Lawyers, victims release new information on accused priests, ask for statewide investigation

Accused Priests
Photos of accused priests in Phoenix. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

This story deals with sexual abuse and assault of minors. If you or someone you know has been a victim of this crime call 800-656-HOPE for 24/7 help and support.

Lawyers and victims gathered in a hotel conference room Wednesday afternoon to release a report they hope will help survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic priests to come forward. 

The report consists of 109 priests and other clergymen who have been accused of sexual predation in Arizona, specifically those in the Phoenix Diocese. 

“It is time for transparency and it is time for disclosure,” Jeff Anderson, an attorney who has been representing victims for more than 30 years, said while introducing what he and his firm are calling the Anderson Report

In a written statement on the press conference held by Anderson’s firm, the Phoenix Diocese encouraged victims to call local law enforcement. 

“We will continue our commitment to protect the vulnerable among us, bring healing to the wounded and keep our Church safe and centered on Christ,” the statement says

The conference and report come on the heels of a contentious battle between lawmakers which led to an extension of the statute of limitations for child sex crimes in civil cases, as well as a one-year civil window for cases that have been timed out. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, proposed a bill to make similar changes during the 2019 legislative session, but was stymied by other lawmakers. He and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, withheld their votes on the  state budget to get the extension to the statute of limitations. 

One of the key players who helped lobby for Boyer’s bill, Olympic speed skater Bridie Farrell, who is a victim herself, said the law has made Arizona a leader on the issue at Wednesday’s press conference. 

Anderson has been working with Phoenix attorney Robert Pastor on the list and any possible litigation that may come forward as a result of it. 

The one-year civil window in the new law will end on Dec. 31, 2020. 

“A long time waiting”

Anderson Report
(Left to Right) Bridie Farrell, Jeff Anderson, Robert Pastor, Tim Lennon, Mary O’Day and Beatrice Mendoza. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Attorneys and survivors were not the only ones present at Wednesday’s press conference. Patrick Wall is a former priest who helped Anderson conduct his research to create the report. 

“This report has been a long time waiting,” Wall said. 

Wall said the list will provide a baseline of data that can be further analyzed by survivors and prosecutors to find patterns of sexual abuse or to identify additional victims. 

“This is about institutional response to childhood sexual assault,” Wall said. 

Wall helped compile the data needed to create the list, which he said has not been an easy task. That is due in part to the difficulties it takes to get the data. 

“It’s easier to get that with a gun on your hip,” Wall said, alluding to raids recently conducted in Texas by local law enforcement on diocese offices in order to get information on accusations there. 

In Arizona, Wall has been working instead with datasets built not just by the Catholic Church but by advocacy groups like

Even still, there are gaps in the data, Wall admitted. 

Different religious sects, such as the Franciscan Brothers of the Holy Cross or the Jesuits of the USA, within the church may not have been reported and much like with murder, cases that take place on Arizona’s various Native American Reservations usually dead end, Wall said. 

Of the 22 different religious sects within the Catholic Church in Phoenix, only 4 have reported issues with those under their purview to the Phoenix Diocese, Wall said. 

By the numbers

Of the 109 clergy members listed in the Anderson Report, 62 are dead. 

Anderson said it was important to include these individuals as the effects of their actions are “still alive in their victims.” 

Forty-four of the 109 are currently unaccounted for, which includes a priest who was accused in Guam and who was stationed in Phoenix for a short period of time before disappearing when called to testify.  

Anderson’s group was only able to confirm the whereabouts of 29 of the accused priests. 

Of the 109, Anderson claimed that 66 had not been disclosed previously by the diocese. However, Anderson could not answer a question on whether any of those names had been disclosed elsewhere. 

Two of the four Bishops who have overseen the Phoenix diocese have been accused of sexual misconduct. 

Earlier this year a man who came forward with accusations of sexual abuse against Bishop Emeritus Thomas O’Brien settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. One of the last court filings ordered that many parts of the case will remain confidential.

O’Brien had been in charge during an era when the Catholic Church in Phoenix had been accused of covering up hundreds of cases, and came to light at the same time similar revelations were being made in Boston.

Next steps

Tim Lennon is the president of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, commonly referred to as SNAP. He said that he’s hoping to be part of a task force created recently by Gov. Doug Ducey that will examine next steps and best practices to help childhood victims of sexual crimes. 

However, Lennon has something else in mind. Last week he delivered a letter to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asking that he open a similar investigation into the issue.

A recent similar investigation in  Pennsylvania found that more than 1,000 children had been abused in the state and found more than 300 “predator priests.” 

“I ask that you initiate a state-wide investigation similar to what we have seen in twenty other states,” Lennon said in his letter provided to the Arizona Mirror. 

“We recently received the letter from SNAP and today we received a packet of materials that our investigators have begun reviewing,” Ryan Anderson, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said in a written statement to the Mirror. “The existence of any potential investigations by our office – whether criminal or civil – are confidential by law.”

“What we can say is that we care deeply about this issue and ultimately obtaining justice. We are very knowledgeable on the matter and we are happy to sit down and listen to what SNAP or any victim or other individual with knowledge of abuse has to say,” the statement said. Anderson further went on to encourage victims to speak to law enforcement and stated that they “hope to have more information we can discuss publicly at a later date.”

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.


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