Priest Is Still on Tucson Diocese Payroll Despite Molestation Accusations

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star [Ellicott City MD]
Downloaded February 11, 2003

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. - A priest who cost the Tucson diocese millions of dollars in settlements to men who say they were sexually abused is living in this community and driving a late-model Mercedes-Benz while he fights efforts to defrock him.
The new lifestyle of Monsignor Robert C. Trupia, accused of molesting as many as 30 boys as a priest, pastor and marriage counselor for the diocese, angers alleged victims who question why no criminal judgment has ever been returned against him.

"It's devastating me to know how he's living,'' said 41-year-old Todd Diaz, one of the 10 men who reached an out-of-court settlement with the diocese last year over 11 lawsuits alleging abuse by four local clergy, including Trupia, over three decades. The settlement was an amount that people close to the case placed as high as $16 million.

"He should be locked up for life," Diaz said last week, publicly speaking about the case for the first time.

Trupia told the Arizona Daily Star, in a brief interview late last month at the front door of the condominium where he lives, that he doesn't understand why a journalist would seek him out.

The condo unit, located in a Baltimore corridor county where the median household income is $75,000, is owned by a high-ranking monsignor in the Diocese of Monterey, Calif. Two neighbors who see Trupia, 54, in passing said they did not know he is a priest. One of them assumed young men who occasionally visit him were his sons.

Parked in the lot outside, Trupia's car, a navy blue 1999 C320 Mercedes with leather seats, had a cross and rosary hanging from the rearview mirror.

"I hope they didn't send you all the way here just for me," Trupia said, moving farther behind the door as a ring of sweat formed around his neck. Wearing a flannel shirt tucked into dress pants, he twirled his glasses in his right hand and asked repeatedly who had revealed his whereabouts.

"What I don't understand is why. Is there something new going on with the case?" he asked. "I'm not supposed to talk. I really can't say anything.''

Officially, Trupia remains a priest with the Diocese of Tucson. He receives $1,475 a month from the diocese - $177,000 since 1992 - as he continues an 11-year battle to remain a priest. The diocese had been mailing Trupia's checks to his lawyer, who lives in Rockville, Md.

Local Catholic officials last year published Trupia's name on a list of priests with credible accusations of child abuse against them, but they did not know where he was living until last week, when a Star reporter told them. After the reporter told the diocese two neighbors had seen Trupia with young men, a diocese spokesman contacted authorities in Ellicott City.

Over the last 11 years, Trupia has resisted efforts to defrock him using the expertise in church canon law he gained through a church scholarship to the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He files appeals that continue to hold up the issue, Catholic officials say.

An English-speaking spokeswoman for the Vatican press office on Saturday described the laicization process as a long one, but refused to discuss the matter or give her name.

"Monsignor Trupia is in the canonical process of being removed from the clerical state and we hope it will be in the near future,'' said Diocese of Tucson coadjutor Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas. "I don't know the full reasons why it has taken so long."

Local diocese officials say it has been at least 25 years if not more since a local priest was defrocked against his wishes. And Trupia does not want to be defrocked. A parishioner who knew him as a priest in Tucson and Yuma described him as self-absorbed, well-educated, intimidating and sophisticated.

Growing up

Robert Charles Trupia was raised in poverty near a Tucson church and entered religious life as a teen-ager at Regina Cleri Seminary in Tucson. He was ordained a priest at St. Augustine Cathedral and worked 19 years in Southern Arizona parishes.

He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 18, 1948, to Viola Lupo Trupia and Charles Trupia, and his father left the family when Trupia was a young boy, according to court documents and friends who knew the family. From age 9, Trupia lived in a small house in Tucson with his mother.

Viola Trupia, now 79, still lives in the house where her son grew up - a cottage adjacent to the property of Sacred Heart Church, 601 E. Fort Lowell Road, that's worth about $34,000, according to the local Assessor's Office.

Viola was a devout Catholic who rarely missed Mass and often wore a black veil over her face.

