51 Arizona Priests Listed in New Report on Abuse

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
February 28, 2004

At least 51 Catholic clergy in Arizona have faced at least 170 credible sexual-abuse allegations since 1950, costing local dioceses nearly $20 million.

The numbers were part of the 4,400 priests nationwide who had 6,700 credible cases against them, costing dioceses about $575 million, the Catholic Church reported Friday.

The reports from bishops' offices in Arizona and Washington, D.C., were issued 20 months after U.S. bishops established a National Review Board to oversee efforts to rein in the clergy abuse crisis. The review board commissioned twin reports that came out Friday, one a statistical survey of dioceses and the other an investigation into the causes of the crisis.

But victims groups locally and nationwide argued that the reports fell short of a full confession about the extent of sexual abuse by clergy, and that bishops have failed to take responsibility for their role in the crisis.

In Phoenix, one new name, Jorge Ortiz Lopez, was added to a previous list of 18, bringing to 19 the number of priests in the diocese with credible allegations against them.

Lopez, a Franciscan, was sued for $5 million in 1994 and settled in 1996, after he was accused of molesting an altar boy.

To address the issue in Arizona, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted announced Friday that a statewide summit conference on the sexual abuse of children would take place May 20. The conference was required as part of the immunity agreement between the former diocesan leader, Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

In addition, the diocese announced that it has identified 73 victims and that it has faced 29 false or unsubstantiated charges. The Tucson Diocese reported 96 victims, and the Gallup, N.M., Diocese, which serves a small area of Arizona, 11.

"This report is both startling and humbling," Olmsted said Friday morning. "This report is one more stage in a whole process of purification, conversion and renewal."

Nationally, nearly 11,000 allegations were tallied in the period of the survey, 1950 through 2002. Almost 2,000 allegations were found to be unsubstantiated, and 3,000 were not investigated because the accused had died.

Phoenix had 29 unsubstantiated allegations, public information director Mary Jo West said. Along with two convictions of lay youth ministers in 2002, the additions bring the number of accused individuals to 50 in the diocese, as reported by O'Brien in late 2002.

The cost figures nationally did not include 2003 settlements, including one of $85 million in Boston.

In Arizona, the costs could exceed $20 million. Phoenix listed costs at $2.7 million, Gallup at less than $200,000, and Tucson at almost $2 million. But the Tucson figure does not include the confidential settlement of 11 lawsuits in 2002, estimated at $15 million, and at least 22 lawsuits remain outstanding in Tucson and Phoenix.

The victim count was the first from the Phoenix Diocese, and a victims group immediately cast doubt on the figure. Paul Pfaffenberger, head of the local chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said he has received more than 100 calls from individuals in the past three years.

Nick Thomas of the Arizona chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a national lay reform group, called on Olmsted to "fully disclose any and all financial data" regarding the scandal. Olmsted is scheduled to meet with him on March 16.

Reaction to the numbers was swift from local Catholics.

Tom Van Dyke of Phoenix said the reports failed to convince him that "bishops are willing to make the changes" needed to ensure accountability.

George Garbel of Phoenix said he was disappointed the report did not condemn abuse as a "moral wrong."

But a priest, the Rev. Patrick Mowrer, said he is convinced that the worst is past.

"The number of cases has slowed incredibly, and the reality is we have been dealing with this," said Mowrer, pastor of St. Anthony and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches in Phoenix. "We should not see many new occurrences for many years."


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