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 Times through 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."
Also, there's good reason to believe more witnesses to O'Brien's role in blocking his priests from justice will soon be coming forward.
Paul Pfaffenberger, leader of a new Phoenix chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, says the Kennedys and the Kulinas are not the only parents who claim to have been turned away by O'Brien.
"The experience of the Kennedys and Kulinas is the experience of several of our members," he says. "Right now, these people aren't to the point where they feel ready to go public. It's so painful, it takes time. But I imagine that, in time, they'll be willing to speak out also."
As the evidence mounts that Thomas O'Brien was personally involved in sheltering molesters, diocese officials get further mired in double talk.
This summer, O'Brien promised to cooperate fully with county investigators.
Now, he says he won't talk to prosecutors openly unless he is given immunity from prosecution.
Again, he is acting like the CEO of Enron rather than the leader of the Valley's largest religious and moral institution.
In a press conference last week, diocese attorney Mike Manning told reporters that he has never discussed with O'Brien whether the bishop indeed told parents of abused children to keep quiet.
Manning has been O'Brien's attorney for six months. It seems extremely implausible that the diocese's lead attorney never discussed such a critical issue with his client.
Also, O'Brien promised to turn over all diocesan documents pertaining to sexual abuse by priests.
What prosecutors are discovering, however, is that diocese officials never made written reports for many of the accusations with which they were presented. This is a problem for prosecutors around the country. The church promised openness this summer. That openness, investigators are finding, has meant nothing more than turning over thousands of documents that diocesan officials know contain nothing because they know no records were kept.
Now, echoing the Thomas O'Brien of old, the bishop is once again blaming prosecutors and the media for all of his problems.
He is once again choosing a cowardly and unethical path.
He promised openness in the summer. As Christmas arrives, he still is not delivering.
Bishop Thomas O'Brien must immediately tell county prosecutors everything about his role in the diocese's sad history of protecting pedophile priests.
This is the path of courage, down which O'Brien must follow the Kennedy and Kulina families.
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