Judge tosses 4 claims for money from diocese, weighs 1

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star
October 5, 2005

Four claims by people seeking money from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson for incidents in which they allege wrongdoing by priests were thrown out Tuesday.

Federal Bankruptcy Judge James M. Marlar considered five abuse claims that were pending when the diocese emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sept. 20.

All of the claims already had been rejected as not having legal merit - including lack of evidence - by a tort creditors committee that reviewed the cases of people seeking compensation from the local diocese.

Marlar rejected four of the claims and took one under advisement, that of an incarcerated man who says he was abused by a member of the local clergy when he was 7. The man, now 48, could not recall many details of the abuse, including precisely where it occurred.

Of the four claims Marlar tossed, two were from claimants who did not attend the hearing. One of the others, a woman in her 30s who has bipolar disorder, took part in the hearing by telephone. The woman, now living in Illinois, says a local priest made advances toward her when she was 24. Under questioning, she said the only sexual contact was a French kiss. Marlar denied the claim.

"From a legal point of view, a French kiss is not illegal," he said. "I'm not a moral judge. I'm a legal judge."

The other claimant, a 52-year-old Tucson woman, was in court and told Marlar she realized her claim does not rise to a legally sufficient level to be monetarily compensated. The woman, who says she once wanted to be a nun, says a priest made sexual advances toward her in 1985.

Tuesday's hearing likely will be one of the last times the diocese will appear in front of Marlar on bankruptcy matters. The cases tossed Tuesday can be appealed to a higher court. At least 12 other cases are pending by claimants who had been offered settlement money but who weren't satisfied with the amounts. Those cases are expected to be heard by recently retired Pima County Superior Court Judge Lina Rodriguez, the court-appointed special arbitrator in the case.

A trial over another diocesan case likely will be held in Bankruptcy Court early next year. Former Catholic school teacher and accused child molester Phillip Gregory Speers contends he was maliciously and falsely accused of molesting girls in the second-grade class he taught at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Yuma, and he holds the diocese responsible. Speers is in jail in Yuma, awaiting a retrial.

He is seeking an unspecified amount of money for what he says was damage the diocese did to him. Diocese bankruptcy attorney Susan Boswell said Speers will not get any money from the $22.3 million settlement pool set aside for abuse victims. If Speers were to win his case, the money would have to come from insurance under a separate category of employee claims.

? Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at Go to for other recent religion coverage.


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