Saint Mary's Basilica sits next to the Diocese of Phoenix.EXPAND
Saint Mary's Basilica sits next to the Diocese of Phoenix.
Stuart Warner

Judge: Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against Phoenix Diocese Can Move Forward

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has ruled that a lawsuit can move forward against the Phoenix Diocese for an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse within the clergy.

The victim's attorney, Robert E. Pastor of law firm Montoya, Lucero, and Pastor, said on Thursday that the ruling is a welcome step. His client will have the opportunity to seek justice for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, Pastor said.

The civil suit is against the Diocese of Phoenix, the Salvatorian Order, and St. Mark’s Catholic Parish. Kerstin LeMaire of Maricopa County Superior Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Phoenix priest Dennis Pecore sexually abused the victim as a child at St. Mark's Catholic Church, where Pecore served from 1982 to 1983.

Pecore later was transferred to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where in 1987 he was convicted of sexually abusing a child in a local Catholic school. Pecore was sentenced to a year in jail.

In 1994, Pecore was convicted of sexually assaulting another child and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Today, Pecore lives in Wisconsin, where he is a registered sex offender.

In 2000, Bishop of Phoenix Thomas O'Brien signed an agreement with then-Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley that said O'Brien knew priests had engaged in sexual misconduct. Despite this knowledge, O'Brien admitted that he transferred these priests to other parishes, allowing them to commit more acts of sexual abuse.

"The question that remains in this case is, was Father Pecore one of those priests that they knew about and moved around?" Pastor said in an interview on Thursday.

In the early 2000s, the Catholic Church in Phoenix faced a series of lawsuits over abuse. An ongoing lawsuit filed in 2016 alleges that O'Brien himself was a sexual abuser while he oversaw priests who were known to be predators. O'Brien has denied the allegations.

O'Brien stepped down as bishop in 2003 after he was found guilty in a hit-and-run in which he killed a pedestrian.

A spokesperson for the Phoenix Diocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit will now move into the discovery phase. Pastor said he hopes to obtain more information about a practice of sexual abuse cover-ups within the Phoenix Diocese, and specifically what the diocese knew about Pecore.

"My client hopes that we can obtain Father Pecore’s file and other information about the movement of pedophile priests around the diocese," Pastor said.

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