Diocese Suit Cites Cycle of Sex Abuse

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
August 17, 2002

Two sisters are suing the Catholic Diocese of Tucson because they say a local priest triggered a cycle of sexual abuse in their family.

Jill Ann Wyatt and Gail Marie Lafnear are not saying the priest abused them. Rather, they say their three brothers sexually abused them. But they blame their brothers' actions on the Rev. William T. Byrne, a diocesan priest who died of a brain tumor in 1991.

The women say Byrne abused the three Medigovich brothers during the 1960s, and by doing so turned the young men into abusers themselves.

Indeed, members of the Medigovich family were part of an out-of- court confidential civil settlement the Diocese of Tucson reached earlier this year with 10 men and their families in a case involving 11 civil lawsuits. The suits alleged sexual abuse during the 1960s, '70s and '80s by four local priests, including Byrne, and the settlement was estimated to be as high as $16 million.

The settlement triggered an outcry from local Catholics who said the diocese covered up or ignored the sexual abuse while it was occurring. In response, the diocese set up a policy review team and is making numerous internal changes, including organizing an office aimed at protecting parishioners from abuse.

Byrne's name was also on a list of 15 priests with "credible" accusations of child sexual abuse against them that the diocese released in June.

Catholic Diocese of Tucson spokesman Fred Allison said local church officials have not yet been served with the most recent lawsuit. The women are also suing the estate of Byrne, Diocese of Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno and their own brothers.

The lawsuit alleges that Byrne molested the brothers regularly in the rectory of Holy Cross Parish in Clifton, often giving them alcohol and allowing them to watch pornographic movies. According to Wyatt and Lafnear, the brothers in turn abused their sisters when Wyatt was 10 and Lafnear was 9.

The women say the diocese should have known that their brothers would commit sexual abuse against other children as a direct result of the abuse by Byrne.

"It was reasonably foreseeable that abused children would in turn abuse other children unless they were treated and their behavior properly monitored," the lawsuit says. "On information and belief, the diocese knew prior to 1970 that the Catholic Church had a significant problem with pedophilia and/or pederasty (sexual relations between men and boys) among priests."

Allison stressed that Moreno was not the bishop at the time of the alleged abuse. Moreno became bishop in 1982, taking over for Bishop Francis J. Green, who had served since 1960. Green died in 1995.

"I don't think I've ever heard of anything quite like that," Allison said of the civil action. "This is certainly a family tragedy, and we express our great sorrow for any abuse that stemmed from any person in the church."

Wyatt and Lafnear live in Maricopa County and are being represented by Phoenix attorneys who were not available for comment Friday.

Lynne M. Cadigan, the attorney who represented the Medigovich brothers in the civil actions, was also unavailable for comment.

Call for help

Anyone who has experienced abuse by a priest, deacon, employee or volunteer in the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, may call 623-0344 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from within the Tucson area or 1- 800-234-0344 from outside the Tucson area. Callers will have an opportunity to talk with a person who assists victims.


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