Catholic Diocese of Tucson officials say they’ve been asked to provide financial compensation to a Tucson man, 40, who reports having sexual relations with two local priests and the former bishop of Phoenix.
Catholic officials confirmed the request after a story appeared this week in the Boston Globe detailing affairs between Brian O’Connor and the Rev. William T. Byrne, Monsignor Robert C. Trupia and Phoenix Bishop James S. Rausch.
O’Connor was 17, considered a minor, when he began his sexual relationship with Rausch, according to an affidavit he gave in November 2001 in conjunction with civil actions against the local diocese. He was an adult during his alleged sexual relationships with Byrne and Trupia, and does not categorize the relationships with them as sexual abuse.
A set of compromising photographs of O’Connor with Rausch was among the “highly explosive and damaging” information about the Arizona Catholic Church that Trupia tried to use to blackmail Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno in 1992, according to Lynne M. Cadigan. She is the Tucson attorney who represented 10 men in civil actions alleging sexual abuse that the diocese settled earlier this year.
Cadigan spoke on O’Connor’s behalf this week. He declined to be interviewed. The blackmailing incident was also contained in a diocesan memo quoted in court documents.
Other “explosive” information Trupia knew, according to Cadigan and the affidavit, was that O’Connor was hired by the Catholic Diocese of Tucson in 1982 to ensure his silence about his affair with Rausch and about having relations with Trupia, according to the affidavit.
Moreno still suspended Trupia and ordered him to counseling because of evidence that he’d been molesting altar boys.
O’Connor this year met with Catholic Diocese of Phoenix officials, who had been contacted twice since 1995 about allegations of sexual improprieties involving Rausch. Officials in Phoenix would not say whether O’Connor asked for any money.
Rausch was bishop of Phoenix between 1977 and 1981, when he died of a heart attack.
“We have no way of determining, except from Brian O’Connor’s affidavit, what happened to him,” Catholic Diocese of Tucson spokesman Fred Allison said. “But we do know, based on other cases, that we must give great credibility to him. No one deserves anything like this to happen to them, adult or juvenile.”
Allison said any compensation the diocese gives to O’Connor will be made public in keeping with a new policy on sexual abuse the diocese adopted this summer. Only a request of confidentiality by O’Connor, who hasn’t requested a specific amount, would seal details of the settlement, he said.
“This is a very difficult situation, primarily because Bishop Rausch is deceased,” Catholic Diocese of Phoenix spokeswoman Kim Sue Lia Perkes said Friday. “It’s a dilemma, and we certainly have a great amount of compassion and concern for Brian O’Connor.”
O’Connor, a non-Catholic who worked for the local diocese for six years in the 1980s, was not part of this year’s settlement of 11 civil actions that alleged four local priests sexually abused boys in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The confidential settlement is estimated to be as high as $16 million.
Both Byrne and Trupia were named in the lawsuits, which chronicled a history of abuse by Trupia dating to 1976, when he was a young priest in Yuma. Trupia, 54, now lives in Maryland, and Byrne died in 1991.
O’Connor is not planning to file a lawsuit, does not want to go to court and is asking the diocese to “do the right thing,” said Cadigan.
The affidavit asserts that O’Connor and Rausch began an affair in 1979 when O’Connor was walking in his Downtown Tucson neighborhood.
“He offered me a ride, and during the drive he offered me money to allow him to perform oral sex on me,” O’Connor said in his statement. “At that time I did not know he was a bishop. He became my ‘friend’ and would contact me occasionally when he was in town. At that time I had a developing drug problem.”
O’Connor says in his affidavit that he sought help for his drug problem from Trupia, who at the time was living and working at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road. He was referred to Trupia by Rausch, the affidavit says.
O’Connor says that during this time, in the early 1980s, Trupia took him to St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, Calif., and helped him detoxify from his heroin addiction.
“Trupia also started a short sexual relationship with me,” O’Connor said in the affidavit. “Eventually, I stopped my sexual relationship with Trupia and stayed friends with him.”
Lawyers for the men who filed the lawsuits say current Bishop Moreno had been contacted by an archbishop from the same seminary in 1982 because there was a report that Trupia had been seen there sleeping with a young man. Diocese officials, in a rebuttal included in the court records, said the 1982 matter had been reviewed and that there was no indication that Trupia and the young man “were doing anything other than sleeping.”
In 1988, Trupia was declared persona non grata at St. John’s for bringing young men for visits unannounced, according to an internal diocesan memo. The memo said the seminary’s action was “drastic” and embarrassing for Tucson.
According to O’Connor, Trupia got him a job at the diocese to ensure his silence about his sexual relations with Rausch and Trupia. O’Connor later told the Boston Globe. O’Connor told the Globe that he also had sex with Byrne.
O’Connor’s testimony says that during Francis J. Green’s tenure as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, as well as during Moreno’s tenure that followed in 1982, the diocese knew about the sexual improprieties of several priests and that they were commonly discussed in the diocesan rumor mill. Green retired in 1982 and died in 1995.
When Tucson police began investigating Trupia in the late 1980s, O’Connor says, the diocese sent O’Connor back to his hometown in Pennsylvania “in what I believe was an attempt to keep me away from the investigation.”
Allison said there’s no record the diocese paid for O’Connor to leave Tucson for a paid vacation during the 1980s.
“If anything, it more likely was Trupia paying for O’Connor,” Allison said. “Our records show that the diocese was doing an investigation while the police investigation was going on, interviewing employees and others, concerning reports that Trupia had been keeping a young man in his room at the diocese’s Regina Cleri Center. Why would we send O’Connor away out of an investigator’s reach?”
The Diocese of Tucson has been trying to defrock Trupia since 1992, when it suspended him from priestly duties over allegations of sexual abuse.
Although Trupia, a canonical lawyer, has been suspended, the lengthy defrocking process remains in limbo with the Vatican in Rome.
Allison has maintained Moreno took action against Trupia as soon as he became aware of it. And since Green is dead, it’s impossible to say what he knew, Allison said.
“It is really sad. You’ve got dead bishops who can’t defend themselves. Bishop Rausch’s name is ruined now,” Allison said. “It’s very sad that Bishop Rausch and Bishop Green are left with this type of legacy. We know there were failings in the past in our diocese with Bishop Green.
“As to his role in those failings we can only rely upon the words and memories of others. That’s the way we have to treat the information that Brian O’Connor has provided about them.”