Two decades ago, Phoenix Bishop Thomas O’Brien advised the family of a teen who allegedly was sexually abused by a priest in 1979 and 1980 not to contact authorities, Maricopa County’s top prosecutor said yesterday.
O’Brien, who was a priest but not a bishop at the time, told the family that going to authorities would only cause the victim, then-15-year-old Ben Kulina, more harm, said County Attorney Rick Romley. The Kulina family was told the accused priest would be transferred to another parish.
“Clearly, I am troubled by the church not taking this to authorities,” said Romley, who has publicly clashed with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix over investigations into alleged abuse. “If this was handled responsibly to begin with, this molestation never had to occur.”
Romley made the statements during a news conference to announce that the former priest, John Giandelone, 55, has been charged with three counts of sexual conduct with a minor stemming from three incidents in 1979 and 1980.
Giandelone was arrested yesterday in Fort Myers, Fla., and is awaiting extradition.
Officials with the diocese didn’t immediately return a message left yesterday by The Associated Press. A greeting on the diocese voice-mail system said the staff was away and wouldn’t be available.
Romley said he didn’t know whether O’Brien will face charges in the alleged cover-up.
Romley said that Giandelone allegedly had Kulina perform oral sex on him two different times when Giandelone was a priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Phoenix. During another incident, Giandelone allegedly had sexual intercourse with Kulina, Romley said.
The AP has a policy of not identifying sex abuse victims, but Kulina allowed his attorney to release his name to the media.
Attorney Dick Treon said Kulina, who contacted Romley’s office, felt empowered by the many victims who have recently come forward to share their stories about being abused by priests.
“It has just been gnawing at his soul and he just wants to get back into the sunshine of life and be free of these terrible memories,” Treon said. Kulina is now 39 and a lieutenant with the Mesa Police Department.
Romley said that shortly after the alleged abuse, Kulina notified his youth counselor about what had happened. The youth counselor told O’Brien, who then told the family not to notify authorities, Romley said.
Giandelone was transferred to St. Mary’s in Chandler. While there, a man caught Giandelone having oral sex with his 15-year-old son, Romley said.
The father contacted authorities, and Giandelone voluntarily resigned and moved to Florida, where he is a registered sex offender, Romley said.
Treon said Giandelone served less than a year behind bars in the Chandler case.
Treon said the Kulina family is not vindictive and doesn’t want to cause O’Brien pain.
“What they want to happen is for this not to happen again,” he said. “They want him to be aware of the tremendous pain his actions caused (Kulina) and his family by basically telling them to remain silent.”
The case against Giandelone is only one of several throughout Arizona.
O’Brien has acknowledged that about 50 priests, former priests and church employees have been accused of criminal sexual misconduct with minors in the diocese in the past 30 years.
He also said the diocese paid close to $2 million to settle “12 to 15” lawsuits involving sexual abuse or sexual harassment since he became bishop in 1982.
The Catholic Diocese of Tucson reached a multimillion-dollar settlement in January with 10 men who said they were abused by priests as boys.