A letter about former Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien distributed over the weekend at a Tempe Catholic parish was "judgmental" and "saddened" a diocese official who said he received calls from surprised, upset parishioners.
The Rev. John Bonavitacoloa of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church wrote that as pressure mounted, O’Brien decided to take antidepressants.
"These, of course, seem like a good idea, a way to manage the stress," the priest wrote. "But the choice amounts to a lack of faith and trust in God’s care. . . . I told you in January that one of my new year’s resolutions was to make our parish drugfree and this is why. The long-term spiritual consequences far (outweigh) the short-term benefits of these chemicals."
The end result left O’Brien "at the gates of insanity, unable to do the right thing," the letter read.
"I did appeal to him directly, but to no avail," wrote Bonavitacoloa, who could not be reached for comment Sunday. "I also called others in authority, fearful that he would hurt himself or another. I ask myself if I should have done more. . . . Now because of inaction and wrong action by some, a man is dead and a family grieves. We stand with them."
O’Brien resigned Tuesday as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, in the wake of scandals involving his handling of sexual abuse accusations against priests and a criminal charge of fleeing the scene of a fatal accident.
Monsignor Dale Fushek of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa, who also is vicar general of the diocese, said he received telephone calls from parishioners upset by Bonavitacoloa’s letter.
As a close friend of the bishop, he said he has no idea what medication O’Brien was taking, and that it’s a personal issue that shouldn’t be shared.
Neither O’Brien nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
The letter came at a time churches were reading a letter from Archbishop Michael Sheehan about forgiveness and moving forward from the sexual misconduct and hit-and-run investigations.
"This is a time that we’re trying to move forward and support the new bishop, and to support Bishop O’Brien," Fushek said.
"I just found the tone of his letter to be very judgmental, and I was saddened by that. And we certainly don’t want to say to people that they shouldn’t take their medicine that’s prescribed by doctors. That’s certainly not a message the church wants to give to people," he said.
Phoenix police Sgt. Randy Force said whether O’Brien was taking prescription medicine when Jim L. Reed, 43, was killed in a hit-andrun crash in Phoenix is not an issue in the investigation.
The Rev. John Coleman, also of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, said he took antidepressants for seven months last year, and they did not affect his driving.
Parishioner Alvaro Garcia said O’Brien hasn’t "been in a proper state of mind. But I can’t say what he felt at the time. I think he should have taken a sabbatical for six months and then returned. That would have been the best."