A Special Report to the Laity, Religious, and Clergy of the Diocese of Tucson
By Most Rev. Manuel D. Moreno
Bishop of Tucson
Many of you are aware that civil suits have been filed against our Diocese in connection with allegations of child abuse by some priests.
I have written to you about some of these suits, and some have been reported in Catholic Vision and in the secular news media.
Now, with the first of these suits set for trial in late October, I think it is very important that I make this report to you about the suits, giving you as much information as I can, while respecting the appropriate boundaries imposed by our legal system.
It is important for you to have this information because it is your Diocese that is being sued and because you deserve to have the information.
As you read this report, I want very much for you to know that:
I am profoundly sorry for any child abuse that may have been committed by any worker for the Diocese and for any action of any worker who may have failed to protect children from child abuse.
Child abuse in any of its forms is a moral and legal wrong that will not be tolerated within the structures of our Diocese.
The acts of abuse alleged in the suits are in the time frame of 22 to 35 years ago.
There has been no cover-up, hiding, misdirection, or obstruction by me or by our Diocesan staff in response to the suits. We have cooperated fully and diligently with all court orders for the production of documents and other information sought by the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Allegations in the suits raise questions about how our Diocese has dealt in the past with concerns about child abuse by priests. The allegations and questions create doubt about the trust we should have in the ability of our Diocese to respond as it should when it learns of possible child abuse by any of its workers. Whatever the outcomes of the suits, we will need to restore trust. I am committed to restoring that trust.
There wasnt the awareness and recognition of child abuse some 20 and 30 years ago that there is today. The laws, policies, and procedures that guide society, churches, and other institutions today in their response to child abuse simply didnt exist back then. Our Church has had to learn from the past, along with the rest of society, about the realities of child abuse so that it can help prevent child abuse and respond to it properly.
For more than 10 years, our Diocese has had in place policies and procedures that require any allegation of child abuse involving any worker (whether priest, sister, brother, deacon, lay employee, or volunteer) to be promptly and thoroughly investigated.
Our policies and procedures emphasize adherence to the child abuse reporting requirements of Arizona law; an immediate offer of counseling and comfort to anyone who may have been abused and their families; and prompt action to relieve an alleged offender from ministerial or employment duties.
I respect the right of those who have made the allegations to pursue their claims through our legal system.
I expect that any person who becomes involved in the legal proceedings of the suits will fulfill whatever obligation that involvement may bring with integrity, impartiality, truthfulness, and trust in our legal system.
I cannot presume to know or to understand the feelings of those who have made the allegations. All I can do is embrace them in the love of Christ and trust that He will give them peace and healing.
The number of alleged acts and the awful behaviors that are alleged are overwhelming. I was shocked and dismayed to learn of the allegations, and there is just no way that I can prepare you for what is alleged in the suits and what may be alleged during any trials.
The legal system requires that we respond to the suits. Our legal response will be conducted professionally and respectfully. But we need a spiritual response too, and that response is prayer. I ask as I have before: please pray for all who are involved, and pray that the truth will set us free.
Child abuse is a reality in our society and within the structures of our Church. But all the good we do is a reality too! Our collective efforts to serve community, our private and individual efforts to help our neighbors in need, and our advocacy for the oppressed and weak are all real and all define us as Catholic.
And just as real are all the good things the loving and caring things that the priests of our Diocese do in Christs name, and they are rightfully defined as priests by that love and care. I know that the priests of our Diocese feel such deep pain and sorrow because of the allegations.
As a priest, I have asked myself what people must think of us when they hear about the allegations. I also have asked myself that same question when I hear of the loving and caring things that our priests do. The answer I hear in my heart gives me hope and comfort.
Summary Information about the Suits and Related Issues
To assist me to provide information to you about the suits and related issues, I asked my staff to prepare a summary that I share with you here.
Because the court has entered an order of confidentiality that applies to all parties in the suits, the information provided here is limited so that we can be in compliance with court-ordered guidelines.
There are nine suits. The first was filed in 1997. The latest was filed in August of this year. The acts alleged in the suits are in the time frame of 1966 to 1979, and, according to the suits, allegedly took place on and off the premises of Diocesan facilities.
Seven of the suits involve repressed memory. The suits say that those making the allegations did not remember the abuse until years later, past the time when the allegations could have been dealt with criminally or civilly within the allowed statutory time. Arizona law allows consideration of repressed memory as a reason for not meeting time requirements of the statute of limitations.
Four of the suits include as plaintiffs the parents of those who have alleged abuse. The parents are represented in those suits as having suffered the loss of relationship with their children because of the alleged abuse.
The acts of child abuse alleged in the suits involve sexual molestation, drugs, and alcohol. There are additional allegations that officials of the Diocese had knowledge of the alleged abuse, had been negligent in their responsibilities for supervision, had failed to report alleged acts of child abuse, and had failed to remove alleged offenders from their ministerial positions.
No Church or Diocesan funds are being used to pay the attorneys representing the Diocese.
The attorneys representing the Diocese in the suits are members of the Mac Ban Law Offices in Tucson.
