The Diocese of Phoenix is not living up to its promise to turn over crucial documents in the investigation of sexual abuse by priests, County Attorney Rick Romley said Tuesday.
“This is not what I call cooperation,” he said, noting that he has had to fight repeatedly in court over access to individual items, delaying his inquiry.
“I wanted to work with them and took their promises in good faith. But now it looks like I’ll have to force the pace with a more traditional investigation.”
Bishop Thomas O’Brien denied Romley’s claims.
“I’m stunned and disappointed,” O’Brien said Tuesday through spokeswoman Kim Sue Lia Perkes.
“I and the diocesan staff have been bending over backwards, seeing to it that all the documents asked for were produced.”
In June, O’Brien pledged that the Phoenix diocese would be the most aggressive in the nation in turning over reports about sexual allegations against all church employees, including priests, deacons or youth counselors, going back more than 20 years.
“I ordered everyone at the diocese to turn over any documents that fall under the two, very broad subpoenas to our attorneys,” O’Brien said.
Romley said Tuesday that prosecutors were still awaiting some documents but wouldn’t specify which ones. Diocese attorney Michael Manning said he expects to turn over the diocese’s last collection of documents by next week.
He echoed O’Brien’s denial of any foot-dragging.
“(Romley’s charges) are totally inaccurate,” Manning said. “We have been working with their prosecutors, even providing evidence which many other witnesses would quickly declare to be privileged.”
Romley refused to confirm or deny Tuesday that a county grand jury is still investigating accusations of sexual misconduct against Valley priests and other church personnel.
However, other sources, including victims who have been interviewed by investigators, confirmed that a grand jury continues to work on the case and soon will interview senior church officials.
Romley’s investigation is one of dozens taking place across the country in light of allegations that church leaders have enabled abusers by shuffling them from parish to parish. The problem of abusive priests first came to light in the 1980s but erupted this year with allegations against abusive priests in Boston.
Prosecutors in several cities have accused church leaders of stalling investigations.
Some of the most notable criticism has come in Boston, where, just as in Phoenix, several priests have been suspended but investigations into their cases are moving at glacial speed.
In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that any priest found guilty of sexual misconduct involving a minor at any time would be immediately removed from active ministry.
In August, the Phoenix diocese sent Romley the names of 15 priests and other employees, all of whom had died, left the priesthood or been convicted or suspended because of sex-related charges.