Let Us Pray For Healing

Let us pray for healing in the Diocese of Phoenix. The scandal, the cover-up, and now the criminal act of leaving the scene of a fatal accident has ripped the Bishop from the diocese. Let us not concentrate on the past, but look to the future. Let us pray for a Bishop that will bring about true healing to all the Faithful in the Diocese of Phoenix, and beyond. Let us pray for a spirit of unity that will bring about a true ecumenism and the conversion of those not yet Catholic and the renewal of faith for those Catholics who have slipped away in recent years.

God be with us and with Rome in deciding upon a successor to the Apostolic Office now vacated.


O'Brien resigns; Santa Fe archbishop appointed to help troubled Phoenix diocese

Associated Press
Jun. 18, 2003 06:38 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The Vatican has appointed Archbishop Michael Sheehan, the leader of New Mexico's largest Catholic diocese, to help the troubled Diocese of Phoenix through its latest scandal.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe made the announcement early Wednesday after Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas O'Brien of Phoenix, who has been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

Sheehan was informed of his new responsibilities during a telephone call Tuesday from Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States.

As apostolic administrator, Sheehan has been granted full authority over the Diocese of Phoenix until the Vatican appoints a new bishop.

Sheehan was traveling to Phoenix on Wednesday, said Celine Radigan, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. It was not immediately clear how long Sheehan would stay.

"I know he's going to spend half his time there and half his time here," she said. "Right now, we're just trying to find out details."

Sheehan, who is celebrating his 10th year with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, will remain the archbishop of Santa Fe while assisting the church in Phoenix.

Sheehan said in a statement that his heart goes out to the clergy and Phoenix's Catholic community.

"You have suffered greatly these last few months. I hope to bring healing," he said. "God's grace will help us through this challenging time."

O'Brien, 67, was charged Tuesday after police investigating a weekend hit-and-run traced a license plate number to the bishop's car and found the windshield caved in.

The bishop told police he thought he had hit a dog or a cat or that someone had thrown a rock at his vehicle. The bishop didn't report the accident, but prosecutors say he attempted to have his windshield fixed.

Prosecutors said the charge against O'Brien wouldn't affect a landmark agreement announced two weeks ago in which the bishop relinquished some of his authority, sparing him from obstruction charges for protecting priests accused of child molestation.

O'Brien had admitted he allowed priests to work with minors after he knew of sexual misconduct allegations against them, and that he transferred them to ministries without telling their new supervisors.

The Vatican didn't give a specific reason Wednesday for O'Brien's decision to resign.

In New Mexico, Sheehan is known for his work in leading the church out of a sex abuse scandal a decade ago in which more than 200 children had been victims of pedophile priests here.

During his tenure, more than 20 priests have been removed for sexual misconduct, the archdiocese settled more than 200 claims and Sheehan established a zero-tolerance policy for offenders.

On Tuesday, more than 500 people attended a special Mass in Albuquerque to honor Sheehan for his 10 years with the archdiocese.

This week also marks Sheehan's 20th year as a bishop. He was ordained the first bishop of the diocese in Lubbock, Texas, on June 17, 1983.

Homilist Monsignor Leo Lucero said Catholics here are blessed with an energetic and hard-working leader in Sheehan. He praised the archbishop for steering "the proverbial boat over troubled waters with insight, unwavering tenacity and the courage given to only a few."

Can "Roe" Overturn Roe V. Wade?

The "Roe" of the landmark Roe v. Wade (search) Supreme Court decision is asking the nation's highest court to overturn its 1973 ruling that made abortion legal throughout the United States.

Click here for the story.

Pray for the end to legalized abortion.

More Info, Facts and Links - re: Bp. O'Brien Hit and Run

Local News Story

Bp. O'Brien dies at age 82.

