Ex-Priest Sentenced in Molestation; Gets 22 Months in Decades-Old Case Involving Altar Boy

By Joseph A. Reaves
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
March 6, 2003

After nearly a quarter century, the roles were reversed.

This time the priest was helpless.

And the altar boy was in control.

The emotional turnaround came in a packed 12th-floor downtown courtroom Wednesday when John Maurice Giandelone was sentenced to 22 months in prison for molesting a former altar boy who now is one of Mesa's top street police officers.

"I have waited a very long time for this day," Lt. Ben Kulina said in a prepared statement.

"Nearly 25 years ago this man was placed in a position of trust and authority over me as a child. He betrayed that trust. This was God's representative that was doing these horrible things to me."

Giandelone, 55, pleaded guilty Jan. 9 to two counts of sodomozing and abusing Kulina at two Phoenix churches between June 1, 1979, and Feb. 28, 1980.

As part of his guilty plea, Giandelone promised to cooperate with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in an investigation into whether senior church leaders, including Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, covered up allegations of sexual abuse by priests for decades.

O'Brien issued a statement stressing that the church, under his leadership, "will not tolerate sexual abuse of children by anyone in this diocese."

"My heart goes out to Officer Kulina," the bishop said. "It is my prayer that the sentencing of John Giandelone will help Officer Kulina in his healing process."

Giandelone's agreement and the laws at the time of the offense limited the sentence that Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jonathan H. Schwartz could impose.

Schwartz gave Giandelone the harshest possible penalties, 22 months in prison and three years' probation. The judge also required Giandelone to register as a sex offender.

Michael Terribile, Giandelone's attorney, said the former priest could be out of prison as quickly as 10 months with credit for the 78 days he already has served and time off for good behavior.

The charges stemmed from a series of incidents when Giandelone was an associate pastor at St. Jerome's Parish in north Phoenix.

Kulina and his parents, Peggy and Ben Kulina Sr., said they reported the abuse to senior church officials in 1980 and that O'Brien personally told them to keep silent. O'Brien was vicar general of the Phoenix Diocese at the time and became bishop less than two years later.

O'Brien has said through an attorney that he doesn't remember meeting the Kulinas and that the diocese has no record of any such session. But Giandelone has told investigators that he met O'Brien in early 1980 to discuss a transfer to a new parish shortly after the Kulinas made their allegations.

"Your parents had an appointment with the bishop and then the bishop was at my door," Giandelone told Kulina late last year in a conversation recorded by investigators.

Giandelone was transferred less than four months after the Kulinas say they met with O'Brien. He was sentenced to a year in jail in 1985 for abusing another boy in the new parish, St. Mary's of Chandler.

In court, Cindi Nannetti, head of the county attorney's sex crimes unit, said O'Brien bore responsibility for the second molestation. She said it never would have occurred if proper action had been taken when the Kulinas first reported Giandelone.

"Had the church gotten (Giandelone) the help he needed for his sexual deviancy when Ben's parents told the bishop, then we would not be here today," she said.

Kulina echoed that sentiment in his statement, during which he turned several times to stare directly at Giandelone, who left the priesthood and married in 1992.

"I could have kept this secret hidden, just like you and the bishop have attempted to do," he said, tears welling in his eyes. "But I stand here today with a message that this type of behavior cannot continue."

Before the judge imposed sentence, Giandelone spoke.

"Ben Kulina, I'm sorry," he said, his head bowed and his voice barely audible. "I'm sorry. I know that doesn't make up for it. But I'm sorry. I'm sorry."


Published ran 3/7/03: A story on Page B1 on Thursday incorrectly identified the parish where former priest John Giandelone was stationed when he was accused of sexual abuse in 1979-80. The correct parish is St. Joseph's in north Phoenix.


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