In Tucson, Trupia attended Helen Keeling School, 2837 N. Los Altos Ave., the now-closed school at Sacred Heart, and then Regina Cleri Seminary, 8800 E. 22nd St., which has closed and is soon to become a new Catholic high school. At the time, Regina Cleri was a high school for young men who wanted to enter the priesthood. Trupia graduated in 1966.

Trupia then attended St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif., the same seminary he was later accused of using as a place to take young men. In 1988, seminary officials restricted Trupia's visits to the property, according to an internal diocesan memo. The plaintiffs' attorneys involved in the recent civil settlement with the diocese say Trupia's restrictions at St. John's occurred because he'd been seen in the company of young men who were unfamiliar to seminary officials.

After his ordination by Catholic Diocese of Tucson Bishop Francis J. Green at St. Augustine Cathedral on May 5, 1973, Trupia's first job was as an associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Yuma. Yuma is part of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which stretches across nine counties.

First evidence of abuse

Evidence in court documents connected with the civil actions the diocese settled last year indicates that as early as 1976, when Trupia was working at St. Francis of Assisi, the Diocese of Tucson knew of reports that he was sexually molesting young men and boys.

"I was a high school freshman when he was here and was also an altar boy at St. Francis,'' said Sgt. Jan Schmitt of the Yuma Police Department, who was raised in Yuma. "I honestly think that based on the age of the kids he was victimizing, that had I been a little younger I probably would have been targeted, too."

Lynne M. Cadigan, the lawyer who represented the 10 men who settled last year, estimates Trupia has had at least 30 victims - far more than those who have filed lawsuits. By Arizona law, only men who could prove they had repressed memory about their abuse were able to be part of any lawsuit.

"If anyone else had done what Trupia did and was not a priest they would have been in jail and broke a long time ago,'' Cadigan said. "But his collar has protected him financially and his collar has kept him out of jail. The only reason Trupia is not in jail and was not convicted is because the Diocese of Tucson did not report the crimes."

It was during Trupia's tenure in Yuma during the 1970s that Todd Diaz, one of the 10 men who settled with the diocese last year, says Trupia molested him.

In his sworn deposition given in connection with the court cases, Diaz recalled that as a 13-year-old boy in 1975 he was held hostage in Trupia's room in Yuma for an entire week. Diaz's mother had left him in Trupia's care while she attended to her dying husband. At one point Diaz said he escaped to a friend's house, but Trupia found him there and told the friend's parents he was Todd's caregiver for the week.

"This guy got away with it and I know he's laughing inside. He still has young men coming to his house, I know him that well," said Diaz, who has suffered from depression, attempted suicide and struggled with drug addiction. "He's manipulative. He repeats your name and makes you feel like you are a person, then seduces you. Everyone thought he was the coolest priest. He would give us wine, get us drunk."

Diaz isn't sure how much of his problems can be blamed on the abuse. But he does know he went from a young boy who loved to play baseball and had dreams of being a pilot to someone who couldn't finish school or hold down a job.

"I think the diocese should be shut down. It was a ring, all these priest molesters helping each other," Diaz said, recalling the terror and shame he felt while staying in Trupia's room. "Nobody should be able to walk away from what Trupia did."

Transferred to Tucson

Father Ted Oswald, a California priest who worked at St. Francis with Trupia, in sworn statements and interviews says he told diocese officials in 1976 that some boys at the school said Trupia had pulled down their pants and fondled them. Oswald, a former police officer, said he took written statements from the youngsters.

Trupia was abruptly transferred to Tucson after Oswald filed the report. Then-Bishop Green transferred Trupia to a job in the Marriage Tribunal of the diocese's Tucson offices. When Oswald quit the diocese in 1977, he asked about the statements the boys had written and was told that diocese officials didn't know anything about them. While he worked at the church's Marriage Tribunal from 1977 to 1989, Trupia lived and worked at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road, and then in Regina Cleri, which by then was a residence for clergy.

