Vatican Wants Longtime Priest in Diocese of Phoenix Defrocked

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic
January 21, 2014

A Vatican court has recommended that a Phoenix cleric be removed from the priesthood.

The Rev. John Spaulding, a priest in the Diocese of Phoenix for 40 years, has been accused by four people of sexually abusing them decades ago when they were minors.

The judgment was reached by a special tribunal, an independent panel of three priests from across the U.S. who have doctorates in canon law. The panel was convened at the direction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican agency.

The special tribunal found Spaulding guilty of sins against the Sixth Commandment with a minor and recommended that he be dismissed from the clerical state, a process commonly known as “laicization” or defrocking. The commandment, commonly recounted as “You shall not commit adultery,” refers to all sexual sins, according to the Catholic Church.

Spaulding could not be reached by The Arizona Republic for comment.

The penalty against Spaulding would become effective upon completion of his case by the Vatican agency. It is unknown whether Spaulding has filed an appeal or how long the process might take.

Spaulding, then pastor of St. Timothy parish in Mesa, was suspended in June 2011, when the diocese determined that an allegation submitted a year earlier against the priest was credible. Spaulding denied the allegation through his attorney at the time.

Three other people later stepped forward to accuse Spaulding.

Only the first accuser, the late David Pain, has been identified. His father, Michael, brought the allegation to the diocese, and Michael Pain currently has a civil case in Maricopa County Superior Court against Spaulding and the diocese.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the abuse allegations.

Spaulding was ordained in 1971. He has served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Glendale, Christ the King parish in Mesa, Santa Teresita parish in El Mirage, St. Louis the King parish in Glendale, St. Raphael parish in Glendale, St. Helen parish in Glendale, St. Maria Goretti parish in Scottsdale, St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix, St. Gabriel the Archangel parish in Cave Creek and St. Timothy parish in Mesa.

Spaulding was known for his ministry to the deaf, his belief in the visions at Medjugorje in Bosnia and his claims that he could channel the words of Jesus and his mother, Mary. The diocese and the Vatican have discounted the latter two events.

Spaulding also was involved in the visits of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa to the Valley, and he is a co-founder of the Life Teen ministry with Dale Fushek, who also was accused of sexual misconduct and later was defrocked for his involvement in starting a non-denominational congregation.

Michael Pain said the decision against Spaulding comes as a relief. Pain said “it has been more than three years” since he brought the allegation to the attention of the diocese.

He said he hopes the decision will enable his civil case to proceed. The case, filed in June 2012, has been held up in discovery, the determination of evidence in the case.

Pain contends that his son descended into drug abuse and criminality as a direct result of his time with Spaulding.

The Diocese of Phoenix says that five other priests have been laicized as a result of sexual misconduct with minors.



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