Trouble For Bishop O'Brien

More Trouble for Bishop O'Brien

Bishop allegedly involved in fatal hit-and-run accident 06/16/2003 By NEWS CHANNEL 3 / azfamily.com Staff PHOENIX -- Bishop Thomas O'Brien, already embroiled in a sex abuse scandal that accuses him of covering up allegations involving priests, was reportedly involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident. The accident reportedly involved a pedestrian and two cars near 19th and Glendale avenues around 8:36 p.m. Saturday. Jim Reed, 43, died in the accident. Bishop Thomas O'Brien opens his car door for Phoenix police investigators. Phoenix police are reportedly serving search warrants Monday at O'Brien's home near First and Northern avenues. O'Brien was reportedly at his home when police arrived. Sources tell NEWS CHANNEL 3 that O'Brien was behind the wheel when the accident occurred. Police spokeswoman Sgt. Lauri Williams told NEWS CHANNEL 3 that witnesses provided police with a license plate number, leading them to O'Brien's home. Williams said the bishop is talking to investigators and has been cooperative. Williams added that the bishop has remained calm. According to Williams, the bishop has told investigators that he was driving in the area Saturday night and that he is the only one who drives the car. Williams said there is damage to the front right side of the bishop's car and said investigators believe the car was involved in Saturday night's accident. The accident occurred when a man was crossing a west Phoenix street in midblock and was struck by an eastbound vehicle, Williams said. A second vehicle also struck the man. Williams said both drivers failed to stop. Williams said the Phoenix Police Department is working with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. The bishop had reportedly just finished conducting confirmation services Saturday night and was on his way to sister's house. There has been no comment from the bishop. Victim's family "greatly saddened" Janice Acothley, the victim's sister, told NEWS CHANNEL 3 Monday that her family is "deeply and greatly saddened by our loss." Phoenix police investigators stand outside the home of Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien. Acothley said she "can't believe that a bishop would do this" and said her family wants "justice to be served." Acothley said her brother, the oldest of nine siblings and the father of four children, was not in a crosswalk Saturday night when he was walking alone. O'Brien, head of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, recently had a war of words with Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley over an agreement that O'Brien signed, ending the county attorney's sex abuse investigation into the church. Romley said by signing the agreement, O'Brien acknowledged his part in covering up allegations of sex abuse by priests and agreed to surrender some of his authority. However, O'Brien contradicted Romley and said he did not commit a crime because the allegations revealed by Romley date back to the '70s when he was not a bishop.


Bishop O'Brien Responds

Press Room for the Diocese of Phoenix

Bishop O'Brien's Pastoral Letter to Parishioners
June 7, 8, 2003

My Dearly Beloved in Christ,

This has been a painful and stressful week for our Church, and me personally.

Although I am a Bishop, with a calling from the Church, I am still a human being with emotions like anyone else. I would never want to pretend that my pain in any way super-cedes that of those who have been victimized by sexual abuse, particularly those who have been abused by priests.

I know many of you have questions because there have been conflicting news reports and that is due � in part � to the fact many do not understand our faith, church law and how the Roman Catholic Church serves people.

I know you have heard my many apologies to the victims of child abuse. I believe I can never apologize enough, and being sorry is not enough for those who have been harmed so terribly.

Do I feel responsible?

Yes. As the Bishop, whether or not I had only legal responsibility, the hurt and sorrow for any harm caused by priests or diocesan personnel is mine to shoulder.

You also know as Bishop I am the only one, based on church law, who can remove a priest from ministry or authorize a transfer to another parish.

I act on the recommendations of the Priest Personnel Board, which each year reviews priests� assignments. In the times when I�ve had difficult decisions to make, I made those transfers after spending much time in prayer. I felt in my heart that I had made the right decision and know that God knows I never moved a priest to hide his past sins or to endanger children.

When I became your Bishop, I had never heard the word pedophilia. I, like others, didn�t understand it was an incurable sickness.

I learned � just as law enforcement and health professionals � in the worst way by having to face the reality that our learning curve may have come at the expense of innocent children.

Wherever I have failed or misjudged, though unintentionally, I must acknowledge my mistake and I must carry the wounds of those who were harmed. I ask God, victims of sexual abuse and you, faithful Catholics, to forgive my imperfections.

As church, we have a common goal with the civil authorities to protect people. As church, we have the additional responsibility to nurture and protect their spiritual as well as their physical well-being.

The Catholic Church of Phoenix and Maricopa County Attorney�s Office want the same thing � to ensure that not only is this Diocese doing everything it can to provide a safe environment for Catholic children but for our community as a whole.

I promise you that I will never forget the past for it will remain my driving force toward the future.

I have been Bishop for two decades. I have committed my life to your service.

