Tucson Diocese Faces New Abuse Lawsuit

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
March 22, 2002

On the same day Pope John Paul II denounced the "grave scandal" of priests implicated in sexual abuse cases, another local lawsuit alleging abuse by a priest was filed against the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

Christopher Robin Phillip, a former altar boy at Our Mother of Sorrows Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road, filed the lawsuit in Pima County Superior Court Thursday. Phillip, who is now 37, says that when he was 13, the Rev. William Byrne sexually molested him in a hotel room.

Phillip went by the name of Edwin Daniel Leehan Jr. when he was growing up but legally changed it in 1994.

Byrne, who died of a brain tumor in 1991, was one of four local priests named in 11 lawsuits alleging abuse in the 1960s, '70s and '80s that the diocese settled in January for an undisclosed amount of money estimated to be in the millions.

Officials with the Diocese of Tucson haven't seen the Phillip lawsuit yet and could not comment. It was the second time that Phillip, who now lives in Florida, filed suit - last summer he filed a suit seeking $4 million without the representation of a lawyer.

But the suit was dismissed because it was never served to the diocese, according to his new attorney, Alejandro Muoz.

The new lawsuit claims Phillip went on three road trips with Byrne to Phoenix. It says Byrne provided the boy with alcohol and took him to pornographic films on the trips, and told him that certain sexuality was exempt from the prohibition of the church.

Muoz alleges that then-Bishop Francis Green knew of the "sexual propensities" of Byrne and other priests and did nothing to investigate, warn or supervise him.

Muoz maintains Phillip repressed the memory of his molestation until the summer of 2000, although last year Phillip told an Arizona Daily Star reporter that he had always been cognizant of what happened to him.

"He did remember certain things, but not everything until recently," Muoz explained.

An Arizona Supreme Court ruling has made an exception to the statute of limitations for any time periods when the plaintiff was of "unsound mind," which some attorneys have interpreted to include periods of repressed memory.

All 10 men who were part of the recent settlement with the diocese claimed repressed memory. Attorney Lynne M. Cadigan, who represented the men, said she has no immediate plans to file any more such suits against the diocese.

Cadigan has said there were more victims besides the men she represented, but not all qualified to file legal action.

Breaking his silence, the pope - in an annual pre-Easter message to priests released Thursday by the Vatican - used some of his strongest language to address an issue that has seriously embarrassed the church in the United States and elsewhere.

"As priests, we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination," John Paul said.

He said they had succumbed "to the most grievous forms" of what he called, using the Latin phrase, the "mystery of evil."

The pontiff said the church "shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations."

It was the first time the pope publicly addressed the issue since widespread accusations of sexual misconduct by priests surfaced in the United States in recent months. The accusations have led to the fall of one bishop, from Palm Beach, Fla., actions taken against dozens of priests around the country, and the tarnishing of the reputation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston for failing to take action against a child-molesting priest.

The pope's pre-Easter letter generally expresses his closeness to his corps of priests around the world without taking up controversial issues such as sexual abuse.


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