Abuse Victims Feel O'Brien Was 'Let off Hook Criminally'

By Connie Cone Sexton
Arizona Republic
June 3, 2003

Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien should have been indicted and not allowed immunity for admitting he covered up sexual abuse cases in the Phoenix Diocese, victims of the abuse and their families said Monday.

"He truly should be held accountable and sent to jail for what he's done," said Glendale resident Shari Roy, who gave birth to a child in 1978 after she said she was raped by former Scottsdale priest Patrick Colleary.

"O'Brien is as evil as the predators" for not bringing to public light the actions of his priests, she said.

Kathleen Lecheler, another of Colleary's accusers, agreed: "I'm real disappointed he's being let off the hook criminally. The buck stops there. He needs to pay the price."

Lecheler, who claimed that Colleary had fondled her as a child while serving at SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral, winces when she recalls that O'Brien previously had said his conscience was clear. She said she had gone to O'Brien for help years ago about Colleary but was rebuffed. "I felt very patronized and very frustrated. I had even sent in a letter with all the details."

Paul Pfaffenberger, who founded the local chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests), said the agreement signed by O'Brien leaves "unfinished business. His being met with criminal consequences would have been more satisfying to the victims."

Still, Pfaffenberger said he understood why Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley made the deal he did and he's impressed with his tenacity at landing the agreement.

Family members of those who have been abused said O'Brien's admission helps bring closure but it's not enough.

Sue Watson, whose son Sean was molested by the then-Father George Bredemann at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Phoenix, wanted O'Brien to be held fully accountable. Bredemann, who has been defrocked, was given 45 years in prison in 1989 for having had sex with young boys.

"It's just such a slap in these kids' faces," she said. "That there are no charges against the bishop is just unbelievable to me when you think about the crimes that have been committed in this Valley. My son suffered. He became a drug addict, but he's clean now."

Sean, now 31 and working as a disc jockey in Kansas, said it is "ridiculous" that O'Brien is basically staying put on the job. "It does bring some closure to this in that he admitted what he knew, but I don't agree with the doctrine.

Sean said he would like to sit down with O'Brien and get an answer for why he didn't come forward years ago. "It would be a pretty deep conversation. There'd be some anger, but I'd love to ask him why."

Phoenix resident Rene Sosa, who claims he was victimized by now-deceased priest Henry Perez, said O'Brien needs to make a public apology.

Sosa, 38, who said he was abused from the ages of 12 to 15 by Perez at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Phoenix, said Perez was "like a demon who wouldn't go away. But today, I heard that he had died. I can have closure now. But I think O'Brien should really represent the people he represents in the church. He owes us an explanation."

Lecheler, 46 and living in Austin, is glad the agreement O'Brien signed provides funds for victims counseling.

But she said there isn't enough money to heal her feelings of loss with the Catholic Church. While her faith in God remains steadfast, she feels abandoned by her religion.

"It was my cornerstone, and that's the biggest thing now. I just haven't gotten that back. It's almost like a big sham. Where do I have to go to have my faith?"


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