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Vatican returns Romley letter about indicted priests

by Dennis Wagner - The Arizona Republic
Aug. 5, 2003

Return to sender.

That was the response Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley got last month after he mailed a letter to Vatican officials asking them to order indicted priests back to Arizona for prosecution in child molestation cases.

Romley said he sent the request to Cardinal Angelo Sodano - the Vatican's secretariat of state -- in hopes that Roman Catholic hierarchy would help avoid the tedious process of extraditing wanted clergy member from foreign countries. Several fugitive priests are known to be overseas, including one in Rome and others in Mexico and Ireland. Because Catholic clergy take vows of obedience, Romley figured, they would be obliged to return to Phoenix if instructed to do so by superiors.

But his letter came back unopened, with a note from the Vatican postmaster: "Sir, the item here enclosed is returned to sender because refused by the rightful addressee.''

"They have refused to accept my request. That's a bit disappointing,'' Romley said. "This is an issue that is clearly significant to the church and, really, to Rome.''

Vatican authorities could not be reached for comment.

About 30 Arizona priests have been accused in criminal or civil court of sexual misconduct, mostly involving children, during the past two decades. Romley has tenaciously prosecuted the suspects while investigating diocesan officials suspected of covering up the scandal. Former Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien adopted major reforms to stave off a possible indictment for obstructing justice. He subsequently was forced to resign because of criminal charges against him in a fatal hit-and-run accident.

At a news conference Friday, Romley stressed that O'Brien's replacement, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, has cooperated with prosecutors. "There is a good-faith effort, I believe, to truly make a difference.''

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-8874.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests