Documents released Tuesday allege that shortly before he became Phoenix bishop, Thomas O’Brien urged the family of a teenager abused by a priest to keep silent and helped arrange the priest’s transfer to another parish where more minors were molested.
The documents, obtained through a public records request, were part of grand jury evidence that led to the indictment and arrest Tuesday in Florida of former Valley priest John Maurice Giandelone. The teenager eventually became a Mesa police lieutenant.
O’Brien could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Michael Manning, diocese attorney, emphasized that the latest allegations took place before O’Brien was bishop.
“When an incident occurred involving Father Giandelone in the early ’80s, Giandelone was prosecuted and convicted and was removed from ministry in the Diocese under Bishop O’Brien,” Manning’s statement read.
“The Diocese will cooperate in this current prosecution.”
Giandelone, who faces extradition from Florida, served jail time and probation for sexually molesting a minor in Chandler in 1984, four years after he was accused of abusing a teen in Phoenix and transferred.
The priest was assigned to a nursing home for three years after his jail sentence, then left the priesthood and moved to Fort Myers, Fla.
The indictment handed up late Monday accuses Giandelone of three counts of felony sexual abuse with a minor in Phoenix from June 1970 to February 1980. The victim, police lieutenant Benjamin Kulina, agreed to let his name be made public but asked that all comment come through his attorney until the criminal investigation is completed.
“Benjamin Kulina is coming forward now because he wants John Giandelone and now-Bishop O’Brien to be held accountable for their actions,” said Richard Treon, attorney for Kulina and his parents, Peggy and Benedict Kulina of Phoenix.
Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley announced Giandelone’s latest indictment and arrest at a news conference and praised Kulina for stepping forward.
“This is extraordinarily difficult for him,” Romley said. “It took a tremendous amount of courage for him to come forward.”
Significantly, Romley said, the evidence that led to new charges against Giandelone and allegations that O’Brien was aware of the priest’s troubled past both came independently of a committee the Phoenix Diocese set up to cooperate with prosecutors on cases of sex abuse.
Manning, head of that committee, said last month that the church had turned over to prosecutors more than 16,000 documents, including everything its members felt was relevant.
“I can’t comment on what material has been presented to the grand jury, but I can tell you what hasn’t been,” said Romley, who is prevented by law from discussing grand jury proceedings.
“I can tell you none of the information the County Attorney’s Office received from the Catholic Church led to this indictment.”
Romley criticized O’Brien for failing to report the initial allegations against Giandelone but stopped short of saying a failure to report allegations of sexual misconduct to authorities in 1980 constituted criminal action.
“I just don’t think it’s appropriate for me to answer a question such as that at this point,” Romley said. “I firmly believe you need to get as much information as possible before you make a decision of such ramifications as that.
“Although I am disturbed, I am not at this point willing to say that it was criminally inappropriate behavior. I am going to wait until the very end of our investigation and look at the totality of all the acts before I decide whether or not Bishop O’Brien should be held criminally responsible.”
Dick Treon, the Kulinas’ attorney, was guarded, too, in his comments about the bishop. “What they are saying is that he should be held accountable,” Treon said. “Nobody should be above the law. Father Giandelone will have to respond to the law for what he did, and the bishop will have to be accountable for what he did back in 1980 in connection with telling the family not to tell anybody and essentially covering it up.”
Allegations of sexual abuse were routinely kept quiet by bishops across the United States until the mid-’80s. The first significant account of sexual abuse of children by a priest that made national headlines was given in southern Louisiana in 1984.
In the past year, O’Brien has been accused several times of transferring priests who were known sex offenders.
In April, documents obtained by The Republic revealed that O’Brien transferred the Rev. Patrick Colleary after being notified in writing by psychological counselors that the priest was likely to repeat a pattern of sex offenses.
Two lawsuits filed since September accuse O’Brien of personally covering up for a pedophile priest he worked with in the mid-1960s and charge that the diocese and its leaders knew, or should have known, about the “dangerous exploitative propensities” of another serial child molester in the ’90s.
O’Brien’s predecessor, James Rausch, was bishop in late 1979 when Kulina and his parents first went to the diocese with allegations against Giandelone. Family members requested a meeting with the bishop and said they were disappointed when they were told to deal with O’Brien, then-vicar general and secretary to the bishop.
Kulina accused Giandelone of molesting him at least three times in Phoenix and again during a camping trip to Apache County.
Romley told The Republic late Tuesday that he had received “criminal jurisdiction” from the Apache County Attorney’s Office to investigate the camping incident and would “be bringing additional charges.”
In 1984, four years after the Kulina family brought allegations, Giandelone pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor in Chandler.
The Kulinas said through their attorney that O’Brien “admonished” them to keep quiet about the allegations because going public would “do more harm to young Benjamin, that it would hurt the church and that nobody would believe them.”
They said O’Brien told them the church “would take care of the matter.”
Shortly after that meeting, Giandelone was transferred to St. Mary’s in Chandler, where the allegations that led to his jail sentence in 1985 took place. Before he went to jail, however, he also was transferred to Queen of Peace parish in Mesa in 1983 and St. Louis the King parish in Glendale in 1984.
An executive summary of the recent grand jury investigation obtained through a public records request indicates that Giandelone realized his transfer contributed to his problem.
The summary outlines how investigators encouraged Kulina to contact Giandelone last month as part of the grand jury probe. Those conversations, by phone and e-mail, were monitored.
‘Deep, deep trouble’
“I was in deep, deep trouble,” Giandelone said of the 1979 allegations brought by Kulina. “So they moved me from the frying pan into the fire, out to Chandler.”
Romley said the worst part about the transfer of Giandelone was the suffering it created for others.
“If this would have been handled responsibly, the other molestation never would have occurred,” he said.