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Sex-abuse woes still dog Tucson diocese

By Stephanie Innes
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
December 22, 2003

As 2004 begins with 17 pending lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy members, the nearly 2-year-old scandal involving priest abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson is not going away.

Also, efforts to laicize one priest, Monsignor Robert C. Trupia, whom diocesan officials have called a "serial predator," have so far been unsuccessful. Diocesan officials say they continue to try.

"What's really clear is that the system is broken, and it won't get fixed until the hierarchy comes clean," said John Manly, a Costa Mesa, Calif., attorney who has 85 pending lawsuits against Roman Catholic Church dioceses in the United States, including five against the local diocese, and maintains Catholic officials are still harboring secrets about sexual abuse from worshippers. "It's not just a Tucson problem. It's an American church problem," he said.

Yet now that 2003 is drawing to a close, Tucson diocesan officials say they have made tremendous progress in combating the scandal. Over the past six months, for example, three priests who once worked in the diocese were sent to prison for sexual abuse, and two of those cases followed investigations initiated by the local diocese.

The diocese in 2002 also became one of the first in the country to publish a list of priests with "credible" accusations of sexual abuse against them. The list, which dates back to the 1950s, includes 26 clerics and one nun.

"There's no profession that has been scrutinized to this level over a 50-year period," said Gerald F. Kicanas, who became bishop of the Diocese of Tucson in March, when Bishop Manuel D. Moreno took early retirement. "We're very pleased with a number of things. I think we're well-suited for the present and future, and we're still struggling to address the past, but I'm confident we will continue to try to heal all the hurt people have experienced and all the struggles they face."

At the end of 2002, the diocese was recovering from a year that included paying an estimated $16 million in an out-of-court settlement of 11 lawsuits filed by men, mostly now in their 30s, who said they were abused by four members of the local clergy while they were altar boys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Officials said the settlement created a financial hardship for the diocese, which in the late 1980s went into a similar financial downturn when it bought a television station for $13 million and its debt swelled to $23 million on the deal.

After last year's settlement, the diocese, which says it is operating with a "negative net worth," was hit with six new lawsuits.

During 2003, one of those lawsuits, involving schoolgirls who said they were sexually abused by a Yuma Catholic school teacher, was settled with a $1.8 million payment from the diocese, but 11 more legal actions were filed, and another is anticipated before the end of the year, bringing the total number of pending legal actions against the diocese to 17.

Also last year, an Arizona Daily Star reporter discovered Trupia living in a condominium in Maryland, driving a late-model Mercedes and still collecting a monthly $1,475 stipend from the local diocese. Trupia, who was named in six of the 11 lawsuits that were settled last year, is no longer considered an active priest, though he still technically holds the title of priest because local officials have not been successful in efforts to laicize, or "defrock," him in a process that must go through the Vatican. Manly calls Trupia a "monster" who should be stripped of his collar.

"Actions speak louder than words, and someone needs to make sure that man never hurts another kid," Manly said.

The local diocese endured more bad news in October when an associate priest at St. Augustine Cathedral Downtown admitted to his parish that he'd fathered a child, and then again this month when a Nogales priest, the Rev. Fernando Manzo, became missing after being suspended following an allegation of sexual misconduct that remains under investigation.

"I think that if we talked about what steps they've taken to deal with the problem of potential clergy sexual abuse, they've put in place all the necessary elements and people," said Dr. Terence Carden, a retired physician who leads the local chapter of the lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful, which was formed in response to the sexual abuse crisis.

One of the diocese's biggest accomplishments, according to both Kicanas and members of Voice of the Faithful, was hiring clinical psychologist Paul N. Duckro as director of the local diocese's first Office of Child, Adolescent & Adult Protection. A professor emeritus at Saint Louis University, he has 12 years' experience working on mental health treatment tailored to religious communities and 20 years' experience in psychosomatic medicine.

Duckro ensures that allegations of sexual misconduct involving children are reported immediately to law enforcement and has set up programs for background checks, training, education and fingerprinting.

In spite of improvements, some say the diocese is not headed for a smooth road in 2004.

"Until they start supporting the victims in the manner they support priests, it's not going to be over," said Tucson attorney Lynne M. Cadigan, who represents victims in 13 of the pending lawsuits against the diocese. "They make victims who want compensation feel terrible. They steal their faith, poison their sexuality and then tell them to be quiet and get over it."

Diocesan officials disagree. They emphasize that they have provided counseling to victims who wanted it and have overhauled employee training in order to be more aware of sexual abuse.

Kicanas said a national audit of all U.S. dioceses, scheduled to be released in early January, will prove the local diocese's compliance with national guidelines, as well as the proactive stance it has taken with its policies. A second report, due out in February, will give an overview of priest abuse nationwide.

The Diocese of Tucson stretches across nine Arizona counties and includes about 350,000 Catholics. Catholicism is the largest organized religion in Tucson and Pima County. Catholics make up about 27 percent of the local population.

* Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at sinnes@azstarnet.com.

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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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