Bishop O'Brien to Abide by Deal, Diocese Confirms

By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic
June 13, 2003

Attorneys for the Phoenix Diocese met with prosecutors Thursday to reassure them that Bishop Thomas O'Brien stands by the admissions and commitments he made in an agreement that grants him immunity from possible criminal indictment.

The agreement O'Brien signed in May acknowledges he allowed priests accused of sexual misconduct to work with minors and that he transferred clergy without telling their supervisors or parishioners of the abuse allegations against them.

Just hours after that agreement was made public last week, O'Brien called a news conference and appeared to back away from his admissions. He denied ever intentionally putting children in harm's way and rejected claims that he covered up for abusive priests.

Those statements and several others O'Brien made in a series of media interviews the next few days led Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley to request a meeting with the bishop's advisers to see if there was any misunderstanding about the agreement.

"We had a very good meeting with the county attorney's staff," said Jim Belanger, one of the bishop's lead attorneys. "We all agreed that we have a very workable agreement.

"To the extent that there was any confusion or any ambiguity that was caused by any of the comments or the events of the last several days, that was very unfortunate and we are sorry that happened."

Belanger said the bishop and the diocese "are very committed to this agreement and our plan is to go forward under this agreement and to protect our parishioners and, most importantly, our children."

Barnett Lotstein of the County Attorney's Office echoed Belanger's sentiments about the meeting.

"There was no haggling or negotiations or dispute," he said. "They said we have an agreement, they understand it and intend to abide by it fully."

The agreement grants O'Brien immunity from possible criminal indictment on obstruction of justice charges in return for his admissions about the way he handled sex abuse allegations in the diocese for decades and a series of commitments to change church policy.

O'Brien agreed to relinquish power to deal with any sex abuse allegations, to reimburse the county attorney $100,000 for the cost of a yearlong investigation and contribute $600,000 to a victims' compensation fund.


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