(Jan. 18, 2020) – At least 65 Arizona priests have been credibly accused or convicted of child sex abuse. The Arizona Republic announced that disturbing figure last summer. Two Catholic religious orders released the lists naming 65 clergy accused of sexual abuse against minors. The list dated back decades.
Childhood sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests has increasingly caught the attention of state prosecutors across the U.S., as well as the attention of clergy abuse attorneys in several states. Hundreds of clergy abuse lawsuits have now been filed across the country for victims accusing the church of failing to protect them and covering up unspeakable crimes.
The Oakland, California-based Franciscan Friars of the Province of Saint Barbara released its list of credible abuse claims in late May 2019. The claims stretch from the 1930s to the 1980s. More than two dozen abusers on the list preached in Arizona, from St. Mary’s in Phoenix to St. Xavier del Bac near Tucson. Most of the accused have escaped earthly justice by dying.
Father David Gaa, provincial minister for the Franciscan Friars of Saint Barbara, wrote in a letter that the list is a commitment to transparency and accountability. “The victims, their families, and the People of God deserve transparency,” he writes.
Two Accused Clergy served in Phoenix
Rev. William Lies (his real name), the provincial superior of the Franciscan order, said in a letter released with the list: “Over the last two decades, but particularly in the last year, we have all become more aware of the problem of sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church and its mishandling. (I) share your frustration, anger and sadness at these revelations. I also share your desire for transparency and healing.”
The Diocese of Phoenix said it’s reviewing both lists. It began publishing its list of credible abuse claims against clergy seven years ago.
Scrutiny grows across the country
Abuse in the Roman Catholic church gathered greater scrutiny with the release of a Pennsylvania Attorney General’s grand jury report in August 2018. The grand jury reported that more than 300 “predator priests” molested more than 1,000 children in six dioceses across Pennsylvania for more than six decades.
Catholic Priest Abuse Coverup – “They hid it all.”
“Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing,” said the Penn. report. “They hid it all.”
That shocking Pennsylvania report spurred prosecutors across the U.S. to investigate abuse claims in the church. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) points out on its website that many states have set up hotlines for victims to report clergy abuse.
Arizona is not among those states setting up hotlines. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office refused to comment on possible action, but issued a statement that may give some small measure of solace to priest abuse victims:
“Anyone who abuses a child needs to be held accountable, no matter how long ago the abuse took place,” Arizona AG office spokeswoman Katie Conner told The Arizona Republic.
Arizona child sex abuse has been investigated in the state before. In 2003, then-Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley headed an investigation that led to six criminal indictments and several lawsuits.
Former Bishop Thomas O’Brien, then the leader of the Diocese of Phoenix, was granted immunity from prosecution after admitting his part in cover-ups. Bishop O’Brien eventually admitted that roughly 50 priests and church staff were accused of abuse over the years and that the diocese had paid millions to settle civil lawsuits.
Hit and Run Bishop Resigns
Bishop O’Brien, who looked like an aged, debauched Nicholas Cage, resigned within weeks of the settlement, following his arrest for a fatal hit-and-run accident. The disgraced holy man was convicted and sentenced to probation, living in a church-owned house in Phoenix until his death last year. (And this was one of the church’s leaders.)
A civil lawsuit accusing O’Brien of abuse had been filed in 2017, but was dismissed after his death. Other lawsuits against priests who served in Arizona continue.
Diocese of Phoenix Abuse
The Diocese of Phoenix began publishing lists of priests accused or convicted of abusing children in 2012. Thirty-nine names appear on the current lists, whether diocese priests or others from religious orders who preached in the area.
The Phoenix diocese sends community notifications when new lists are issued, such as those from the Franciscan and Holy Cross orders.
Arizona Victims Rights Bill
Some measure of hope for victims in the darkness appeared last spring when Arizona introduced a new victims’ rights bill, in May 2019. Governor Doug Ducey signed into law an Arizona’s victims’ rights bill (HB2466). Arizona thus joined the ranks of New York, New Jersey, and a growing number of other states with Child Victims Acts that ease or reform the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors, hopefully opening new roads to healing, justice, transparency, and accountability.
While some victims’ rights groups say the Arizona bill doesn’t go far enough, it is at least a step in the direction of child protection. The Arizona victims’ rights bill:
- extends the age limit to bring a claim against a perpetrator by 10 years, from the current age of 20 to the new age of 30;
- opens a temporary window for survivors older than 30 to file civil claims against their perpetrators and the institutions that hid them, no matter when the abuse occurred;
- takes effect as of signing (May 27, 2019), with the temporary window remaining open until December 31, 2020 for survivors older than 30.
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