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County Attorney May Yet Charge Priests In Abuse

Jun 7, 2002 | ARIZONA DAILY STAR

A Pima County prosecutor said Thursday that criminal charges are still possible in the local scandal involving Catholic priests abusing minors.

"We're not done with gathering information and we haven't given up yet," Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer said Thursday, acknowledging that the age of the cases is an obstacle.

"I don't have enough information to say yes or no. We're still talking to people, reading files and asking questions."

Authorities are known to be reviewing cases involving two priests accused of molesting young boys in the 1970s and 1980s. They are also looking at whether the Diocese of Tucson or others may have violated the state's child abuse reporting law by not reporting known cases of abuse to police.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office last week announced a similar investigation into possible violations of the reporting law concerning misconduct by priests.

The priests in the local cases are Monsignor Robert C. Trupia, 53, of Rockville, Md., and the Rev. Michael Teta, 54, of Tucson. Both priests have been suspended and the diocese is attempting to defrock them.

The county attorney's investigation began after 10 men reached an out-of-court settlement with the diocese in January over allegations of abuse by four priests, two of whom are dead. The lawsuits were settled for an undisclosed amount of money that experts estimate may have been as much as $16 million.

The diocese has forwarded to Mayer's office other allegations of sexual abuse by clergy that were not included in the 11 civil actions settled in January, diocese spokesman Fred Allison confirmed Thursday, though he would not be more specific.

The Arizona statute of limitations on civil suits is different from the one used in criminal law. It allows a waiver for any period of time when the victim is of "unsound mind," essentially removing time limits for suits by people who claim repressed memory. All the men in the civil actions say they had repressed memory.

Five of the men in the civil actions said they were abused in Pima County. But four cases occurred before 1978, when the state's criminal statute of limitations gave victims only five years from the time the offense allegedly occurred to report it.

That old statute of limitations allowed Trupia to go free last year after he was jailed in Yuma County on seven felony counts of child molestation in connection with incidents that police say occurred in Yuma in the early 1970s.

The current Arizona criminal statute of limitations has a seven-year limit on child abuse and molestation - either seven years from when the incident occurred, or seven years from when it was first reported to police or a state agency.

Trupia could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Maryland-based Stephen A. Shechtel, said Trupia maintains his innocence and is "very shook up about this." Shechtel said Trupia is not currently working with children.


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