Diocese Saw Signs, Didn't Act

By Stephanie Innes and Tim Steller
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
February 17, 2002

Had report as early as '76 that a priest, Robert C. Trupia, was molesting boys

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson received a report as early as 1976 that one of its priests was sexually abusing boys yet took no action against him for the next 16 years.

The diocese failed on at least three occasions to punish Robert C. Trupia for his actions - actions that included holding one terrified boy in the priest's bedroom for six nights in 1975, according to sworn testimony from the boy.

Among those occasions:

Several boys told a religious brother in 1976 that Trupia had fondled them.

The diocese knew Trupia had been banned from a California seminary in 1988.

Two priests said they were rebuffed in the late 1980s when they tried to report problems with Trupia.

The diocese even promoted Trupia, twice, during the 16 years after the first complaint about him was lodged. He also received a scholarship to Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Trupia, 53, was one of four priests named in civil actions brought by 10 men alleging abuse by priests in the Tucson diocese beginning in the 1960s. The lawsuits were settled last month for an undisclosed amount - as much as $16 million, by some estimates.

The diocese also never came forward to report the accusations about Trupia to police.

A Yuma police detective who began investigating Trupia's past in 1997, when the priest was on suspension, said the diocese would not help find Trupia even though it was sending him checks.

"They were never helpful to us," Yuma Police Detective Sgt. Jan Schmitt said.

Yuma police later arrested Trupia in connection with allegations dating to 1973, but the charges were dropped in January 2001 because of the criminal statute of limitations.

Diocese officials said no deliberate cover-up occurred. They do acknowledge mistakes were made and say they are considering new policies on openness similar to those announced in Boston and New Hampshire after child sexual abuse came to light there.

These policies might include opening sealed records and, in some cases, turning priests' names over to prosecutors.

"I think the diocese learned very painfully - throughout the legal process that led to the settlement - of the types of activities that very likely took place," diocese spokesman Fred Allison said Friday. "It's painful to watch the experience of other dioceses. But it's also very illuminating."

Trupia was finally suspended in 1992 after the mother of a former altar boy wrote a letter to the archbishop of Santa Fe, headquarters of the Catholic province that includes Tucson, and sent a copy to Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno. The letter said Trupia had sexually abused her son in 1977.

The Rev. Ted Oswald, now pastor at a Catholic church in Lakeport, Calif., recalled telling superiors in 1976 that several boys in his class at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Yuma said they had been fondled by Trupia.

Oswald between 1975 and 1977 was a religious brother in the now- defunct Brothers of Our Lady of the Poor. He once had a bedroom at the St. Francis church rectory across from Trupia's bedroom. Trupia, then in his late 20s, was associate pastor of the church.

"I always wondered why Trupia brought boys into his room by themselves. It didn't surprise me when the kids came to me," Oswald said in an interview last week.

In sworn testimony given in August 1999, Oswald said some children in his social studies class in 1976 reported troubles with Trupia. The most common were allegations that the priest either asked them to sit on his lap or put his hands down their pants. Oswald, a former police officer, said he took written statements from the older boys and turned them in to Monsignor John Anthony Oliver, who at the time was dean of the Yuma parish area and is now retired.

In sworn testimony given in October 2000, Oliver said he recalled forwarding a letter of concern about Trupia to then-Bishop Francis J. Green. Oliver recalled telling Trupia about a concern and added that he didn't ask Trupia any questions, nor did he ask Trupia for an explanation.

"It's not my responsibility to hear those things," Oliver said in his testimony, included in court records on recent civil actions alleging abuse by local clergy. "Personally, I don't care to know those things unless I have to."

Within a week of his reporting Trupia, Oswald recalls, an ashen Trupia appeared at the window of Oswald's classroom door.

"What are you trying to do to me?" Trupia demanded, according to Oswald's testimony.

Within about 48 hours of that encounter - the last time Oswald ever saw Trupia - Trupia left Yuma, Oswald recalled.

That was in 1976, the same year Green moved Trupia to Tucson to head up its marriage tribunal. Trupia was assigned to live at Our Mother of Sorrows, 1800 S. Kolb Road in Tucson, where he was also named an associate pastor.

"What was amazing to me is that he ended up becoming a monsignor after this," Oswald said recently. "He kept getting pushed up the ladder. I guess the diocese back then just tried to protect its own."

Immediately before quitting the diocese, Oswald drove to Tucson to speak with Green. But Green wasn't available, so he spoke to then- diocesan chancellor Monsignor John F. Burns, now deceased. According to Oswald, Burns confronted him about his report on Trupia, asking: "Why are you trying to cause our priests trouble? You made up those accusations about Robert Trupia."

Burns also denied having any written statements from boys, said Oswald, who quit the diocese in 1977.

"When I left there, I was the bad guy for turning him in. I was a troublemaker."

Green did recommend in the late 1970s that Trupia get counseling, even though Trupia had denied the allegations against him, according to a diocesan memo included in the court files from the civil cases. Trupia received counseling from a Tucson psychologist and continued to rise in the church ranks, according to diocesan records in the court files. Green retired in 1982, and Moreno replaced him. Green died in 1995.

An internal diocesan memo in the court files says that in 1988 Trupia was declared "persona non grata" at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif. The memo said the seminary's action was a "drastic step" and an embarrassing one for Tucson. According to the memo, Trupia had been arriving at the seminary unannounced with young men who were unknown to seminary officials.

