Disgraced Bishop Does Not Deserve an Honor

By E. J. Montini
Arizona Republic
November 16, 2011

Vince Watson and his wife used to attend the Catholic Community Foundation's big yearly fundraising event called the Crozier Gala. That stopped after their son was sexually abused by a local priest named George Bredemann and they found out that Bredemann and other pedophiles had been shuffled around the diocese by then-Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien.

"I haven't been able to return to the church of my youth since then," Watson told me. "And while we haven't gone to the gala in some time, I guess we're still on a mailing list so we got an invitation for the 2012 gala and ... honestly ... I just couldn't believe it."

Among three individuals being honored at next year's April 14 gala, with a theme of "A centennial of service and a future of abundance," is Bishop O'Brien.

He is listed as the event's "faith" honoree.

"It's just astonishing that they would do this," Watson said. "So many young people were harmed. And instead of protecting them, he (O'Brien) protected his priests. And they want to honor him for 'faith'? Seriously?"

Back in 2003, Bishop O'Brien signed an agreement with then-Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley that granted O'Brien immunity from criminal charges if he acknowledged that he had exposed children to harm and agreed to a series of policy changes within the diocese.

Not too long after that, O'Brien was arrested on charges of leaving the scene of a car accident after his vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian, a crime for which he ended up doing community service.

"With all of the wonderful, well-meaning and dedicated servants of the Lord, couldn't the church come up with better than this shell of a man?" Watson asked.

I put that same question to the Catholic Community Foundation's Brigitte Dayton, vice president of marketing and program development.

"There have not been any complaints (about deciding to honor O'Brien)," Dayton told me. "The selection is made by our volunteers, including the board of directors and chairman of the gala and the Crozier Gala committee."

She said the award for "faith" is given to someone who has had an impact on the community with their commitment to the faith.

(The other two honorees are Sharon Harper and Joe Garagiola.)

"But O'Brien? Unbelievable," said Watson.

His son was 11 when he was molested by Bredemann, who is now in prison.

"My son was a great student, a brilliant kid, but this experience has cost him years of his life," Watson said. "Only now as an adult is he coming to grips with what happened to him and making his way. And there were many like him. I'm not saying that you continue to go after O'Brien or anything like that. But honoring him? Really, what are they thinking?"

Former County Attorney Romley agreed.

"Is our memory that bad?" he said. "As a Catholic myself, I must say, this disgusts me. It's not about continuing to persecute O'Brien. He's fulfilled his obligation to society. But honoring him? Come on."

The foundation sent me a written statement explaining its decision. It reads in part:

"As one of three named event honorees, Bishop Thomas O'Brien ... is being recognized specifically for having had the foresight 27 years ago to create the foundation. ... Two years later, in 1985, Bishop O'Brien also launched the Crozier Gala. ... To date, the Crozier Gala has raised over $5 million dollars in support of the foundation's grant-making programs. Since inception, the foundation has granted more than $20 million to worthy nonprofit organizations."

No one doubts the good done by the foundation.

But that doesn't diminish the horror inflicted on innocent children under O'Brien's watch. Or how he handled the priests inflicting that harm.

At the very least the foundation should have considered the possible negative impact that deciding to honor O'Brien would have on the abuse victims and their families.

"Honoring O'Brien is a kick in the teeth to families like ours and to all good Catholics," Watson said. "I thought that after I talked to you and you called the foundation to ask them about this, they would change their mind and honor someone else. But I know they won't. After all these years and all the harm that was done, they still don't get it, do they?"



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