Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien on Saturday apologized in a letter to Valley Catholics for the "hurt and sorrow" inflicted by the sexual misconduct of priests under his supervision.
"Wherever I have failed or misjudged, though unintentionally, I must acknowledge my mistake and I must carry the wounds of those who were harmed," stated the letter, which was read at Mass throughout the Valley.
A yearlong investigation into sexual misconduct in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has resulted in eight indictments of five priests and two former priests, accusations that go as far back as 25 years.
O’Brien, who acknowledged in an immunity agreement that he allowed priests accused of pedophilia to be around minors and that he didn’t tell their supervisor’s, went on to ask forgiveness from church members and victims of sexual abuse.
"I felt in my heart that I had made the right decision and know that God knows I never moved a priest to hide his past sins or to endanger children," O’Brien stated in the letter, which echoed a statement he made earlier in the week.
He added, "When I became your Bishop, I had never heard the word pedophilia. I like others, didn’t understand it was an incurable sickness."
O’Brien stated in the letter that he sent it in part to set the record straight "because there have been conflicting news reports and that is due — in part — to the fact many do not understand our faith, church law and how the Roman Catholic Church Serves people."
He said he also shares with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office the goal of protecting children.
It was County Attorney Richard Romley who forced the immunity agreement on O’Brien.
Romley said last week that he had enough evidence to indict O’Brien on a charge of obstruction of justice in allegedly punishing a priest who went to authorities to report suspected sexual abuse.
O’Brien agreed to add staff members to handle sexual misconduct issues, but he reiterated on Saturday that under church law he still has the last word on the removal of priests.
O’Brien ended his letter by promising that he will not forget the past and assuring church members that he is taking "creative and bold steps" to reconcile the problem.
Monsignor Dale Fushek read the statement Saturday to hundreds of parishioners gathered at St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa.
But before the monsignor began reading, he told church members that he received four phone messages Saturday begging him not to address the O’Brien issue and to focus on God instead.
Fushek spoke with church members after the service as they filed out of the building who said they believe the letter was heartfelt and sincere.
"I believe this man is doing the best he can," said Sandy Elias, a drama professor at Mesa Community College.
While most people supported the Bishop, some disagreed with how he handled the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct of priests under his supervision.
"I think the issue could have been handled differently," said Rob Sperry, 50. "By not addressing the issues directly he really muddied the waters."
On Thursday, Fushek met with about 700 members of the Catholic community to discuss O’Brien and other issues.
"People expressed their hurt and their love of the church and their desire to move forward," Fushek said.
O’Brien spent Saturday morning ordaining three new priests, but denied all media requests for interviews with them or their families.
"The bishop was concerned it would be more about him and people trying to get to him rather than about the ordainment," said Kim Sue Lia Perkes, diocese communications director. "We wanted to make sure the focus stayed on these guys and that it was their day."
O’Brien ordained Carlos Gomez, Pete Rossa and Chauncey Winkler at the Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix. Gomez will be assigned to St. Timothy’s, Rossa at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale and Winkler at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, Perkes said.