Beat It!

A priest is freed on a technicality. But it was the bishop who freed him to prey.

Father Patrick Colleary has done his time. And we can only hope that the county attorney finds enough evidence to eventually force Bishop Thomas O'Brien to do his.

Colleary was freed from the Madison Street Jail last week after charges of sexual abuse against him were dropped by County Attorney Rick Romley. Colleary had been held for a month without bail because prosecutors considered him a flight risk.

Colleary's indictments for molesting Mark Kennedy in 1978 rested precariously on a quirk in the state's statute of limitations law. At issue: Were the accusations of sexual abuse brought by the Kennedy family back in late 1978 investigated at that time by police?

The bishop loves the church, all right. He cares more about the institution than he does about his parishioners.
The bishop loves the church, all right. He cares more about the institution than he does about his parishioners.

If so, under state law, prosecutors had seven years from the date of the incident to file charges. If so, no charges could be filed after 1985.

However, until last week, prosecutors found no evidence that any Valley law enforcement agency had shown the necessary "due diligence" in investigating the accusations. Last summer, prosecutors asked all law enforcement agencies that might have had jurisdiction in the case to dig deep into their archives for any police report related to the incident. I also made a public records request to Tempe and Chandler police and to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Nothing was found.

We all went looking because Mark Kennedy's mother, Doris, remembered talking to police officers at the time. But she couldn't remember the agency. Further complicating things: At the time, the Kennedys lived in an area north of Chandler that bordered city and county land. And the Kennedys attended church in Tempe.

Doris Kennedy remembered talking to police about an incident in her home in which her son Dominic walked in when Father Colleary was sexually molesting Mark, then 10 years old.

Last spring, Mark, now 35, began remembering two other times during which he says he was molested by Colleary at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in late 1978. Those two incidences, which seemingly had never been brought to light, were the key to the county attorney's attempts to circumvent the statute of limitations in the case.

After Colleary was arrested, Romley again went to the sheriff's office and other agencies asking them to dig one more time for any evidence of the early 1979 police investigation that Doris Kennedy remembers. Romley and his prosecutors wanted to make absolutely sure such a report didn't exist.

Records management personnel around the city complied. And early last week, sheriff's office personnel laboriously scanned thousands of decades-old files and found the report.

Although their report was given to the grand jury, and thus sealed from the public, it is clear that prosecutors saw evidence that all three Kennedy accusations had been given enough attention in early 1979 to block Colleary from prosecution now.

This is not to say that the earlier investigation was thorough. Only that it was thorough enough to show that authorities had exercised due diligence in regard to the statute of limitations.

Finding the report in the sheriff's office's grossly antiquated and fragmented filing system was no easy task. Sheriff's personnel did good work. And it was refreshing to see the sheriff's office come forward immediately with a piece of evidence that could have made the department look bad (considering that Sheriff Joe Arpaio had been asked if such evidence existed last summer).

Arpaio, as readers of this column know, has a history of disappearing information that would make his office look bad.

And Romley did what he had to do. He had to turn Colleary loose.

But the other guilty party in this bizarre affair is Bishop Thomas O'Brien.

The day before the police report was found by the sheriff's office, prosecutors submitted into court records a memo written to O'Brien in 1996 by Michael Diskin, one of his top administrators.

The memo is just one more smoking gun exposing O'Brien's cover-up of problem priests.

In the memo, Diskin, not usually one to question ecclesiastical authority, clearly states his opinion that Colleary is a liar and an unrepentant predator.

Referring to interviews with a doctor and to a polygraph test taken by Colleary about molestation accusations, Diskin told O'Brien:

"It is obvious that Fr. Colleary was not truthful with Dr. Earle. That raises serious questions for me. I would have more confidence in him if he had come clean and I knew that he was dealing with any challenge to his oath of celibacy."

The memo discusses abhorrent behavior by Colleary beyond the alleged molestation of Kennedy.

"We know that Fr. Colleary had sexual relations with Sharon Roy in 1977, leading to the birth of a daughter in 1978. He began having sexual relations with Mrs. Lecheler in 1978. In 1993, we have a report from Dr. Earle. Fr. Colleary underwent a polygraph test relating to allegations of sexual molestation of a minor."

Speaking from her home in Texas, Kathleen Lecheler expressed anger that Colleary got off on a technicality. She repeated something she had told me in an interview last summer, something that supports Diskin's fears in 1996.

"I remember having dinner with [Colleary] after the death of this little boy we both knew," she says. "He wasn't talking about the boy, though." She says Colleary was upset because he said he had been accused of "pulling down a little boy's zipper" and that he had to take a polygraph test.

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