"The Church is like this big supernova thing and the devil's out there trying to hurt the Church, and there are bad people out there telling lies about it and the bishop has to defend it," says the former administrator. "Part of defending it is covering things up."
Although most priests and nuns in the diocese say they love and respect O'Brien, some are disappointed with his handling of the pedophilia crisis. "Let's face it, the Church is political," says a nun who works in the diocese and asked not to be identified because she fears repercussions from the bishop. "Protecting the Church is the name of the game. The Church is the most co-dependent society in the country. These priests are in the confessional or saying Mass after they do all this garbage and that gives them a sense that they are above morality."
During its investigation of pedophilia in the diocese, New Times interviewed priests and nuns, families of the priests' victims, pedophilia experts, lawyers and parishioners. The newspaper obtained secret Church documents and memos, notes from experts who treated the priests, court records and local police reports.
Bishop O'Brien has refused five requests by New Times for interviews to discuss the diocese's handling of the three specific cases. But he has publicly blasted local media and has hammered home his point about irresponsible journalism in his editorials in the Catholic Sun, a local church newspaper widely read by parishioners.
Under siege from critics in July in the wake of Father George's sentencing, O'Brien conducted his first--and only--press conference on pedophilia. Stammering, sweating and shaking so hard he had to hold one hand in the other to quell the trembling, the bishop took heat for asking for a lenient sentence for Father George. But he confined his remarks only to the Bredemann case. He did not propose a diocesan policy on pedophilia, as at least one other bishop has done when he was faced with a scandal.
Father Timothy Davern, the diocese chancellor and the bishop's right-hand man, explained two months ago that the Church--and the bishop--is just learning about pedophilia and its dangers. He claimed that Father George Bredemann was the first clear-cut diocese pedophile priest to be arrested. "This is really the first case we've had," Davern said.
That's not true.
There were the Lessard and Giandelone cases. And in the Giandelone case, the diocese was alerted four years before his arrest that Father John may have been sexually involved with a youth.
According to a former diocesan official and a Tempe priest, Father John was involved with a boy in 1979 or 1980. O'Brien, who became bishop in 1982, reportedly knew about the first incident. But two years later, in 1984, O'Brien allowed Father John to teach at Bourgade Catholic High School. When Father John was arrested that year, O'Brien didn't fire the priest, despite Father John's confession in court documents and psychological reports that he'd molested his latest victim for two years. A former priest-administrator in the diocese claims he was encouraged by a diocese lawyer to convince the victim to drop charges.
The former priest refused. But eventually the parents decided not to prosecute. They were unaware at the time, and the diocese didn't bother to inform them, that Giandelone had molested their child for two years.
Eventually, O'Brien pleaded for a lenient sentence for Father John, who got extensive counseling and spent his year of jail time working on furlough in the diocese library.
Bishop O'Brien asked the judge for a lenient sentence for Father George, too. O'Brien has said he may convene a Church trial to see if Father George should remain a priest. He did not call for such a trial for the other two priests.
In the case of Father George, local church officials and parishioners ignored numerous warning signs of aberrant behavior. Father George, a crude and disheveled man with a flabby belly, often paraded around naked at the Castle in front of young boys. One of Father George's strongest supporters, a parishioner who wrote the court on his behalf, freely acknowledges the nudity and the fact that the priest once engaged in "horseplay" by rubbing Ben Gay on the genitals of a young boy.
The bishop refuses to talk about the cases but he has been well aware of the potential danger of pedophilia in the Church since at least 1985. Father Tony Sotelo, a parish priest at Immaculate Conception in downtown Phoenix, recalls that O'Brien warned his priests about it during a church convocation in Flagstaff "three or four years ago."
"To be very frank," Sotelo says, "he said not to mess around with boys. To be careful. And `I don't want any boys staying overnight in the rectory,' things like that. But it was only one paragraph of a whole long talk about a lot of other things." Sotelo also says that a couple of years ago a "priest lawyer" talked to all diocesan priests at a Scottsdale meeting "about just that topic." Sotelo recalls: "He said, `Remember, if any of you are guilty of any of this, you're finished with your priesthood anyway.' He said, `I want you to know just how serious this really is.'"