Lawsuit accuses Tucson priests of sexually abusing minors decades ago in southern Arizona

A third victim has come forward in a federal lawsuit accusing Catholic priests of sexual abuse of minors across southern Arizona in the 1970s and 1980s.

Initially filed in December, the lawsuit claims that the Tucson Diocese and Los Angeles Archdiocese covered up abuse and moved priests around instead of reporting them to law enforcement.

The racketeering lawsuit was filed following a change to the Arizona Child Victims Act, which increases the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse from age 20 to 30 and allowed adults older than 30 to file claims up until Dec. 31, 2020.

Just before the December deadline, hundreds of civil lawsuits were filed in Arizona courts by people who said they suffered abuse as children in Arizona, though the bar for evidence is higher under the revised law.

In February, another victim was added to the amended federal lawsuit that now accuses four priests in the Tucson diocese of sexual abuse of minors in the past.

The suit alleges that these priests are part of an overall pattern of Tucson being a "dumping ground" for sexually abusive priests from St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California.

"By exporting graduates of St. John’s Seminary and its problematic priests to Tucson, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles knowingly exported a pervasive culture of sexual abuse and misconduct to the Diocese of Tucson’s parishioners," the suit alleges. 

The suit cited a Los Angeles Times investigation that reported 65 of the seminary's 625 graduates over 55 years were accused of sexual abuse. These figures are "much higher" than the nationwide rate of alleged sexual abusers in American priesthood, the lawsuit said.

The Los Angeles archdiocese sent priests who sexually abused children to treatment facilities in other states "in large part because therapists in California were legally obligated to report any evidence of child abuse to the police," the suit alleges.

In Arizona, people like clergy members are required by law to notify law enforcement or child welfare if they suspect abuse. But clergy members are also exempt from this if they were told in confidence or as a confession.

The Los Angeles archdiocese, which operates St. John's Seminary in California, said in a statement to The Arizona Republic that the lawsuit is "completely unfounded" and has "no oversight" over the Diocese of Tucson or priests of another diocese not serving in the archdiocese. 

"This filing misrepresents information that has been publicly available and covered widely to make misleading statements that are substantively incorrect," the statement said.

Woman accuses Father Charles Knapp of abusing her at the age of 5

Father Charles Knapp, who is a graduate of St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, has served as a priest across Arizona with the Tucson diocese since 1963, according to the diocese.

In the 1970s, Diana Almader-Douglas and her family hosted Knapp at their home in Pirtleville, Arizona, which is located near the U.S.-Mexico border about two hours southeast of Tucson. She said families of the parish rotated providing dinners to the priest at the time. 

At their home, Knapp isolated Almader-Douglas, who was about 5, in her bedroom under the pretense of play and sexually abused her while her parents were busy preparing the meal, she alleged in a letter sent to the diocese in June 2019. 

"I was 'rescued' when the meal was ready to be served, but the aftermath of the sexual abuse is withstanding," Almader-Douglas wrote.

Almader-Douglas came forward about the sexual abuse decades later because she didn't want him to continue in active ministry, she said. 

"Having this awareness that the perpetrator who abused me is still alive and well and as far as I know is still in ministry, so that to me poses a risk to other children possibly being able to be exposed," she told The Republic. 

The lawsuit also claims that Almader-Douglas' childhood best friend said she was also sexually abused by Knapp as a minor when her family hosted him for dinner at their home.

If the diocese continued to "protect" Knapp and failed to work with her, Almader-Douglas said in her 2019 letter that she would take legal action against them. 

Diocese of Tucson says it investigated allegations, could not corroborate

Diocese of Tucson Bishop Edward Weisenburger said in a statement that the diocese "immediately" notified Tucson police following the allegation against Knapp, but that police declined to investigate the incident since it was approximately 50 years ago. 

Almader-Douglas and Forester Haynie attorney Ashley Pileika said she was never contacted by police and that no evidence has shown up that the diocese contacted police.

Tucson police did not immediately respond to a records request asking if the diocese reported the allegations to police.

Weisenburger said in a statement that the Tucson diocese conducted an investigation through an employed professional investigator who was a human resources consultant for the diocese. The investigator, who is a retired police officer, interviewed Knapp and 16 witnesses, none of whom "were able to corroborate" Almader-Douglas' story, according to Weisenburger.

Knapp was temporarily suspended from the diocese during the investigation, the diocese said. But the Diocese of Tucson Lay Review Board found the allegations against Knapp could "not be reasonably substantiated" and recommended that he be restored to public ministry in 2019, according to Weisenburger. 

Most recently, Knapp was employed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson as a part-time civilian subcontractor until June 2020, when his employment was terminated "as a result of unprofessional conduct unrelated to the recently published allegations," a spokesperson for the base said.

It is unclear what the conduct involved was or how long Knapp worked at the base.

Knapp has also served in prison ministry and in marriage ministry, but it is unclear where he served and when.

The diocese said Knapp is not currently assigned anywhere but is a full-time retired priest who continues to be paid like all retired priests. The Diocese of Tucson does not name him on its list of clergy and personnel who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minors. 

