Ex-Catholic bishop of Phoenix accused of sex abuse of boy

In this March 26, 2004, file pool photo, Bishop Thomas O'Brien, center, is flanked by attorneys, Melissa Berren, left, and Tom Henze, right, as they stand before Judge Stephen Gerst in a courtroom in Phoenix. O'Brien, a former bishop who led the Roman Catholic church in metro Phoenix during a worldwide child sexual abuse scandal, has been accused of molesting a young boy 35 years ago. O'Brien is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing the boy on several occasions at parishes in Phoenix and Goodyear from 1977 to 1982. The Diocese of Phoenix says O'Brien denies the allegation. (AP Photo/Mark Henle, Pool, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — A former bishop who led the Roman Catholic church in metro Phoenix during a worldwide child sexual abuse scandal has been accused of molesting a young boy 35 years ago.

Retired Bishop Thomas O’Brien is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing the boy on several occasions at parishes in Phoenix and Goodyear from 1977 to 1982. The Diocese of Phoenix says O’Brien denies the allegation.

O’Brien, now 81, led the diocese in Phoenix as it became embroiled in a global scandal that rocked the Catholic church after allegations surfaced in Boston about pedophile priests going unpunished.

The bishop acknowledged in a 2003 immunity deal that he let church employees accused of sex abuse continue to have contact with children. Weeks after the deal, O’Brien resigned as bishop after he was arrested in the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian.

O’Brien’s accuser says the clergyman sexually abused him when he was a child and he had suppressed his memories of it, said Tim Hale, his lawyer.

The accuser, who is now 47 and lives in the Tucson area, started having flashbacks of the abuse in September 2014 when preparing for his son’s baptism into the Catholic church, Hale said.

“It has turned his life upside down,” Hale said, explaining that his client has suffered profound emotional distress.

Hale said his client’s allegation is being investigated by the Phoenix Police Department, which refused to comment.

The diocese issued a statement saying O’Brien denies the accusation and that he was never assigned to the schools and parishes where the abuse is alleged to have occurred.

The statement also said the diocese informed prosecutors about the allegation immediately after learning of it in September 2016.

O’Brien’s 2003 immunity agreement said a grand jury investigating church sex abuse allegations at the time didn’t find evidence that the bishop had engaged in sexual misconduct.

Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said the immunity deal will remain in place, meaning the bishop could not be prosecuted for letting church employees suspected of sex abuse be around children.

But Jacinto said the agreement would not prevent prosecutors from bringing a case against O’Brien if there’s evidence that he sexually abused a child.

O’Brien, who served as Phoenix’s bishop for 21 years, resigned in June 2003 after being accused of striking and killing 43-year-old Jim Reed with his car.

The bishop didn’t stop to help Reed or report the accident to police but told investigators that he didn’t realize he had hit a person.

He said he thought he had hit a dog or cat or that someone had thrown a rock at his car. Prosecutors said O’Brien tried to have his windshield fixed.

He was sentenced to probation and 1,000 hours of community service after being convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

John C. Kelly, an attorney representing the Diocese of Phoenix, declined to comment on the lawsuit and the allegations against O’Brien.

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  • From Bishops accountability website regarding O’Brien.

    He has a 20-year record of sheltering priests accused of abuse but has largely remained out of the national spotlight. Criminal investigators say he has been uncooperative – and a district attorney
    recently opened a preliminary inquiry into the diocese’s handling of sex-abuse allegations. Since the mid-1980s, at least four Phoenix priests have served jail time in connection with molesting children. The bishop has advocated lighter sentences and let one priest work after he was sentenced to probation. When the most recent abuse case surfaced this year, Bishop O’Brien criticized the Phoenix press for reporting a 1999 psychological evaluation that said the Rev. Patrick Colleary’s “history will be repeated in some way” and that he shouldn’t “work with minors or women.” Bishop O’Brien kept Father Colleary active until May despite knowing of six complaints including that he raped and impregnated a young woman and that he fondled an altar boy. Father Colleary, who has received therapy, denied most of the wrongdoings and said his relationship with the woman was consensual. In the case of the Rev. Joseph M. Lessard, Bishop O’Brien dismissed previous complaints and assigned him to a teaching job. Father Lessard was later accused of performing oral sex on a 13-year-old in the boy’s room while his parents were down the hallway. When police investigated in the mid-1980s, Bishop O’Brien refused to tell them about a confession the priest made to him, according to court records. Father Lessard eventually admitted the molestation and was put on probation. After treatment, he transferred to the Midwest as a hospital chaplain. The diocese denied knowing his exact location not long after he left.