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson, including Bishop Manuel D. Moreno, now says that Trupia is a predator and the abuse Trupia allegedly committed against altar boys both in Tucson and Yuma during the 1970s appears to be of a serial nature. Some critics say the diocese is at fault for not telling authorities earlier of reports that Trupia was molesting children. The lawsuit settled last year said diocesan officials both ignored and covered up sexual abuse its priests committed.

Moreno, who took over as bishop of the Tucson diocese for Green in 1982, has several times acknowledged Catholic officials in Tucson made mistakes, and has offered apologies. Yet Moreno also maintains he took action against Trupia as soon as he became aware of it. Green died in 1995.

Teacher, "transgressor"

At Our Mother of Sorrows, Trupia taught students about one of his favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, who among other books wrote "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." The book gives an account of four children who discover a magical world called Narnia behind an ordinary wardrobe.

For years, Trupia participated in the New York-based C.S. Lewis Society, wrote an essay for them titled "Learning Christian Behavior: The Path of Virtue in the Chronicles of Narnia." He also once composed lyrics for a hymn celebrating the British author's life.

In 1980, Trupia filled out an information sheet for the diocese that was later included in his police file with the Yuma Police Department.The sheet said Trupia drove a 1975 Audi 100 LS and listed among his financial accounts two checking accounts, two savings accounts and a savings and loan account.

In the event of his death, Trupia wanted his family, relatives and friends to know "that I never loved them so well as they deserved." He requested a funeral that would be both "happy and somber, with good music and violet or black vestments as permitted."

Trupia hosted a diocesan program called "Come and See" for young men with an interest in the priesthood, often taking the teen-agers on trips to St. John's Seminary.

"Bishop Green, we called him Pancho Verde, he was a kind man,'' said Angela Foley, who was a parishioner at Yuma's St. Francis of Assisi Church in the 1970s and knew Trupia. "I think he was horribly intimidated by Trupia. Trupia is quite educated and sophisticated and poor old Green handled it very badly. I don't think Green was a bad guy. He probably displayed a total lack of understanding that there is no cure for these people. I think he thought that with love and care he would get better."

Foley, now 55, later moved to Tucson and began attending Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, where she's still a parishioner. "I still know people who adore Trupia and idolize him. They can't believe he could have transgressed," Foley said.

Canon law expert

The church in 1989 gave Trupia a grant worth $15,000 to attend Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he did doctoral studies in canon law and acquired the knowledge that now enables him to defend himself against efforts to defrock him.

In 1992, when Trupia was still in D.C., a Tucson mother sent Moreno a letter saying Trupia had abused her son while he was an altar boy at Our Mother of Sorrows during a trip to St. John's Seminary in the 1970s. The letter prompted Moreno to suspend Trupia and begin proceedings to defrock him through the Vatican.

Moreno later gave sworn testimony that Trupia tried to blackmail him against suspension by threatening to reveal damaging information about the sexual affairs of another high-ranking Catholic Church official. But Moreno did not back down, and Trupia had to stop appearing as a priest in public and was no longer allowed to celebrate Mass.

After a civil suit was filed against both Trupia and the diocese in the late 1990s, police in Yuma began an investigation of Trupia, who remained in the Washington, D.C., area.

Trupia remained under suspension but earned a living from his diocese pay and by doing consulting work with the Catholic Diocese of Monterey where an acquaintance, Monsignor Charles G. Fatooh, worked.

One night in jail

In 2001, Yuma authorities charged Trupia with seven counts of child molestation, and Trupia spent one night in jail. But investigators lost their case against him: The criminal statute of limitations had run out for crimes committed prior to 1978.

"My opinion of his guilt has never changed,'' said the Yuma Police Department's Sgt. Schmitt, who investigated Trupia and also arrested him. "And my opinion is that kind of sexual propensity does not change."

After he was released from jail, Trupia returned to Maryland to a modest apartment he rented in Silver Spring. He moved out of that complex in November 2001, according to rental records, and did not leave a forwarding address.