The defense of the Diocese does not include the priests who are alleged to have committed acts of child abuse. No Church or Diocesan funds are being used to pay the attorneys retained by the priests who are alleged to have committed acts of child abuse.
Four priests are named as defendants in the suits: Father William Byrne; Father Pedro Luke; Father Michael Teta; and Msgr. Robert Trupia.
Father Byrne died in 1991.
The Diocese believes that Father Luke was actually Father Lucien Meunier de la Pierre, a priest from Canada. The Diocese relieved him of ministerial duties and suspended his priestly faculties in 1975 following his arrest on child abuse charges.
Father de la Pierre was convicted of child abuse charges, and is believed to have died while serving a prison sentence.
The Diocese relieved Father Teta and Msgr. Trupia of ministerial duties in 1990 and 1991, respectively, in accord with its policies governing allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct.
Also, through canon law (the law of the Church), the Diocese suspended the priestly faculties of Father Teta and Msgr. Trupia.
The Diocese has pursued through its Tribunal the canonical process that could result in the removal from the priesthood of Father Teta and is awaiting final action from the Holy See in that process.
The Diocese also is awaiting action from the Holy See to its response in the process of a canonical appeal by Msgr. Trupia of the suspension of his priestly faculties.
Just as in the legal system of secular law, canon law provides the right of due process.
In respect of that right and in fulfillment of the canonical obligation of a bishop to provide sustenance to a priest who is not able to give ministerial service, the Diocese is providing sustenance equivalent to a priests monthly salary and health insurance to Msgr. Trupia and Father Teta. The equivalent monthly salary and monthly health insurance premium costs amount to approximately $1,475 for Msgr. Trupia and $900 for Father Teta.
The Dioceses first formal policies and procedures to respond to allegations of child abuse were initiated in 1990 and included the establishment of the Sensitive Claims Committee.
This committee is the mechanism by which the Diocese responds to allegations of child abuse and ministry or employment related sexual misconduct by offering counseling, by conducting a prompt and thorough investigation, and by making recommendations for removal from ministerial service or employment.
The committees members include three priests, a sister, a lay psychologist, and a lay diocesan employee. The committees response to allegations of child abuse is guided by the diocesan attorney.
The Diocese published guidelines to its policies and procedures on child abuse in 1993.
An initial educational effort in 1993 on the policies and procedures included production and distribution of a videotape, the guidelines, and Child Protective Services educational materials on child abuse. These were sent to all parishes and Catholic schools, where presentations also were made. Educational efforts have been on-going since 1993.
I hope that this report will be helpful to you in understanding the response of our Diocese to the suits.
You may have many more questions and concerns about the suits and about the response of the Diocese locally and of our Church nationally to child abuse.
It may be of help to you to access our Diocesan web site (www.diocesetucson.org) under the heading of "Restoring Trust."
In addition to the guidelines to our policies and procedures, this Internet resource also has information from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This information includes a timeline on how our Church, through the Bishops national conference, has responded to child abuse by priests.
The information also includes an interview with an expert on sexual disorders. The interview is very educational, and it directly addresses many of the issues and concerns related to child abuse by priests. I suggest that parents exercise discretion over their childrens access to this interview.
The information in this "Restoring Trust" resource also will be provided to our parishes where you may access it.
From our own experience and the experience of other dioceses, we know that there is likely to be news media attention to the suits as trials begin.
We want to continue to be open to the legitimate needs of the news media while remaining within the guidelines of the courts.
We trust that the news media will provide coverage that reflects the highest degree of journalistic integrity. We are making this special report and the "Restoring Trust" resource available to the news media as part of our effort to deal as openly as possible with the suits.
We will invite the news media to draw upon this report and other resources as means to provide coverage that emphasizes sensitivity, fairness, and objectivity.
"The Catholic Bishops of the United States are deeply sorry for what has happened to innocent children due to the abuse perpetrated by some priests. The Churchs commitment to the sanctity of the family and to the care, nurture, and education of children comes too near the heart of what we are all about to feel anything but regret that a single child should be harmed by someone serving in her name."
That quotation by Bishop John F. Kinney is from a 1998 statement he made in his role as chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse that was formed by our national Conference of Catholic Bishops. (The entire statement is included in the "Restoring Trust" resource.)
It is from the heart of what we are all about expressing and extending the love of Jesus Christ that I state again our commitment to the safety and well-being of children.
As Bishop Kinney has noted, "We have experienced a sinful and predatory aspect of human nature against which we have to be permanently on guard."
We also must remain permanently committed to compassion, healing, and understanding for anyone who has experienced child abuse or its effects because a worker for the Church betrayed a sacred trust.
To anyone who has experienced such abuse, please trust us with the opportunity to help you heal, knowing that your trust will help us heal.
You are encouraged to communicate with our Vicar General, Father Van Wagner, or our Chancellor, Mrs. June Kellen, if you wish to initiate confidential and private contact. You may write them at P.O. Box 31, Tucson, AZ 85702 or call them at 520-792-3410.
Back to "Restoring Trust"