Bishop O'Brien's Life Ends, While Survivors Of Abuse Demand New Investigations

By Holliday Moore
Published: Monday, August 27, 2018 - 5:13pm
Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 9:32am

Less than two weeks after a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed more abuse by priests, retired Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of the Phoenix Diocese has died from complications of Parkinson's disease at age 82.

In 2002, O'Brien was head of the Phoenix Diocese, and Rick Romley was Maricopa County Attorney.

On the other side of the country, the Boston Diocese was roiling as five of its Roman Catholic priests were indicted for sexually abusing children.

Soon after those indictments, Romley got a tip while investigating similar abuse in Arizona.

It was, he said, "Information from a former priest that there were cover-ups that went up to Bishop O'Brien inside the Catholic Church."

O'Brien was ultimately granted immunity from prosecution after signing a document admitting his part in the cover-ups.

But, Romley said the two indicted priests fled the country, "One went to Ireland, and the other went to Mexico."

He sent a letter to their Cardinal urging him to send them back and he would assure them a fair trial. The letter, he said, came back taped shut "return to sender."

"I knew then that the problem went to the highest levels within the Catholic Church itself," Romley said.

Tim Lennon with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said his organization has had a flood of calls since Pennsylvania's grand jury report went public last week.

"It's a fire storm," Lennon said, "People are not happy... and a freight train is coming down the track, not only in Arizona, but all other states."

A statement from Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office, called Pennsylvania's report "extremely troubling" and "a sobering reminder of the exhaustive investigation former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley conducted," but at this time the A.G. will not comment on whether his office will conduct future grand jury investigations.

Looking back, Romley agreed, "We followed up on every lead given to us," and unless something new comes forward he doubts the A.G. will open a new case.

"The abuse did not stop in 2002," Lennon noted. And, he is quick to remove ideas that the earlier indictments have been a salve for survivors of abuse. "I don't think its a scab that's healed, I think it's demonstrated in Pennsylvania that it's a mortal wound." 

Ultimately, Lennon said, "It's up to the people of the state of Arizona to decide that they want a safe community for their children. And, we need to compel the Attorney General and local district attorneys to be aggressive."

Times have changed since O'Brien's confession and with Pennsylvania's report, Lennon has noticed, with far more support for survivors, even within their own church.

"You're not alone. It is not your fault," he said. "SNAP and other organizations are available to help."