St. Paul calls us to be ministers of reconciliation. I assure you I want that above all else.

I believe we are taking creative and bold steps.

I ask for your prayers. As we celebrate Pentecost, I beg from God an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Faithfully Yours In Christ,

Most Rev. Bishop Thomas J. O�Brien
Bishop of Phoenix

Original article from the Diocese of Phoenix:

Press Release and Agreement between Bishop O'Brien and Rick Romley, Maricopa County Attorney:

New Email List!

We have a new email list that is not dedicated to apologetics, but any topic(s) that are of interest to Catholics, or a more open channel for those who want to discuss other issues of Catholicism that are not directly apologetic in nature. It is called "Catholic Debate Forum" and to join, just send an email to: catholicdebateforum-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and you will be part of the new list. New members are moderated for a time to make sure we don't have spammers. Once we're relatively sure of this, moderation is removed.

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Bp OBrien Admits to Cover-up

Bishop Thomas O'Brien

Bishop admits to sexual abuse cover-up; 6 more indicted

Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien signed an agreement with the county attorney. Bill Hart and Joseph A. Reaves 

The Arizona Republic Jun. 2, 2003 12:12 PM 

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley announced Monday that Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien has admitted a years-long cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. Romley also announced the indictments of six present and former Arizona priests for sexual misconduct with children. O'Brien acknowledged in an agreement with Romley that he covered up allegations of sexual abuse by priests for decades and will relinquish some of his power as head of the Phoenix Diocese to avoid possible criminal indictment. Romley said he could have indicted O'Brien but concluded that reaching the settlement with the bishop and the Phoenix Diocese was a better option. "I do believe there was sufficient evidence to indict Bishop Thomas O'Brien for obstruction of justice," Romley said. He said the penalty on conviction would likely have ranged from probation to a 2.5-year prison sentence, plus possibly a fine. O'Brien did want to resign as bishop, Romley said, but the Pope's representative in Washington, D.C., denied O'Brien permission to do so. Romley, who said he was "shocked" by that development, said O'Brien would likely have remained bishop even if charges were brought against him. "I chose not to go that (prosecution) route, and it's a fair debate," Romley said. "It's not an easy call. But my primary consideration in this entire investigation is that I must assure that the abuse of innocent children stops, and to make sure that it never happens again." O'Brien could not be immediately reached for comment. He scheduled a news conference for Monday night The six men whose indictments were announced Monday - all for sexual conduct with a minor and other charges - are: � The Rev. Joseph Briceno, believed to be in Mexico. � The Rev. Patrick Colleary, believed to be in Ireland, whose case was already dismissed once for legal reasons. � The Rev. Paul LeBrun, who served in Avondale and Tolleson, and has been arrested in Indiana. � The Rev. Karl LeClaire, who served in Mesa. � Lawrence Lovell, a former priest from Yavapai County. � The Rev. Henry Perez, now deceased. Romley said his office was also still investigating two other priests and he would be asking the Vatican to order to Colleary and Briceno to turn themselves in voluntarily to authorities. Otherwise, he said, the investigation is closed. Romley said his yearlong investigation that looked at conduct of 45 priests and 25 other employees of the diocese. He called it "a very difficult investigation in many different ways," including the efforts to persuade victims to speak. O'Brien's dramatic admission and his decision to surrender some authority came in a five-page agreement the bishop signed last month when Romley threatened to bring him before a grand jury. The agreement was made public by Romley on Monday. The legally binding document is one of the most candid confessions by any bishop in the country that official church policy endangered children and allowed some priests to continue molesting minors long after their sexual histories were known. O'Brien signed the agreement twice in the presence of his lawyers, acknowledging his actions both as an individual and as head of the Phoenix Diocese. Other features of the agreement include: � O'Brien will appoint a moderator of the Curia, a sort of "chief of staff," to handle issues concerning sexual misconduct policy � The diocese will create a youth protection advocate not subject to O'Brien's authority to ensure that all personnel observe the policy on sexual misconduct � The diocese will pay $300,000 to the county attorney's victims' fund and spend another $300,000 for its own counseling of victims. � The diocese will create an independent three-person victim assistance panel and provide counseling costs up to $50,000 for each credible victim who comes forward. In December, O'Brien