As bishops from around the country convened to discuss the clergy sexual abuse scandal, the Catholic Diocese of Tucson disclosed Thursday that it has asked three retired priests not to perform public ministry because of allegations that they abused children.
The announcement from the local diocese brings to five the number of known suspensions of priests who were accused of sexual abuse.
Diocese spokesman Fred Allison would not reveal the names of the priests, who were suspended from the ministry after a review of their personnel files, but he did confirm that one is Monsignor Walter F. Rosensweig, who was accused in a 1996 civil action of sexually assaulting an unidentified teen who was a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Nogales. The diocese in 1997 reached an undisclosed monetary settlement with the then-grown man.
The disclosure of the three suspensions came during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas, where about 300 bishops from dioceses across the country are expected to adopt a national policy on sexual abuse.
Private talks on a proposed national policy that would still be subject to approval continued late into Thursday evening. Negotiations began after a dramatic start to the meeting in which bishops bluntly acknowledged that their mistakes helped cause the crisis. They then yielded the floor to victims who described the pain they have suffered.
Bishop Manuel D. Moreno and Coadjutor Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson are in attendance. The meeting has attracted worldwide attention – more reporters than bishops are in attendance – because of incidents of priests’ abusing minors that have come to light in recent months. Much of the outrage over the cases stems from reports that dioceses, priests and bishops covered up the incidents.
In January, the Diocese of Tucson settled 11 civil actions with 10 men who said they were sexually abused by four local priests in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s when they were boys, most of them altar servers. Experts place the settlement as high as $16 million.
Court documents from those civil actions show that the diocese knew as early as 1976 that one of those priests – Monsignor Robert C. Trupia – was abusing children in Yuma, yet diocesan officials did not take any action against him until 1992, when they suspended him. Trupia is now 53 and living in Rockville, Md.
The diocese in 1992 began a process of laicizing Trupia and is still trying to defrock him. The local diocese is also trying to defrock another priest named in the civil actions, the Rev. Michael Teta, who lives in Tucson. Teta was also suspended from ministry and continues to receive monthly pay from the diocese, as does Trupia.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office is investigating the cases and among other things is looking into whether the diocese violated the state’s reporting law by not going to the police about Trupia when the abuse was occurring.
A canon law expert who gave a deposition in the civil cases against the Tucson diocese and has testified in numerous similar suits says the cover-up in the local cases was “incredible” and on par with what occurred in Boston, where the national scandal first erupted.
In Boston, church documents revealed that Cardinal Bernard Law knew of sexual abuse accusations against the Rev. John Geoghan but still transferred him among parishes. Geoghan is now in prison.
“The Tucson case was unbelievable, incredible, because of the nature of the cover-up,” said the Rev. Tom Doyle, a former canon lawyer for the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., who is now an Air Force chaplain in Ramstein, Germany. “Trupia was abusing kids in Yuma from the beginning, and when it was discovered, he was given a job in the chancery office and he was made a monsignor. The cover-up kept going on.”
Doyle, who co-wrote a 1985 report for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on how to deal with child molestation by priests, says the Catholic Church has been reluctant not only to report allegations of abuse to public authorities, but also to recognize that sexual abuse by a priest is a crime.
“What Trupia was doing in Yuma was criminal behavior. It gets many guys in prison. And what did the diocese do? They lied about it. In ordinary life, you can’t do that,” he said in a telephone interview from Germany Thursday.
Doyle says Moreno, who became bishop in 1982, should resign. Had the diocese reported Trupia when the abuse was occurring, Trupia could be behind bars now, Doyle said.
Moreno maintains no deliberate cover-up occurred. Trupia maintains his innocence and can’t comment because of the pending criminal investigation, his lawyer says.
Trupia did spend a night in the Yuma County Jail last year on seven counts of child molestation connected to incidents in the early 1970s, but he was released because the charges violated the state’s old criminal statute of limitations.
“Without a doubt, Father Trupia poses a serious risk to the community,” said attorney Lynne M. Cadigan, who represented the plaintiffs in the recently settled civil actions. “There’s no reason to believe he’s stopping now.”
Doyle said he knows of no U.S. bishop who has been prosecuted for failing to report an incident of a priest abusing minors. But he said it could happen now.
“There’s a number of grand juries looking at dioceses and individual bishops. The bishops may think this (Dallas meeting) is going to cool the lawyers off, but the victims are still angry,” Doyle said. “It would take a direct act of God himself to get a lot of the victims to believe what the bishops are saying. They are skeptical because of experience.”