Church's Poor Choice

Monterey Herald [Monterey CA]
Downloaded February 23, 2003

After Monsignor Robert Trupia of Arizona was suspended from the Catholic priesthood following an allegation of child sexual abuse, where did he find refuge? In part in the Diocese of Monterey and from its second-highest ranking official, Monsignor Charles Fatooh.

After his suspension in 1992, the Monterey diocese periodically hired Trupia as a consultant, even as allegations and lawsuits against him grew. That arrangement finally ended in 2001, amid more claims of pedophilia. But Trupia continued to find help from Fatooh, an old friend who rented the scandalized priest a condominium he had just bought in Maryland.

Last week, Fatooh's actions rightly cost him his job. After revelations about the rental arrangement appeared in the press, Fatooh resigned as vicar general. The Monterey diocese says it wasn't aware of the housing arrangement until now. But it used its own bad judgment in employing Trupia, even as his former diocese was trying to defrock him.

It's the kind of situation that has drawn outrage against some in the Catholic church for looking out for their own when it comes to claims of sexual misconduct.

Fatooh's spokesman painted Fatooh and the Monterey diocese as two more victims of Trupia. But that's a charitable mischaracterization. Fatooh and the diocese entered into their relationships with Trupia aware of his suspension, and continued their associations while the accusations against him mounted.

When officials of the Monterey diocese learned in 1998 that Trupia was named as a defendant in a sexual-abuse lawsuit, they apparently gave the claim enough credence to change the way they did business together -- but not enough to sever ties. Instead of doing his consulting visits from the diocese's tribunal office, across the street from a school, Trupia was told to perform his work long-distance, by phone and mail.

In January 2001, Yuma, Ariz. police arrested Trupia on seven counts of child molestation. The case was dropped because the statute of limitations had expired, but still the work for Monterey continued. Word of more lawsuits naming Trupia finally brought an end to the consulting in October 2001.

Still, Fatooh didn't cut his ties. Instead, he was buying a condo in Maryland at the time, and Trupia moved in. The arrangement continued even as the Tucson diocese settled 11 civil suits concerning child sexual abuse involving Trupia and three other priests, reportedly for as much as $16 million.

Fatooh clearly hasn't learned much from the sex scandal in the Catholic church and should not be in a leadership role. Others in the diocese, starting with Bishop Sylvester Ryan, say they are committed to protecting children against abuse. Accepting Fatooh's resignation was one way of showing it, but we wonder whether that would have happened without outside scrutiny.

The diocese learned of Fatooh's landlord relationship in late January but took no action until Thursday -- several days after an Arizona newspaper had written about the rental deal and when The Herald was preparing an article as well. That undermines confidence in the diocese's ability to do the right thing without prodding from the outside.



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