revealed that at least 50 priests, former priests and church employees had been accused of sexual misconduct with children in the Phoenix Diocese during the past three decades. He declined to identify many of them and denied their actions were covered up. The agreement O'Brien signed details 14 concessions by the bishop and the diocese, including a pledge to revamp the church hierarchy in Phoenix and provisions for significant financial settlements. Central to the agreement is an 82-word statement by O'Brien that he knowingly let priests accused of sexual misconduct work with children and that he transferred clergy accused of abuse without telling their superiors or parishioners about the allegations. Both admissions contrast with repeated denials and assurances by O'Brien. "No one in this diocese who commits crimes against youths will be protected by the church," O'Brien said at a news conference June 21, when he vowed to "lead the nation" in cleaning up the sex abuse scandal. Four and a half months later, on Nov. 8, he repeated his vow in a letter read to the faithful in all 89 parishes of the diocese. "As long as I am your bishop, I will not tolerate any kind of sexual molestation or assault - whether with a child or an adult - by clergy or diocesan employees. I will not alter my commitment to you to provide the safest and most secure environment possible for our children." Sources close to O'Brien said the bishop offered to resign before signing the sex abuse statement and discussed the possibility with his advisers and Apostolic Nuncio Gabriel Montalvo, the pope's representative in Washington. Only the pope can accept a bishop's resignation. The Vatican refused to allow O'Brien to step down, the sources said, for fear that such a move would create the impression the church was yielding to pressure from civil authorities and disgruntled faithful. Last year, the Vatican refused to accept the resignation of embattled Boston Cardinal Bernard Law for similar reasons. Pope John Paul II later relented and accepted Law's resignation Dec. 13. The agreement O'Brien signed guarantees him immunity from prosecution for any criminal cover-up or for failing to report sexual abuse by priests he supervised. But Romley reserved the right to bring charges against individual priests accused of sexual misconduct, including O'Brien himself if the bishop ever faced allegations of personal, direct involvement in criminal sexual activity. In what may be a signal that Romley intends to aggressively pursue sex offenders within the church, his office issued a warrant late last week for a former priest who worked in the West Valley from 1986 to 1993. The Rev. Paul LeBrun was arrested Friday near the University of Notre Dame campus at a mission house where he had been living since having his privileges to serve as a priest removed two years ago. Two men who said they were abused as boys by LeBrun in Arizona cooperated this year with investigators. Romley refused to comment on LeBrun's arrest, but the former priest's attorney and the head of his religious order confirmed that he was awaiting extradition to Maricopa County on felony sex charges. LeBrun transferred to Arizona with O'Brien's permission in 1986 and worked with children at St. John Vianney parish in Goodyear. He later was youth minister at Blessed Sacrament in Tolleson before returning to Indiana. Under the agreement O'Brien signed, he will surrender some of his authority to three newly appointed officials. The bishop agreed to give up power to deal with sex abuse allegations by clergy in the diocese. If he breaches that promise, he can be prosecuted. A new independent special advocate will handle sexual misconduct complaints with the help of a new diocesan attorney, who replaces the bishop's longtime legal adviser, Greg Leisse, on those cases. O'Brien also agreed to appoint a moderator of the Curia, the ecclesiastic equivalent of a chief of staff, who will oversee day-to-day administration of the diocese. The position is optional, but traditionally the vicar general of a diocese becomes moderator of the Curia if one is appointed. The Phoenix Diocese has two vicars general, Monsignors Richard W. Moyer and Dale J. Fushek. Moyer is chief financial officer for the diocese and most likely to get the new post since Fushek acknowledged last year that he paid $45,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim filed by a male parishioner. Under the agreement, O'Brien remains titular head of the Phoenix church he has led since November 1981 but will hold diminished powers until he reaches retirement or steps down for health reasons. Mandatory retirement age for bishops is 75, though the Vatican has approved early retirement requests from bishops who are at least 70. O'Brien is 67. Friends and aides say O'Brien's health has suffered considerably during the past year in which he and the diocese faced ongoing criminal investigations, several civil lawsuits and intense media scrutiny. Seven Catholic bishops across the United States have resigned since allegations of sexual abuse by priests and claims of cover-up by senior church leaders began making national headlines in early 2002. Two of the bishops who resigned were accused of sexually abusing minors. Two