  • Did you hear about all of the children molested by priests at the Church of Satan, or by ministers at the Metropolitan Community Church?

    Neither did I.

  • If anyone thought the ongoing, worldwide sexual abuse scandals of
    paedophile priests shaking the roman catholic church [and others] or the corruptions within the Curia would disappear because of a affable sounding pope and the soft PR and populist spin coming out of the Vatican they were sadly mistaken. Yet however abominable this institutional and individual betrayal may be, it will look a mere trifle compared to the perfect storm that appears to be on the way.

  • Ok – do me a favor and just tell me what’s the perfect storm on the way? I looked on your link but every time I tried to read it my ADHD said “SQUIRREL!” and off I’d go.

  • “the first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel and
    moral teaching of Christ is published on the web. Redefining all primary
    elements including the very nature of Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the
    Trinity and especially the Resurrection; antithetical towards all existing
    Christian claims and exposing the mendacity of existing traditions,
    focusing specifically on marriage, Love and human sexuality, it overturns
    all natural law ethics, theory and theology.”

    “If confirmed and there appears to be a growing concerted effort to test
    and authenticate this teaching, this will represent a paradigm change in
    the nature of faith; simultaneously addressing the most profound concerns
    of our age, advancing the moral and ethical potential of human nature
    itself while untangling the greatest questions of human existence.”

  • You go ahead.
    Meanwhile two articles on the roman church and more child molestation. You’d almost think that being chosen by god to be a priest has no bearing on your ability to be a moral person.

  • Already have. MCCs only have 46000 members so they won’t have the amount that the RCC or protestant churches have. But no church should tolerate child abuse at all. Zero tolerance. No argument there.

  • What’s troubling is that the leadership hired an excatholic priest with a questionable and troubled past – and they didn’t tell his parishoners. That’ll ruin a congregations trust in leadership faster than anything. Bad move on their part.

  • It’s all a part of how the RCC has been “handling” this problem. The same way they handle children.

  • “focusing specifically on marriage, Love and human sexuality, it overturns
    all natural law ethics, theory and theology.”

    So what’s new?

    The obsession of the religious over what people do with their dangly bits is hardly news– or new. Nothing about peace. Nothing about stopping war. Nothing about feeding children, fighting disease, or kiddy diddling priests. Nothing about living with other religions. Nothing about environmental catastrophes, climate change, starving people.

    Just sexsexsexsexsexsexsexasexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexasexsexsex

  • yet another fine man of gawd.
    btw walmart has hi caliber ammunition at everyday low prices.

  • no it is merely pick on a god and itś sheep (you) who stand by why your holy men rape our children.
    other than that, your still fat.

  • “So what’s new?”

    “Distinguishing itself from all other truth claims, being radically different from anything known to history or tradition, this new teaching is predicated upon the ‘Promise’ [the Word] of a precise, predefined, predictable and repeatable experience in which the reality of God responds directly to an act of ‘perfect faith’ with a direct, individual intervention into the natural world”.

  • It is better if Catholic priests, tormented by the desire to have sex (they’re human after all), should visit the nearest movie theater that show pornographic films or buy pornographic material and masturbate to their heart’s content. With their sexual urge thus satisfied, they can go back to resuming their duties in the church the next day. Christianity, just like other Abrahamic religions like Judaism and Islam are repressive and regressive. These religion consider sex as sin and that’s where the problem lies.

  • Christianity has been making that promise since the third day after the crucifixion. Maybe THIS time they’ll get it right.

    But in a world where customer service means being put on hold for twenty minutes to talk to some guy from India who barely speaks English, I somehow don’t think so.