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Catholic Church to Pay Settlement to Close Abuse Cases

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nine former altar boys will receive an undisclosed sum and an apology from the Roman Catholic Church to settle accusations of priest sexual misconduct in an Arizona-based case that stretched as far west as Camarillo.

Attorneys for both sides announced the settlement in Tucson on Tuesday, resolving the latest in a string of priest molestation cases that have badly bruised the Catholic Church’s reputation.

A 10th victim--a former juvenile delinquent who sought help from the church but was allegedly molested--will receive the same settlement.

The alleged sexual assaults, which began in 1967 and spanned two decades, involved four Arizona priests and in one case occurred at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. The seminary’s graduates fill the priest rosters at many California churches and include Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, and Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown.

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It was at the seminary that one Tucson priest--Msgr. Robert C. Trupia--hosted “Come and See” weekends at the college for teenagers contemplating the priesthood. Plaintiffs’ attorneys contend numerous molestations by Trupia took place.

“Priests were bringing young boys in and using St. John’s as a hotel,” said Lynne Cadigan, a Tucson-based attorney.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles was a defendant in one lawsuit, but “as far as I know, we didn’t have to pay” any of the settlement, said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese. Officials at St. John’s couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The Diocese of Tucson issued a one-page apology, admitting “there have been failings in the past by some within our Diocese to respond appropriately to reports of abuse and failings to recognize the harm that child abuse can cause.”

The bishop also issued a detailed special report to his parishioners on the settlement, conceding that the secret financial payout will have “very painful consequences to our Diocese and its finances, including the need to increase the indebtedness of the Diocese.”

As part of the settlement, in which payment will also be made to six parents, Bishop Manuel D. Moreno will personally apologize to each of the victims, who are now in their 30s and 40s.

Of the four accused priests, Father William T. Byrne and Father Lucien Meunier de la Pierre have died. (Authorities said de la Pierre was convicted of child abuse charges in the 1970s and died while serving a prison sentence.) Trupia and Father Michael Teta have been suspended from priestly activities since the early 1990s and the diocese is trying to get them removed from the priesthood--something only the Vatican can order.

Court documents contain a letter from the parent of one victim, who writes about “an especially painful memory” her son had after visiting St. John’s Seminary with Trupia. Her son spent two nights at the college and each morning awoke “to find Trupia sitting on [his] bed and smiling at him. The bedcovers were pulled down but [he] doesn’t know or remember if Trupia touched him while he slept.... He does know that the door to his room was locked.... The door wasn’t locked when he went to bed.”

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Police officers, responding to similar allegations, arrested Trupia on suspicion of child molestation in late 2000. But last year Yuma County authorities declined to prosecute, citing the statute of limitations.

Other high-profile priest molestation cases include one in Boston, where John Geoghan, who was defrocked as a priest in 1998, has been accused of molesting 130 youngsters in 84 lawsuits. A jury convicted him earlier this month of fondling a 10-year-old boy, and he faces two other criminal trials.

Last year the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses paid $5.2 million to settle sexual molestation allegations made against a high-profile priest. In 1997, a Dallas jury ordered the church to pay $119 million to 11 men who were allegedly molested as altar boys. An out-of-court settlement was later reached for $23 million.

The national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said that through the civil courts, victims of priest sexual abuse “now at least have a chance.”

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“I think the pattern is that the church doesn’t learn,” David Clohessy said.

“If the church didn’t change after each million-dollar verdict or settlement, it’s hard to say what will make a fundamental change in the church.”


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