There are no other complaints of criminal activity pending against Knapp, according to Weisenburger. Knapp could not be reached for comment. 

Lawsuit alleges pattern of priests in Tucson area who sexually abused minors

Knapp was the fourth Tucson priest mentioned in the lawsuit, which alleges a pattern of sexually abusive priests in Tucson and includes allegations from two men who said they were abused by priests who were moved around Arizona in the 1970s and 1980s. 

George Brogdon was an altar boy at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Sierra Vista when he was sexually abused by Father Bob Gluch, who served as an associate pastor and ran the youth group at the church for six years, according to the lawsuit.

At least eight other people have filed lawsuits for sexual abuse of minors against Gluch, who had been relocated to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Bisbee, Arizona, from 1981 to 1983. 

Lauro Garcia was a member of Sacred Heart Parish with his family in Nogales, Arizona. In 1980, he traveled to Tucson and attended a reception, where he met Father Carlos Cocio, a seminary student at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo.

Garcia returned to Tucson to discuss joining the seminary with Cocio, but Cocio sexually assaulted Garcia behind closed doors, the lawsuit said. Garcia says he was also sexually assaulted by Monsignor Walter Rosensweig, who laughed at Garcia when he said he was assaulted by Cocio. 

Gluch, Cocio and Rosensweig are all listed on the Diocese of Tucson's webpage as dead and as priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

In a letter to the Forester Haynie law firm in response to the first two victims' allegations in July 2020, Richard Serrano, the same person who investigated the allegations against Knapp, apologized on behalf of the diocese and offered professional counseling at no cost to the victims.

The lawsuit also said that since the Tucson diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2004, "any tort claims arising out of actions that occurred prior to the date the Diocese filed bankruptcy have been discharged." 

The Los Angeles archdiocese said in a statement that none of the accused clergy in the case ever served in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The statement also said that the archdiocese was "not made aware of any misconduct involving the plaintiffs prior to this filing." 

At least 28 clergy members associated with the Tucson diocese have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 100 minors, many of whom are adults living in the greater Tucson area, the lawsuit said. 

In 2018, the Arizona Daily Star reported that the Tucson diocese fired 10 employees and rescinded clearances for 12 unpaid workers due to sexual misconduct allegations.

According to the Tucson diocese website, at least 41 clergy members and other church personnel were identified "with assignments, employment or ministry service within the Diocese about whom the Diocese is aware of credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving a minor." 

As a direct cause of the diocese's and priests' actions, the lawsuit said the survivors of sexual abuse will continue to suffer "physical and emotional injury." 

Weisenburger said in a statement that he "joins with bishops, clergy and the lay faithful who deeply regret the abuse of children and remain committed to healing those who have been wounded." Victims of sexual abuse are strongly encouraged to call public law enforcement. If the abuse involves church personnel, the Diocese of Tucson should also be alerted, Weisenburger said.

The Los Angeles archdiocese's statement said the organization "remains committed to the support and healing of victim-survivors and to ensuring that parishes, schools and ministries are safe places for everyone in our community." 

Victims hold protest to draw attention to case

Almader-Douglas, other victims and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, held a protest and news conference on Monday in Tucson to raise awareness of the case and to encourage other victims to come forward.

"I'm finally taking action when all these years I felt I didn't have a voice," Almader-Douglas said. "I (did) feel more empowered once I started telling what happened to me. This process is part of that. There is some relief and there is some hope out there that we reach potential victims or possible survivors." 

Another victim, who will remain anonymous as "Jane Doe," will also be added to the case in the coming weeks, said Pileika. 

"I am just hoping to protect any potential victims, other survivors that are out there to give them some hope, of bravery, that they can come forward also," the anonymous Jane Doe told The Republic.

Pileika, Almader-Douglas and Jane Doe also met with law enforcement for the first time on Monday regarding the case at the Tucson FBI office, Pileika said. 

"I am looking forward to speaking to law enforcement and I'm hoping that that process is followed through and investigated," Jane Doe said.

The Tucson FBI office said in an emailed statement that the FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations. 

Pileika said the diocese has filed a motion to dismiss the case in response to the lawsuit. She also said the seminary and Archdiocese of Los Angeles have not yet responded.

The Los Angeles archdiocese's statement said the organization had "acknowledged past failures in handling allegations of abuse and established strict policies and programs for the protection of minors and the vulnerable."

"The archdiocese reports all allegations of misconduct involving minors to law enforcement and follows a zero-tolerance policy that permanently removes anyone who is found to have abused a minor, whether clergy or lay person," the statement said.

Almader-Douglas said it's important for parents to recognize signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse that may come out in behavior or in nightmares, fears, isolation, depression and anxiety.

Pileika said other survivors of childhood sexual abuse from a current priest or other person with the Diocese of Tucson can still join the lawsuit. 

Resources for survivors, including information about support groups and victims assistance, can be found on SNAP's website.

See the original story here.

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