O'Brien Says He Doesn't Remember Talking to Family about Priest Abuse

By Joseph A. Reaves
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
December 5, 2002

Bishop Thomas O'Brien doesn't remember the meeting.

And there are no records to show it ever happened.

That, in essence, was O'Brien's response Wednesday to allegations he urged members of a family to keep quiet in late 1979 when they came to him with complaints that their teenage son was sexually abused by a priest.

The response, which angered the family and outraged other victims of sexual abuse, came through an attorney who said O'Brien had been advised to remain silent.

"It was 23 years ago," diocese attorney Michael Manning said. "There is no written record of it, and Bishop O'Brien does not remember ever meeting with the family with respect to this incident."

Peggy and Benedict Kulina told Maricopa County investigators they met with O'Brien in late 1979 or early 1980 and accused the Rev. John Maurice Giandelone of repeatedly molesting their teenage son, Benjamin. The Kulinas said O'Brien urged them to keep the allegations quiet and promised that Giandelone would be removed from St. Joseph's parish in Phoenix.

Within 60 days of the time the Kulinas said they met with O'Brien, Giandelone was quietly transferred to St. Mary's parish in Chandler where he molested a 15-year-old boy.

Giandelone served time in a Maricopa County jail for the Chandler offense. He later left the priesthood, married and moved to Florida, where he was arrested earlier this week on three new felony counts stemming from the Phoenix allegations.

The former priest waived extradition Wednesday. He is expected to be returned to the Valley later this week or early next and could become a crucial witness in an investigation to determine whether O'Brien encouraged victims of sex abuse to keep silent or played a role in moving known molesters from parish to parish.

O'Brien was vicar general of the diocese and pastor of St. Catherine's parish in Phoenix in 1979 when Giandelone is accused of first sexually molesting Benjamin Kulina. He was second-in-command to his lifelong friend, Bishop James Rausch, who died of a heart attack in 1981. O'Brien was named his successor that year.

At a tense, hourlong news conference, Manning again emphasized, as he had in a written statement earlier this week, that the attacks on Kulina and the transfer of Giandelone occurred before O'Brien became bishop.

He stopped short of saying the Kulinas were mistaken about having met with O'Brien, but said such a meeting would have been highly unusual.

"The bishop isn't saying (the meeting) never happened," Manning said. "He is simply saying, 'I don't remember that. I was the pastor at St. Catherine's at the time, and I don't remember the meeting.'

"It is improbable that Father O'Brien would have been meeting with the family of an abused child. He was vicar general at the time and a full-time pastor at St. Catherine's, and typically these complaints would have gone to the chancery office and to nowhere else."

However, the mother of another sex-abuse victim said she, too, met with O'Brien when she raised her complaints in 1979. She, too, says she was told to keep silent and promised the accused priest would be transferred.

"I asked to see the bishop, naturally. That's who you want to see in these situation," said Doris Kennedy, who accused the Rev. Patrick Colleary of molesting her teenage son. "I wanted to see Rausch. I didn't even know O'Brien existed.

"They said you're going to speak with Father O'Brien. He handled the whole thing. He was the one who said (Colleary) will be transferred and shook his finger at me when I told him I had already told other people my story."

Dick Treon, attorney for the Kulina family, said he was stunned to hear Manning suggest they may never have met with O'Brien.

"My clients are very clear that they met with O'Brien," he said. "The facts will bear them out."



A recent timeline of the Phoenix Diocese sexual-abuse controversy:

* May 30 — Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley begins investigating whether the diocese failed to report complaints of sexual misconduct against priests. Grand jury secretly empaneled.

* June 17 — Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien says he will turn records of allegations of sexual abuse by priests and church employees over to investigators.

* June 21 — O'Brien vows to lead the nation in cracking down on child molesters. He bans three priests from public ministry.

* June 27 — Grand jury subpoenas church records of any criminal sexual misconduct by any clergy or agents of the diocese.

* Sept. 24 — Romley complains the diocese is falling short of its pledge of full cooperation. Diocese says delays are necessary to protect confidentiality of personnel files.

* Oct. 8 — Church attorney Michael Manning accuses Romley of leaking grand jury information.

* Nov. 10 — Romley again accuses the diocese of failing to keep its pledge to fully cooperate.

* Tuesday — Public records allege that before he became bishop, O'Brien urged the family of a teen abused by a priest to keep silent. That priest molests a boy after a transfer that the victim says O'Brien helped arrange.

* Wednesday — Manning says O'Brien doesn't remember the case. Nor do any diocese records back up that claim.


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