Property records show that Fatooh, 56, purchased the condominium where Trupia now lives in October 2001 as part of a family real estate trust, about the same time Trupia disappeared from Silver Spring. According to the Howard County Assessor's Office, the condo is worth about $110,000. The condominium complex has a swimming pool and tennis courts.

"I'm not the least bit surprised at the way he's living,'' attorney Cadigan said. "It's my experience that most of the molester priests do very well financially, take glamorous vacations, and live very well. Where they get their money is something the parishioners should be asking the church."

The only way the diocese could stop paying Trupia's $1,475 monthly sustenance, diocese officials say, is if Trupia were to be permanently removed from the priesthood. Removing notorious and serial abusers in a more prompt manner is one of the aims of new protocol from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Obviously to the victims our hope is to bring some healing to their pain,'' Bishop Kicanas said. "What happened was wrong. It should receive strictest church penalties. The church has no desire to protect anyone who has sexually abused children."

Calls to Fatooh last week were referred to his Oakland-based spokesman, Sean Walsh, who said Fatooh last week began talks with legal counsel about Trupia's tenancy in the condo. He said Fatooh had no knowledge of Trupia's activities in Maryland.

"There's been infrequent contact, but there has been contact, since they've known each other for more than 20 years," Walsh said.

According to Walsh, Trupia is paying Fatooh $1,100 a month to live in the condominium. The condo is in Fatooh's name, as are the telephone and utilities.

Walsh confirmed that Trupia did paid consulting work for the Diocese of Monterey between 1994 and 2001 but that contract was terminated around the same time Trupia was arrested in Yuma.

"They covered this up"

The Pima County Attorney's Office has an open investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Tucson's alleged abuse cases, but prosecutor Kathleen Mayer said from what she's seen so far, Trupia's alleged offenses appear too old to prosecute. Mayer, supervisor of the Special Victims Unit of the Pima County Attorney's Office, began investigating the diocese after last year's settlement of the sexual abuse lawsuits.

Mayer said she can't go into detail about the allegations against Trupia, but "certainly there was sexual activity involved, yes," she said.

As of August 2001, Arizona has had no statute of limitations on sex crimes, giving a current victim of a sex crime the leeway to file charges decades into the future. But that law was not retroactive. The statute for sex crimes that occurred before 1978 says charges must have been filed within five years of the alleged offense, which is why Trupia's case in Yuma was dismissed.

For sex crimes that occurred after 1978, the law says charges must be filed within seven years of the alleged offense, or seven years from when the incident could have been reasonably reported to authorities.

Failure to report an incident of child abuse is a misdemeanor under Arizona law, and charges must be filed within one year, Mayer said.

Schmitt, the Yuma police sergeant, said Trupia would be behind bars now were it not for the criminal statute of limitations and the failure of diocesan officials under Bishop Green to report the abuse during the 1970s.

"The Diocese of Tucson, the bishop's office, they covered this up and just moved him out of Yuma rather than report it," Schmitt said. "He'd have been in prison a long time ago."

One of last year's 10 plaintiffs, David Donald Frei, is now 42 and still lives in Yuma. He was the victim in the seven counts of criminal child molestation that Trupia faced in 2001 before the charges were dismissed, and his was the first well-publicized lawsuit against the diocese. Frei remains angry at Trupia and says he has no sympathy for the priest, even though he believes Trupia suffered abuse himself as a child from an older authority figure whom he respected.

Despite the 11-year effort to defrock him and a pending civil case, Trupia has no criminal convictions and no pending criminal charges of sex abuse against him.

A week after talking to Trupia on his Maryland doorstep, a Star reporter and photographer approached his mother's Tucson home. She spoke before they had a chance to knock.

"What do you want?" she twice said loudly, not showing her face through the door.

When the reporter explained the Star was writing a story about her son, his childhood, and some men who say they were abused by him, she said four words before falling silent.

"I'm very, very sorry."


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