Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien said he signed an unprecedented agreement with prosecutors last month simply to end a yearlong grand jury inquiry into sexual misconduct in his diocese.
In a 15-minute interview Tuesday with the Tribune, O'Brien said he sees no conflict between standing by the agreement, in which he admitted putting suspected pedophile priests with children, and his Monday declaration that he is not guilty of any crime.
"I did not knowingly assign any priest to a parish where I thought he would offend, and I still feel that is true," O'Brien said. He added, "This investigation had to come to an end sometime. It's been under way for a full year. That's a long time to investigate a diocese, corporation or entity of any kind."
The investigation resulted in eight indictments of five priests and two former priests. There has been one conviction so far.
Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley has instructed his staff to look at O'Brien's statement from Monday and see if there was a breach of the agreement, said Romley aide Barnett Lotstein. Romley was outraged at O'Brien's comments that he wasn't part of a cover-up and that he didn't commit any crime, Lotstein said. O'Brien's signed statement said that he allowed priests to work with minors after he became aware of sexual misconduct allegations against them, and that he transferred them to ministries without telling their new supervisors.
"We're not saying we're going to go to court," Lotstein said, but if Romley believes there was a breach, he will take further action. The bishop also said Tuesday he hasn't given up any authority even though the agreement keeps him from being involved in any sexual misconduct issues. "I am the bishop of the diocese. I have not given up any authority. I am simply adding a person to my staff who is going to help me in areas that I will ask him to serve in," O'Brien said.
He was referring to Monsignor Richard Moyer, the man he assigned per the agreement as Moderator of the Curia, a canonical position equivalent to chief of staff, whose job will be to enforce the diocese's policy regarding sexual misconduct independently of O'Brien. Moyer also must raise $300,000 the diocese agreed to put in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office Victim Assistance Fund and pay $100,000 in investigative costs.
He said the costs will be covered by selling off certain property that has appreciated considerably over the years. "This will be done without using any parish funds or funds from the charity and development appeal," Moyer said.
Under the agreement, O'Brien also had to appoint a youth protection advocate, whose responsibility is to implement and enforce the policy and train diocese personnel. That person is Jennifer O'Connor, a social worker since 1984. But O'Brien said that he still has the last word on whether to remove a priest for sexual misconduct, but he will rely on the recommendations of Moyer and O'Connor. O'Connor countered, "The first step is to go to law enforcement and let them do their job."
The bishop apologized to those who have been harmed by his actions or the actions of diocesan personnel, and he said he regrets them now. "That is the way, perhaps, we did things years ago," he said. "We wouldn't do that again."
At least two families have said they went to the bishop in the 1970s, when he was second in command at the diocese, to report suspected sexual abuse of children, only to be sent away with instructions not to tell authorities. In one case, the priest, John Giandelone, went on to molest again, according to court documents. On Tuesday, O'Brien also addressed the subject of attempts by Romley to get him to resign. Romley said he was told O'Brien offered to resign, but the pope wouldn't allow it.
While on Monday O'Brien said his resignation was never an option, he said Tuesday that the subject "was addressed with the appropriate authorities in the church, and it was determined that was not an option." Pressure is emerging for O'Brien to step down.
State Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix, will hold a news conference today at the state Capitol, where he hopes to be joined by other politicians calling for the bishop to resign.
Miranda, a lawyer, has been a member of the diocese for 40 years and has represented molestation victims in civil lawsuits, often involving employees of Arizona school districts.
"Enough is enough," Miranda said. "If someone can't counsel this guy to resign, then we're not doing ourselves any good as Catholics or as people trying to protect children."