others acknowledged they had sexual relations with male or female adults. And the other three, including 71-year-old Cardinal Law, were at or near retirement age when the pope allowed them to resign amid harsh criticism of their handling of sex abuse allegations. Bishop Manuel D. Moreno of Tucson, a close friend of O'Brien, was one of the seven who stepped down. He resigned in March at age 72, citing serious health issues, including prostate problems and the onset of Parkinson's disease. The way to Moreno's retirement was cleared 17 months earlier when the Tucson Diocese faced a series of sexual abuse lawsuits and the Vatican named co-adjutor bishop to work with him. A co-adjutor is a bishop-in-waiting with guaranteed rights of succession. Two of Arizona's most prominent attorneys, both Catholic, tried late last year to persuade the Phoenix Diocese to begin a similar power transition by requesting a co-adjutor to work with O'Brien. Ernest Calderon, president of the Arizona Bar Association, and Michael C. Manning, who represented O'Brien and the diocese for several months, said they were rebuffed by the church when they suggested the co-adjutor option. The alternative of appointing a moderator of the Curia in Phoenix, rather than a co-adjutor, emerged during prolonged discussions earlier this year. An important difference is that a moderator of the Curia works for, and with, the bishop rather than as a co-equal who will eventually succeed him. O'Brien's admissions and his decision to revamp the power structure of the diocese were a direct result of pressure from a yearlong criminal investigation that Romley began May 30, 2002. Several grand juries were empanelled during that investigation. So far, only two men - a priest and a former priest - have been indicted on charges of sexual misconduct with minors that occurred decades ago. The indictment against the priest was dropped because the statute of limitations on the charges had expired, while the former priest was sentenced to 22 months in prison and cooperated with the grand jury investigations of the church. Since 1985, three others priests - George Bredemann, Mark Lehman and Joseph Marcel Lessard - have been sentenced to prison or jail time for sex-related offenses. Another 19 of the more than 700 priests who have worked in the Phoenix Diocese since its founding Dec. 9, 1969, have been arrested, suspended from public ministry or named in lawsuits for sex-related offenses. At a news conference Dec. 13, Romley hinted the pace and scope of his cover-up investigation might be influenced if O'Brien removed himself as head of the Phoenix Diocese. "That would provide an opportunity for the church to move on and put this issue behind it," Romley said. "That would be a factor that I consider very heavily when I try to weigh the endgame to all of this." At the same time, Romley was adamant in December that whatever happened with any conspiracy investigation, he intended to aggressively prosecute individual priests or church employees accused of personal misconduct. Nothing he has said since would indicate a change of mind. In fact, the arrest of LeBrun during the weekend seemed a clear signal that Romley's investigations were continuing. O'Brien isn't the first bishop in the country to acknowledge covering up sexual misconduct by priests under his supervision, but his statement was particularly blunt. Boston's Cardinal Law admitted he transferred priests with known histories of sexual abuse to new parishes where they continued their abuse. But Law's admission came in court records that were sealed before a Massachusetts judge finally ordered them released. The closest thing to O'Brien's candid admission came in December when Bishop John B. McCormack of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Hampshire avoided indictment by signing a statement accepting "responsibility for failures in our system that contributed to the endangerment of children." While the deal O'Brien signed with Romley ends any threat that he could be indicted for obstructing justice or conspiring to protect priests, legal experts say his admissions could affect current and future civil suits against the diocese. O'Brien said in December that the diocese had paid less than $2 million to settle sex abuse claims against priests and church employees during the past 20 years. But at least three pending lawsuits accuse the bishop of failing to protect children who were victimized by abusive priests. The Tucson Diocese last year paid $14 million to settle 11 lawsuits brought by 16 defendants who claimed they were abused by priests. A key element of those suits were claims that two Tucson bishops knew of the priests' behavior and failed to take proper action. Similar claims against bishops and abusive priests have led to even greater settlements against the church across the country. In an article headlined "Sex, Greed & God," Forbes magazine reports in its June 9 editions that "the church's legal problems are worse even than most people realize." The article says that $1 billion in damages have been paid out for victims of pedophile priests and indications are "the total will approach $5 billion before the crisis is over."

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