ST. LOUIS - The archbishop assigned by the Vatican to temporarily run the Diocese of Phoenix said Friday he’ll uphold a deal that the former bishop struck with a local prosecutor.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., is taking over in Phoenix for Thomas O’Brien, who resigned Wednesday after being charged in a fatal hit-and-run accident.
Earlier, O’Brien cut a deal with prosecutors in which he admitted he sheltered accused sexual molesters in the clergy and promised to relinquish some control of the diocese. The deal allowed him to avoid an obstruction of justice charge.
Sheehan, speaking with reporters at a national meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops in St. Louis, said he would honor O’Brien’s agreement with authorities.
He also pledged to aid abuse victims and said that “there will be zero tolerance of any misconduct.’’
“We can’t change the past but we can do a lot about the future,’’ said Sheehan, who will divide his time between Phoenix and Santa Fe. It’s unknown precisely how long Sheehan will serve in the dual roles.
Sheehan said he met with O’Brien on Wednesday afternoon and that “he has been under tremendous stress for some time.’’ He added that O’Brien has been taking medication for serious problems with insomnia and that he “probably needs hospitalization.’’ Sheehan didn’t say how long O’Brien has been on medication.
O’Brien, 67, faces continued legal scrutiny as authorities investigate whether alcohol, prescription drugs or other factors played a role in Saturday night’s accident that killed 43-year-old Jim Reed. O’Brien has declined to publicly discuss the accident.
If investigators find O’Brien was impaired from drinking alcohol, prosecutors could charge him with negligent homicide or manslaughter, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said.
O’Brien told authorities he had a small amount of sacramental wine in a church service before Saturday’s accident, but none of the evidence so far shows he was impaired, Romley said.
As it stands, O’Brien could be sentenced to anything from probation to nearly four years in prison if he is convicted of the current felony charge.
On Thursday, authorities released a search warrant affidavit that said a police
detective saw hair and blood spatter on the car the bishop was driving at the time accident.
O’Brien told police he thought he had hit a dog or a cat or that someone had thrown a rock at his vehicle.
According to the affidavit, a detective reported seeing hair and “biological material’’ in the shattered windshield and blood spatter on the roof of O’Brien’s car. Police sought the warrant after approaching O’Brien on Monday about the accident and seeing the car in his garage, the affidavit said.
Police seized O’Brien’s car. The affidavit said they also seized glass fragments from the driveway of O’Brien’s home and black slacks and a black shirt.
Police said Reed was jaywalking when he was hit by one car, believed to be the bishop’s, and then run over and dragged by another. Police haven’t found the second car.