Youth with Family Troubles Was Prey to Priest, Prosecutor Says

Associated Press, carried in Arizona Daily Star
October 13, 2006

Phoenix — A former Catholic priest in Chandler heard prosecutors tell a jury he was a predator who took a young man with family problems under his wing so he could later sexually abuse him.

But the lawyer for Joseph Briceno said during the first day of his sex-abuse trial Wednesday that the alleged victim was only trying to lay a foundation so he could sue the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

Briceno faces six counts of sexual conduct with a minor, one count of attempted sexual contact and one count of sexual abuse.

The case against Briceno comes more than 20 years after the alleged crimes, which happened in 1982 and 1983.

Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell told the jury the charges arise from the priest's relationship with a teenager from St. Mary's Catholic Church in Chandler.

Mitchell painted a picture of a predatory priest grooming a young man with family problems by taking him on bike rides and becoming involved in his life. She said he then seduced the teen, and took on a strong role in his family, even helping with finances after the teen's parents divorced.

Mitchell quoted Briceno as telling the victim, "If it weren't for me, you'd be living under a bridge."

The suspected abuse did not come to light until the young man approached the diocese in the early 1990s. He and his family eventually were given a $15,000 settlement, Mitchell said.

Briceno's defense lawyer said the trial was only about the desire of the alleged victim, now 42, to pursue more lawsuits.

"This case is not about faith," lawyer Karla Momberger told the jury. "This case is not about anything but the almighty dollar, and that's what the evidence is going to show."

The alleged victim is expected to testify Thursday at the trial, which is expected to last about a week.

Briceno, 60, is set to testify, as is Bishop Thomas O'Brien, who stripped Briceno of his duties. Briceno then went to work as a priest in Mexico, where he was arrested in December.

O'Brien came under fire in 2002 for his handling of suspected priest sex scandals and resigned as head of the Phoenix Diocese after a hit-and-run accident in 2004.


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