Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, a Catholic, didn’t flinch Monday when he compared the two past Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix bishops and their levels of cooperation in prosecuting priests.
The one with the Midas touch is Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who arrived in December 2003 to replace Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien, who led the diocese for 21 years.
At a news conference about the 10-count indictment of one-time vicar-general and Mesa priest Monsignor Dale Fushek, Thomas praised the help his office had gotten under Olmsted’s leadership.
"It is striking contrast from the behavior of the prior bishop and his regime of stonewalling and avoiding responsibility for the crimes committed on his watch," Thomas said.
O’Brien was an adversary to former County Attorney Richard Romley, who threatened to charge O’Brien with obstruction of justice unless O’Brien was more forthcoming about decades of misconduct and the reassignment of priests accused of abuse from one parish to another.
In June 2003, a 14-point deal was struck, which included O’Brien acknowledging that he allowed priests to continue working with minors after he was aware of misconduct.
After a Mass on Tuesday in Phoenix, Olmsted made a new appeal to Catholics to come forward if they have stories of abuse at the hands of priests or diocesan workers.
The diocese has acknowledged more than 50 priests, former priests and church employees were accused of criminal misconduct with minors going back to the 1970s, with about $2 million paid to settle lawsuits.
Jean Sokol, the diocese’s director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection since June, echoed the bishop’s call. "If any victims have something to report, we ask them to come forward," she said.
All employees of the diocese must take training on acceptable behavior around minors and how to spot potential abuse.
"Because of our training, we are getting more calls from parishes and schools in regard to (Child Protective Services) and police reports," she said. "In light of that, we are seeing an increase in people calling in if they have doubts about what to do."
The pace of inquiries have been steady and about two substantive cases are investigated by her office each month, she said.
"If a complaint comes in, I will talk to as many people as possible" and take the information to a misconduct review board, she said.
"Most of the people I’m seeing come forward are where the abuse happened in another diocese, so I help them get in touch with my counterpart in that diocese," Sokol said.