Catholic Priest Abused Children in Indigenous, Rural Communities in Arizona
By Lauren Castle
October 1, 2020
A Catholic priest with a history of sexually abusing children was placed in several Arizona schools in Indigenous and rural communities, a lawsuit alleges.
The Rev. James Grear worked across Arizona and in other parts of the country and U.S. territories. The lawsuit filed Thursday claims the priest sexually abused a teenager, who is a citizen of the Navajo Nation, when Grear worked at Chinle High School in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Robert Pastor, attorney for the victim, said his client wants the community to know what the Catholic Church did.
"He's angry that they sent him to this community and let him prey on kids," Pastor told The Arizona Republic.
The lawsuit filed against Grear, the Diocese of Lafayette-In-Indiana, Diocese of Phoenix and two people called "Jane" and "John Doe" claims the Catholic Church covered up and "fraudulently concealed" the priest's history of sexual abuse.
Grear was transferred to Arizona after a series of sexual abuse allegations were made against him in Indiana, according to the attorney.
Grear is now on the Diocese of Lafayette's "Substantiated Allegations of Sexual Misconduct with Minors" list. However, the Diocese of Phoenix does not have him on any list concerning sexual abuse.
The Diocese of Lafayette and Diocese of Phoenix did not immediately respond to The Republic's request for comment.
What does the lawsuit claim?
While in Arizona, Grear was placed in multiple locations in positions focusing on education and working with children.
He was assigned to St. John the Baptist Indian School in the Gila River Indian Community from 1975 to 1976. Later in 1976, he was moved to the Diocese of Phoenix's Religious Education Department to work with public school students and adults.
In 1977, Grear began working at Chinle High School on the Navajo Reservation. According to a report by The Republic, the priest was promoted to principal of the high school for the 1978-1979 school year.
The lawsuit claims Grear started abusing the victim in 1977. The priest met the teenager through youth, educational and church activities.
Pastor told The Republic that Grear took the victim on multiple trips to Phoenix and abused him.
The victim did not report the abuse because he felt pressured by the culture of the Catholic Church, according to the lawsuit.
"If a priest was to offend again, it is unlikely that a mother or father is going to go and challenge someone who is in a position of authority," Pastor said. "Not only because of social-economic educational differences but also because of cultural norms."
Pastor said his client knows other victims of the priest and is worried about how their lives may have been affected.
The victim is accusing the defendants of sexual conduct with a minor, child abuse, assault negligence, negligent training and supervision of employees, negligent retention of employees, breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
History of transfers
Pastor told The Republic he believes Grear was placed in certain communities in Arizona for a reason.
Grear was ordained in the Diocese of Lafayette in 1970. The Church started transferring him in 1972, according to a report by the Indianapolis Star. He worked at multiple sites in Indiana: Ball State University, St. Francis of Assisi University Parrish and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis.
"You see the consistent pattern once he's in the Southwest," Pastor said. "He's in largely in Native American communities and certainly rural communities."
The lawyer said the Catholic Church spent a significant amount of time trying to cover up the actions of priests by reassigning them to places where their history wouldn't be known.
Grear is not listed in the Catholic directory from 1980 to 1985, according to the Indianapolis Star.
After working at Chinle High School, Grear began working in other parts of Arizona.
According to a 1983 report by The Republic, Grear was an administrator at Apache Junction High School from 1980 to 1981 and principal at Eloy High School from 1981 to 1982.
He moved to South Dakota to be a principal for the 1982-83 school year at a high school serving the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.
Grear returned to Chinle High School as principal for the 1983-84 school year.
"Chinle school officials said Grear was selected because of his previous experience working with Indian students on the Navajo and Crow reservations," The Republic reported in 1983.
"Instead, acting individually and in concert with each other and other priests, bishops, dioceses, and archdioceses, and co-conspirators, Defendants kept the news of Father James Grearís sexual abuse and propensity to engage in sexual abuse from church members and students, including Plaintiff and his family," the lawsuit says.
In 1986, Grear was working somewhere outside of the Diocese of Lafayette and the Diocese of Phoenix that was not identified.
In 1989, he was appointed principal at Father Duenas Memorial School in Guam, the Pacific Daily News reported. According to the paper, he came to the school after serving as headmaster at St. John's at Prospect Hall in Frederick, Maryland.
At some point, the priest worked with students in the Virgin Islands.
In 1990, he worked in the Bronx area of New York City.
Grear now lives in Philadelphia. His right to act as a priest was removed in 2001.
Lawsuits in Indiana
Last year, three men filed lawsuits against Grear that included allegations of abuse in Indiana. The men were 12 and 13 during the time of the abuse, according to the lawsuits.
The Indianapolis Star reported a man claimed Grear "violently assaulted" him while visiting Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The man told a bishop during a confession as a child. However, the bishop told him to not report the assault and to ask for God's forgiveness.
Two other men claim Grear abused them when they were students at Mount Carmel grade school. One of them claimed Grear tried to recruit him to attend Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, where he was a high school dean. The men claim Grear took them on trips, gave them gifts and abused them at his apartment.
One of the men claims his parents reported Grear, but nothing was done.