.

Trupia was investigated in the mid-1990s for a molestation case involving a 17-year-old, according to Deputy County Attorney Kathleen Mayer, head of the special victims' unit.

The teen did not want to press charges and the case was dropped, she said.

In June, a civil case involving allegations of sexual abuse by Trupia was set to go to trial, but the trial was delayed after lawyers for the diocese said Kicanas was considering bankruptcy protection for the diocese.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.