The monsignor called out of retirement to restore confidence in how the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix handles sexual-abuse cases is one of four senior church leaders accused in a lawsuit of protecting a priest who, according to the suit, drugged and raped a boy in 1987.
Vicar General Richard Moyer was given sole authority in June to deal with sexual-abuse cases as part of the immunity agreement between the diocese and Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley after Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien acknowledged covering up for molesting priests.
Moyer, 71, was O’Brien’s second in command for two decades and handled church finances, possibly including confidential financial settlements with victims of sexual abuse.
In the lawsuit filed against the diocese, Moyer was one of nine clergy accused of using “every means in their power” to cover up what the suit says was a sexual attack by Father Saul Madrid.
Among those diocesan leaders notified of the attack shortly after it occurred, according to the suit, were O’Brien, Moyer, Monsignor Dale Fushek, Sister Mary Ann Winters and Father Michael Diskin. Though they did not hold those positions at the time, Fushek is Moyer’s co-vicar general, Winters has become chancellor of the diocese and Diskin is assistant chancellor.
Chris Gunty, spokesman for the diocese, said Monday that the diocese had “not yet been served with the suit in question, so we cannot comment on it.”
Madrid, a native of Mexico, once was one of the most popular priests in Phoenix and a rising star in the church hierarchy. He resigned, citing health reasons, and disappeared after having a falling out with O’Brien over a number of issues, including Madrid’s decision to allow pornographic scenes for a movie to be filmed at his parish church.
The suit claims church officials knew Madrid was a sexually “active person who preyed on youth” when it says he attacked Victor DiGiovine in September 1987. Madrid was counseling DiGiovine at SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral in west Phoenix at the time.
According to the suit, Madrid gave DiGiovine “drugs that rendered him incapable of defending himself,” then performed “unsolicited and unwanted sexual acts” on the youth.
The suit claims that various clergy were notified about the attack in an attempt to get “guidance, help and support” for DiGiovine.
“Through and to the present time, these clergymen, acting on behalf of the defendant Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, have used every means in their power . . . to prevent the plaintiff from pursuing his legal rights through civil or criminal process,” the suit says.
The suit was filed June 20, a little more than two weeks after Moyer came out of retirement to take the job as moderator of the Curia. Moyer retired in 2002 after 38 years in the priesthood.
Two weeks after appointing Moyer, O’Brien was involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident and resigned.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe was appointed interim head of the Phoenix Diocese. In one of his first official acts, he announced that Moyer would remain as moderator of the Curia, the equivalent of a bishop’s chief of staff, until a new bishop is appointed.
Sheehan’s spokeswoman, Celine Radigan, said the archbishop was in Rhode Island attending the ordination of another bishop and was unaware of the suit. She said he would have no comment.
The deal that granted O’Brien immunity from possible obstruction of justice charges was reached in return for a pledge by the bishop that he would remove himself from any future investigations of sexual abuse by priests.
He appointed Moyer a day later, saying he had independent authority to handle all sex-abuse cases.
Sheehan and Romley both have said the agreement remains in effect despite O’Brien’s resignation. Romley could not be reached late Monday to comment on the allegations against Moyer in the suit.