Lawyers for the men who filed the lawsuits say Moreno had been contacted by an archbishop from the same seminary in 1982 because Trupia had been seen there sleeping with a young man. Diocese officials, in a rebuttal included in the court records, said the 1982 matter had been reviewed and that there was no indication that Trupia and the young man "were doing anything other than sleeping."

In 1989, diocese officials rebuffed one priest who raised questions about Trupia and passed a message to another to "mind his own business" about Trupia, according to sworn testimony from the priests in the court files.

The Rev. Joseph Baker, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church, 338 W. University Blvd., said in his testimony that in 1989 he was contacted by a Tucson police detective investigating Trupia. Another priest informed Bishop Moreno that Baker had been contacted by police, Baker said, testifying in October 2000.

Baker and Moreno then talked, with Baker cautioning Moreno that Trupia had a habit of taking children to his bedroom. The bishop "got hostile," Baker testified, and questioned Baker's involvement in the matter.

Moreno suggested to Baker at the time that children might be going to Trupia's room to retrieve him for confessions, Baker said.

About the same time, at a dinner for priests at Salpointe Catholic High School, the then-chancellor of the diocese approached Baker on the subject, Baker testified. The chancellor, the Rev. John F. Allt, told Baker the diocese's insurance company required the diocese to investigate any allegations, Baker said.

Allt also had a message for Baker to relay to the Rev. John Fahey, a priest in the diocese who had worked with Trupia in Yuma and knew Trupia's reputation.

"Tell that man to mind his own business," Baker quoted Allt as saying. Allt could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Fahey, now the pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Tombstone, agreed with Baker's version of the conversation in sworn testimony given in March 2000.

However, Fred Allison, the diocese spokesman, said Friday that Allt, now pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, 215 S. Craycroft Road, made no such comment. The court files from the civil cases include a notation from the diocese that the bishop, not individual priests, directs such investigations.

In 1989 Trupia received a scholarship to attend Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to obtain a doctorate in Catholic canon law. No notice was sent to Catholic University about past activities with boys, according to diocesan testimony included in the court files.

In 1992, a distraught mother wrote a letter to the Rev. Robert Sanchez, then archbishop of Santa Fe, telling him she'd just learned her son had been abused by Trupia in 1977 when he was an altar boy at our Mother of Sorrows. She sent a copy to Moreno.

Moreno called a meeting with Trupia on April 1, 1992, at which Trupia described himself as a "loose cannon" who was "a man unfit for public ministry," Moreno said in sworn testimony he gave Aug. 3 in connection with the civil cases.

Moreno took Trupia's words as an admission of sexual misconduct with one boy and an insinuation of more misconduct, Moreno said in his testimony. But a year later, Moreno wrote the family and said Trupia simply admitted to horseplay and wrestling with the boy, according to Moreno's testimony.

Two priests from the Tucson diocese spoke with the woman and her son and agreed to pay her son's counseling bills. The son never told police, nor did the family file suit. The Star is not naming the woman to avoid identifying her son. Last week, she said in an interview that she remains angry with the church for not going to authorities about Trupia and the other priests.

Men who alleged they were abused by priests in the diocese began filing lawsuits in 1997.

In their complaints, they described incidents when as boys, they were befriended by priests. They said the priests offered them alcohol and then molested them.

One of the men recalled in sworn testimony that when he was 13 and his stepfather was dying, Trupia cared for him for a week in Yuma. He recalled Trupia's actions before Trupia molested him: "And he started smiling and telling me he loved me." The boy ran to a friend's house but didn't tell the family what had happened.

Trupia found the teen-ager and told the friend's family that he was responsible for the boy.

"You slept with Father Trupia every night?" an attorney for the plaintiffs asked the man during a deposition.

"I had to . . . six nights . . . I was in a state of shock. After the first couple of nights I was in shock. I just wanted to make it home. That's all I remember."

Because of the state statute of limitations on civil actions, only men who claimed repressed memory were allowed to file lawsuits.

They reported problems as adults. At least one attempted suicide. One has been jailed. They reported emotional, behavioral and substance abuse problems.

Schmitt, the Yuma detective, began investigating abuse reported to him by David Donald Frei in the late 1990s. Frei, one of the 10 men involved in the civil settlement, said Trupia abused him in 1973 and 1974.

In 2000, the diocese asked a judge to seal the court file in one of the civil actions that was eventually settled, arguing that the diocese had been subjected to "false and negative publicity" about the case.

Trupia last year was arrested in Yuma on seven counts of felony child molestation but was soon released because of the statute of limitations. He is not facing charges in Pima County.

Trupia, who recently moved from Silver Spring, Md., to Rockville, Md., could not be reached for comment. His lawyer did not return a phone call or e-mail from a reporter. In a telephone deposition in July 2000, Trupia declined to answer any substantive questions on the grounds that it might incriminate him.

Moreno came to Tucson in 1982, and most of the alleged abuse occurred in the 1970s, church officials note, adding that the civil actions did not come to light until the late 1990s.

Church officials stressed that in the 1970s and '80s, there was not the awareness of child abuse that exists today.

Moreno pledged Wednesday to form a committee that will review diocese policy on responding to reports of child abuse. He and co- adjutor Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas say they are committed to making sure no abuse will be tolerated.

"The diocese is confident that at this time there are no priests active in parishes who have had allegations of child abuse made against them and not addressed," Allison said.

"The diocese is doing its best through its two bishops to provide a settlement in moral and spiritual terms."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.