Revelations

In the face of two indictments, Bishop O'Brien has gone back into hiding

Six months ago, I received an impassioned e-mail from a woman in south Chandler. She was responding to a column I had written a week earlier about Bishop Thomas O'Brien's long history of coddling and secretly transferring priests who had molested children.

In the e-mail, the woman told the story of how, in 1979, Thomas O'Brien had told her and her husband to keep quiet about a priest's molestation of her son.

The mother, Doris Kennedy, was hesitant about talking further. Soon, though, her strength grew and she was willing to sit down to discuss what had happened to her son, and how church officials told her to keep her mouth shut.

At the time, she says, her son would not talk. He was embarrassed. He wanted the issue to disappear.

A few weeks later, Mark Kennedy also found the courage to speak publicly.

Then, the Kennedys found the courage to talk to investigators with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Thanks to the testimony of the Kennedys, last week, Father Patrick Colleary was indicted on three felony charges of molesting a child.

This summer, another family came forward with accusations nearly identical to those of the Kennedys. Benedict and Peggy Kulina say they also went to Thomas O'Brien in 1979 to report the sexual abuse of their son, Benjamin, by Father John Giandelone. They say O'Brien told them to keep quiet and that Giandelone would be transferred to another church.

Giandelone was quietly transferred to another church in Chandler, where, in 1984, he was arrested after a father walked in on Giandelone performing oral sex on his 15-year-old son.

Based on the Kulinas' testimony, Giandelone was arrested last week for molesting Benjamin Kulina in 1979.

Both the Kulinas and the Kennedys knew they would be stigmatized by coming forward. Both Benjamin Kulina, now a lieutenant with the Mesa Police Department, and Mark Kennedy, a Marine and paramedic, knew all their friends and family would look at them differently once they spoke of the abuse they endured as boys.

Kulina says Giandelone forced 15-year-old Ben Kulina to put his mouth on the pastor's penis. Colleary, Mark Kennedy says, fondled him several times at the family's church and in the family's home. At one point, Colleary fondled the boy's rectum with his finger, Kennedy says.

Still, both Kennedy and Kulina had the courage to come forward and tell the truth.

The same can't be said for Bishop Thomas O'Brien.

Indeed, if last week's indictments prove anything, it is that moral authority has shifted from the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix to those willing to report sexual abuse by his priests.

As children and families spoke of their pain, O'Brien and his attorneys began spinning.

On two critical points, diocese officials went to ludicrous lengths to distance O'Brien from the growing scandal.

In a press conference last Wednesday, diocese attorney Mike Manning called it "improbable" that either the Kennedys or Kulinas ever spoke to Thomas O'Brien in 1979.

Both the Kennedys and the Kulinas say they reported the abuse of their sons to O'Brien, who was then vicar general, diocesan chancellor and secretary for then-bishop Rausch.

O'Brien says he doesn't remember any such conversations.

His memory lapses regarding reports of abuse closely mirror those of another church official, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.

In addition, Manning says it would not have been O'Brien's responsibility to speak with families reporting abuse.

This, at best, is obfuscation.

Diocesan policy clearly states that it is the duty of the diocese chancellor to field complaints about priests from parishioners. Both the Kennedys and the Kulinas say they remember very clearly being directed to Thomas O'Brien.

"I know who I talked to," Doris Kennedy says. "It was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. I know it was Thomas O'Brien who told me to keep the molestation of my son quiet." She says O'Brien asked if she had told anybody about the sexual abuse. She told him that she had spoken to one other person. O'Brien, she says, told her angrily, "You should not have done that!"

Attorney Dick Treon, who represents the Kulinas, echoed Doris Kennedy.

O'Brien told the Kulinas, Treon says, that disclosing the abuse would "hurt Benjamin, it would hurt the church and that nobody would believe them."

In the county attorney's summary of the Giandelone investigation, obtained by New Timesthrough a public records request, investigators stated: "Father O'Brien told the Kulinas they should not say anything about this to anyone. Father O'Brien said that they don't want to spread this around, it's not going to be good because it will just do Ben more harm, it will ruin things."

Even Giandelone says O'Brien talked to him after the Kulinas complained in 1979. Giandelone says O'Brien told him on one occasion that he and diocesan officials were unsure what to do with Giandelone following the Kulina accusations.

In time, officials decided to send Giandelone to St. Mary Parish in Chandler, where, Giandelone admitted, he had immediate trouble staying away from children:

"They moved me from the frying pan into the fire, out to Chandler," Giandelone said, according to tapped phone conversations with Kulina obtained during the county attorney's investigation. "They wanted me away from there so I would have absolutely no contact with you."

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