For I Have Sinned . . .
Evidence Reveals Shameful History of Priestly Abuses

The Arizona Republic [Arizona]
May 8, 2003

An infamous history. A history of shame. But only now, decades later, as a local prosecutor digs into mountains of testimony, can we appreciate the pervasiveness of evil, evil committed by men of God, evil protected by their bishops, the successors of the Apostles.

That is the sad conclusion we draw from the prodigious reporting work of The Arizona Republic's Joseph A. Reaves and Kelly Ettenborough. Their work, which appeared Sunday, demonstrates that far from being an isolated problem, the scandal of sex abuse touched at least 42 of the 88 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix since 1970.

In so many cases, priests who were accused of sexual misconduct were not disciplined or defrocked. They were reassigned - to three area high schools, the Newman Center at Northern Arizona University and to 17 parishes with elementary schools attached.

How could these things happen? What logic on Earth would direct these troubled priests to the very places where they could - and did - find scores of new and vulnerable victims?

Unfortunately, these predator priests touched 10 of the 12 largest Hispanic parishes in the far-flung diocese, which extends to northern Arizona.

But the hierarchy's lapses endangered the entire diocese. Arizona's premier Catholic parishes - St. Thomas the Apostle in Phoenix, St. Louis the King in Glendale and Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Maria Goretti in Scottsdale - were also exposed.

True enough, many of these cases were known already. That Bishop Thomas O'Brien in Phoenix and U.S. bishops elsewhere have commendably, if belatedly, made dramatic changes in their policies. In February, parishioners at St. Daniel the Prophet Church in Scottsdale were stunned to learn that the Rev. Gene Young was forced to resign as associate pastor because he spent time alone with minors, a violation under diocesan rules governing sexual misconduct.

But even if the national scandal within the Catholic clergy reaches between 1 or 2 percent of the priests, as has been estimated, this represents a scandal of horrible proportions.

A prosecutor cannot look the other way at this record. Nor can the faithful.

Remember, these evil people were not picked randomly off the street. These are priests, men who dedicated their lives to God and his teaching, men who we assume strive to be holy, whom we trust, revere and hold in the highest esteem, representatives of Christ on Earth.

These are the men who betrayed us. These are the men whom the bishops, including those in Arizona, coddled, protected, enabled.

One or 2 percent? Given their public power and position, it's as if we elected two child molesters to the U.S. Senate in every election since 1960.

Given the numbers, the documents, we cannot escape the conclusion that Phoenix was considered a place with lower standards, where troubled priests from other parts of the country could find refuge, a new start. A place to sin again.

One, the Rev. John T. Sullivan, a known serial molester, was able to find work in several states, including Arizona. Throughout the 1970s, he was assigned to six parishes in Arizona. This was despite warnings from his bishop in Manchester, N.H.

Sullivan's case is illustrative, not unique. Priests with pasts too often made a new home in Arizona. It was a pattern.

It was worse than a pattern. It was a sin.


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