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A federal lawsuit accuses the Tucson Diocese and Los Angeles Diocese of violating Arizona’s racketeering laws by burying allegations that some priests sexually abused children and moving those priests from parish to parish instead of turning them over to law enforcement.
This is the second major case of its kind after a recent change to state law gave sexual abuse victims more time to take their abusers and the organizations that protected them to court. A pair of lawsuits have been making their way through Arizona court aimed at the Corpus Christi Diocese alleging abuse by a priest who was moved to Arizona by the Diocese there.
The suit aimed at the Tucson and Los Angeles Dioceses was filed at the end of the window of opportunity on Dec. 31, 2020.
In 2019, Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2466 into law, giving victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to sue in civil court, ending Arizona’s status as one of the worst states in the nation for survivors to seek redress.
Previously, the statute of limitations in Arizona ended just two years after a victim turns 18 years old.
The suit claims that priests from the St. John’s Seminary in California that had a problematic history were often transferred to Arizona to avoid further attention in California.
“The seminary has produced a disproportionate number of sexual predators, many of which were then sent to Tucson, a known ‘dumping ground’ for abusive priests,’” the suit alleges. The Los Angeles Times reported that 65 of the Seminary’s 625 graduates between 1950 and 2005 had been accused of sexual abuse, higher than what studies in the US have found for priests in general.
The suit also includes allegations from two men coming forward that priests who were transferred around Arizona abused them.
George Brogdon was an altar boy at the St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Sierra Vista when he met Father Bob Gluch, an associate pastor who ran the youth groups between 1976 and 1981.
After mass in 1978, Gluch pulled Brogdon into a backroom where he disrobed and exposed himself before he molested Brogdon, the lawsuit alleges. When Brogdon’s mother learned what happened, she confronted him and the priest slapped Brogdon in the face in front of his mother.
Brogdon and his mother reported what had happened to Bishop Francis Joseph Green, who led the Tucson Diocese. The lawsuit alleges he said Gluch would be removed, which reassured the mother enough so she did not call law enforcement.
Gluch would be replaced by Father Kevin Barmasse, whose abuse has led the Los Angeles Diocese to pay out a $660 million settlement. Gluch was transferred to a church in Bisbee; at least eight other victims have come forward in Arizona and California. He would also return to Tucson again in 1984.
“My friend, Marie, had been reaching out to me for a few years to talk about things,” Brogdon said in an email to Arizona Mirror about why he decided to come forward now. “When I saw the number to call about the situation, I reached out because it has always consumed a large part of my life, and I needed to let go.”
Brogdon is not alone in the suit. Lauro Garcia and his family attended the Sacred Heart Parish in Nogales, and he alleges in the lawsuit that a June 1980 trip to the Cathedral of Saint Augustine in Tucson with his church’s choir to celebrate the ordination of Joseph Octavio Tye would change his life.
After the celebration, Garcia met Father Carlos Cocio, a seminary student at St. John’s.
Garcia was from a single-parent household and Cocio took an immediate interest in him and Garcia discussed his interest in becoming a priest. Cocio encouraged him to come back to Tucson, so Garcia came back by bus and was met at the terminal by Cocio. Once behind closed doors, Cocio raped him repeatedly over the course of two days, Garcia alleged in the lawsuit.
When Garcia returned home, he told several clergy members at his church about what happened and he remembers them laughing, saying no one would believe that he was raped by Cocio.
One of the clergymen who laughed at him, Monsignor Walter Rosensweig, later also sexually assaulted him while Garcia was alone with him at the Sacred Heart Parish in Nogales, Garcia claims.
“I was only a young teenager when this happened to me,” Garcia said to the Mirror. “I would encourage others to speak out, tell their parents, we are in a different era now that we have a voice.”
Garcia added that if parents or others are unwilling to listen, to seek out other resources.
“Nobody deserves to go through this type of trauma,” Garcia said.
The suit alleges that the Tucson and Los Angeles Dioceses “demonstrated a clear pattern of the aforementioned racketeering activity” by concealing the activity of the priests and suppressing any information about their activities.
“The pattern of racketeering between these two dioceses created a pervasive culture where the sexual abuse of minors was not only accepted but embraced by many active clergy in Tucson,” the suit says.
Arizona’s racketeering law also means that the state Attorney General can weigh in and investigate if he sees fit.
“We hope they will take responsibility for this pervasive culture of abuse in Tucson and be willing to provide these survivors with meaningful relief now in a way that they haven’t,” attorney Ashley Pileika said to the Mirror.
The Tucson Diocese said in a statement that the complaint and its allegations have been “turned over to law enforcement in accordance with protocol established with the Pima County Attorney years ago.”
“The Diocese has offered its apologies to the plaintiffs for what they allege they endured at the hands of the two former priests named in their complaint,” the statement says. “The Diocese has also offered to pay for counseling for the plaintiffs should they feel that counseling would benefit them.”
In 2004, the Tucson Diocese declared bankruptcy, similar to what the Boy Scouts of America has done recently.
“You can’t just put all your bad eggs in one basket and bankrupt that one basket and say, ‘Sorry, there is no relief for anyone,’” Pileika said when asked how the bankruptcy might impact a ruling.
But Pileika, Brogdon and Garcia all agree it’s not about the money.
“What these people, what these survivors, what these clients want is their childhoods back, which we can’t really do,” Pileika said.
“I have not yet today healed, but I am trying to move forward one day at a time,” Brogdon said. “Everytime you speak out, you let go a little more. My heart goes out to anyone else that went through this.”