Arizona Priest Abuse

By John Terrett
Al Jazeera
April 16, 2010

It matters little to Daniel Montgomery whether Pope Benedict slowed the defrocking of a Tucson priest who he says sexually abused him when he was seven - all he knows is that he can't forget it.

“There's not a day that goes by I don't think about what happened to me ... everyday"

Daniel received a substantial sum of money from the Diocese of Tucson after suing over sexual abuse he says took place in the confessional at Our Mother of Sorrows church by Father Michael Teta - a priest his family regarded as a friend.

"I can smell his breath right now and remember what it ... him breathing on me"


In North America the first inkling that predator priests might be a widespread problem came in a lawsuit filed in Louisiana in 1985 that sparked an investigation by a senior Vatican diplomat based at the embassy in Washington DC.

Father Tom Doyle reported the problem was bigger than the Bishops realised but the report was buried in church archives.

Seven years later in 1992 the issue made national headlines with the exposure of a priest in charge of a shelter for young homeless men and women in New York.

In 2002 widespread cases of abuses by priests came to light in the north-eastern city of Boston which sent shock waves through the US Catholic Church which is on the hook for at least three billion dollars in compensation for victims - some estimates say it'll be five billion by the time the crisis is fully over.

Now the scandal of sex abuse by Catholic priests seems to be creeping closer and closer to Pope Benedict who is accused of deferring punishment for abuser priests for the greater good of the Church.

Direct comments

On Thursday the pope used an off-the-cuff homily at a small untelevised Mass at the Vatican to make his most direct reference to the crisis so far when he is reported to have said, "it's necessary for Christians to repent in the light of attacks of the world, which speak to us of our sins."

As for Daniel Montgomery's alleged abuser ... in 1997 a church tribunal found there to be an "almost a satanic quality in Father Teta's mode of acting toward young men and boys.”

But it wasn’t ‘til 2004 - fourteen years after he was first reported - that Teta was publically laicized - cut adrift by the church.

Lawyer Lynne Cadigan represented Daniel and fifty others and says papers recently uncovered show the previous Bishop of Tucson wrote to the Pope - then Cardinal Ratzinger - pleading for speed in ending the case against Teta.

“When you weigh the rights of a priest versus the rights of a child to be free from rape clearly the Holy father should consider the rights of the child."

She also showed me a letter she says is evidence that the Vatican wanted to keep the investigation low key.

"From Joseph Ratzinger his signature is here and it's a letter to this Bishop telling him you make sure you conduct all your investigations in secret."

But Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who was brought in to heal the Diocese of Tucson after the sex abuse allegations denies his predecessor wrote to the Vatican out of desperation, or that Ratzinger did nothing.

"In the case of Michael Teta, Cardinal Ratzinger actually wrote to Bishop Moreno encouraging him to move the case along and the Bishop explained that this was a very a very complex case, there were many witnesses to interview, we didn't have a lot of canonical expertise here in the diocese."

Michael Teta still lives in Tucson where he's been known to give interviews denying he did anything wrong. I visited his house in the hope of asking him some questions but the door was opened by a friend who said Teta was in New Jersey and not available to speak.

Other accusations against the Pope

Arizona is not the only place where Benedict is accused of siding with priests rather than those they’re accused of abusing. As Archbishop of Munich in the eighties he's said to have approved housing for a priest accused of child abuse.

In the nineties he’s accused of failing to act quickly enough to stop abusing some 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin and he’s also said to have resisted defrocking California priest Stephen Kiesle a convicted offender saying, "the good of the Universal Church had to be considered.”

A new national poll conducted for the American TV network CBS finds only 27% of American Catholics view Pope Benedict favourably now.

Favourable - 27%

Unfavourable - 11%

Undecided - 36%

55% give him poor marks for the way he's handled the sex abuse scandal.

Poor - 55%

Good Job - 20%

Don't Know - 25%

But Catholics queuing for Mass outside Washington DC's main cathedral last Sunday suspected a media plot against the church. One woman waiting in the sunshine summed up the feelings of many when she said, "You wouldn't attack Muslims in this way or you know what would happen!"

Comming to terms

Advocacy groups – people who speak-up for victims who claim to have been abused by priests – say the real crime is not that priests abuse minors – terrible though that is – the real crime is that some US Bishops tried to cover it up - and the church refused to take it seriously, or pay victims compensation, until lawyers got involved."

David Lorenz was abused by a priest in Kentucky and now works with victims of predator priests on behalf of the organisation SNAP. David says the church hierarchy believes ordained priests are a notch above the laity.

“I don't think they've ever totally comprehended that this is a crime - the degradation a child goes through, the shame, the guilt - when a priest tells them if you tell anybody you will go to Hell or if you tell anybody your parents will go to Hell."

Back in Arizona, Daniel Montgomery doesn't wish the pope any ill. He has a successful job in the local parks department and would like to see the headlines to go away ... even though he knows memories of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his priest are unlikely to.


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