Diocese Targeted in Molest Suits

By Joyesha Chesnick
Tucson Citizen
January 11, 2000

Three more men have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, alleging they were sexually abused by parish priests in the 1970s.

One of the suits filed in Pima County Superior Court alleges that Father Pedro Luke of Our Mother of Sorrows repeatedly molested Albert L. Coderre Jr., a former student and altar boy now in his 30s, over a four-month period in 1975.

Coderre ran away from home after the alleged abuse and developed a serious substance-abuse problem, said Lynne Cadigan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Coderre has filed suit now because he "finally sobered up," she said.

Todd M. Diaz, 38, has accused Monsignor Robert C. Trupia, a former priest-in-residence at Our Mother of Sorrows, of holding him "prisoner" and molesting him for a week in 1975 at St. Francis Catholic Church and School in Yuma.

Trupia was accused in a lawsuit filed last year of sexually abusing another man when he was at Our Mother of Sorrows.

Diaz, according to a complaint filed in December in Superior Court, repressed the memories of abuse until May 1999, when, after years of substance abuse, an attempted suicide and hospitalizations for emotional and behavioral problems, he became sober and began to remember.

David D. Frei also charged Trupia with several instances of sexual indecency and molestation from 1973 to 1974, when Frei was an altar boy at St. Francis.

On Wednesday, Bishop Manuel D. Moreno of the Tucson diocese wrote a letter to the 65 parishes of the diocese. It said, "These disturbing and shocking allegations confront the trust we have in the institution of our Church, in the men who serve us as priests, and yes, in the bishops who serve our diocese."

He emphasized that child abuse will not be tolerated within the church.

Diocese spokesman Fred Allison said the letter either was read at Masses or included in bulletins at many area parishes.

Attorney Cadigan recently took over Frei's case, which Frei filed himself in Superior Court in 1997. Cadigan also represents Tucsonans Robert and Rosemary Williams, who alleged last April that their son, William, in his mid-30s, was sexually abused and given alcohol and drugs by Trupia and the late Father William T. Byrne at Our Mother of Sorrows from 1976 to 1979.

"We don't ask for a dollar amount," Cadigan said of the suits. "They really want a criminal prosecution. They want to find out how much the church knew and why it did nothing."

Allison said he has known about Frei's suit since 1997 but said Diaz's suit was "unexpected." Allison said yesterday he was not aware Coderre had filed a lawsuit.

Allison said there is no priest named Pedro Luke at Our Mother of Sorrows, although an elderly priest named Padre Luke served there for a short time in the mid-1970s.

That priest is now believed to be deceased, he said.

"The church's only response so far is to participate in the judicial process," Allison said, adding that attorneys for the diocese have filed a motion to dismiss elements of the Williams case.

The diocese, which serves more than 300,000 Catholics in nine Arizona counties, has had a policy in place since 1983 outlining responsibilities of employees and volunteers to report suspected child abuse.

Allison said the church has made great efforts to prevent abuse, such as prohibiting children from entering the living quarters of priests.

He said canonical law requires the church to investigate any allegation of misdoing. The result might be the removal of the man from the priesthood or placement on "inactive status."

A priest is placed on inactive status when there is a substantial reason to believe the allegations are true or if investigators cannot determine whether the allegations are true or false, Allison said.

Trupia was placed on inactive status in 1990. Allison said he did not know Trupia's whereabouts, but that the diocese continues to send Trupia a $600-a-month stipend to his last known out-of-state address.

Byrne died in 1991.


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