Longform

What was he thinking?!

Page 4 of 5

Arey agreed with all of Novitsky's points, but so what?

No prosecutor could turn this into a benign encounter. There was a drunken stranger in the woman's living room panhandling for bus fare.

Point, team O'Brien.

Tarred with the obvious, Novitsky concluded with an ethnic elbow.

When Arey called 911, asked the prosecutor, hadn't she referred to Reed as "a big wetback dude"?


As long as I've reported upon Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, for the many years that I have edited articles that documented his role in the child abuse that has plagued the Catholic families of Phoenix, with all of the stories I have read in other publications, one thing is constant.

Bishop O'Brien never accepts responsibility for his sins.

In 1990, Terry Greene wrote a package of articles in New Times detailing the outrageous child abuse cases of three priests. The groundbreaking coverage documented how Bishop O'Brien went to bat for the molesters with the judges during sentencing, thus helping to secure negligible penalties such as working in the church library. Of course, the victims and their families were ignored.

When called out, Bishop O'Brien refused to accept any responsibility for his part in creating and sustaining the culture of predation within the diocese.

In the wake of these articles and during a personal confrontation in Durant's restaurant on Central Avenue, Bishop O'Brien refused, once again, to accept any responsibility, to make himself available for an interview, to even speak. When the two of us were introduced inside the steak house, we shook hands, but I refused to let go of his grip. I asked when would he take Terry Greene's calls, when would he provide answers, when would he explain his behavior?

Bishop O'Brien froze, uttered not a word and just stared at me. I looked back into the eyes of complacency and collaboration.

Last year, writing for this newspaper, Robert Nelson broke the story of yet another molestation of a child by a local priest, a revelation that was part of the national scandal crucifying the faithful, destroying families and threatening the church's financial underpinning.

Nelson's article was the first in what became a media wave of publicity regarding new cases of abuse within the Phoenix church.

Once again, Bishop O'Brien refused to accept responsibility. He stonewalled. He hid.

In the end, O'Brien admitted that at least 50 priests and church workers in greater Phoenix had been accused of preying upon children.

A letter from Boston's notorious Cardinal Law explained that he'd shipped priests who were sexual molesters to Phoenix because O'Brien's was one of those "dioceses with policies that were less restrictive than ours."

Last year, a grand jury investigated whether O'Brien violated state law by refusing to report cases of child abuse to the authorities as required and whether he transferred molesters to unsuspecting parishes without warning local congregations of past behavior. On the eve of an indictment, County Attorney Rick Romley opted for the high ground. Rather than file charges, he forced the bishop to admit guilt in return for immunity from prosecution.

In the presence of an attorney on June 3, Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien signed the following short statement: "I acknowledge that I allowed Roman Catholic priests under my supervision to work with minors after becoming aware of allegations of sexual misconduct. I further acknowledge that priests who had prior allegations of sexual misconduct made against them were transferred to ministries without full disclosure to their superiors or to the community in which they were assigned."

In a bizarre development, Bishop O'Brien reversed himself and once again declared himself not guilty of anything. He reversed himself on the very day that the county attorney made the agreement public.

At a news conference, O'Brien repudiated the signed statement, declaring, "To suggest a cover-up is just plain false. I did not oversee decades of wrongdoing."

Prosecutor Romley exploded.

"Is he revising history?" asked Romley. "Did he fail to understand the confession he was signing? Did he fail to understand that he needed immunity?"

Of course he failed to understand. He had his immunity and once again he refused to accept responsibility for his conduct.

Within two weeks, on June 14, O'Brien would strike down Jim Reed.


Bishop O'Brien testified that he didn't see what he hit that fateful night in June. He heard the noise as his windshield exploded, looked over to the passenger side and saw nothing.

He said under oath that he thought maybe he hit a dog. He said under oath that he thought maybe someone had thrown a rock at his car. He did not know.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey