PHOENIX - A Tucson man alleges Bishop Emeritus Thomas J. O'Brien sexually abused him more than 35 years ago.
O'Brien has already admitted to helping cover up suspected pedophile priests, but this is the first lawsuit to allege O'Brien was personally responsible for abuse. O'Brien stepped down as bishop in 2003.
The lawsuit, filed by a Tucson man going only by "Joseph W.", alleges O'Brien molested him between 1977 and 1982, when the boy was in second to fifth grades. The lawsuit was filed in September of 2016.
"The abuse often took place before or during church services attended by Joseph W. and his family," the lawsuit claims, "and under the guise of Bishop O'Brien showing Joseph W. how to assist with some aspect of the ceremony."
The lawsuit alleges the abuse happened at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School and St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School.
The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix issued a statement saying, in part:
According to Diocese of Phoenix records, Bishop O’Brien was never assigned to any of the parishes or schools identified in the lawsuit, and no specific information has been presented which connects Bishop O’Brien to the plaintiff. Bishop O’Brien categorically denies the allegations. The Diocese of Phoenix immediately contacted the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office upon learning of these allegations in September of 2016, and has offered its assistance and cooperation with any law enforcement investigation into the matter. Because this is a pending litigation matter, we will not be sharing additional information.
O'Brien entered into an immunity deal with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in 2003 after admitting he played a role in letting suspected pedophile priests go back to working with children.
Two weeks later, O'Brien hit and killed Jim Reed with his car as Reed was crossing the street near 19th and Glendale avenues. O'Brien left the scene of the accident and did not contact police, even after he found out police were looking for his car. O'Brien was found guilty and sentenced to four years probation and community service.