News that Thomas J. O’Brien had resigned as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix brought somber relief Wednesday to many East Valley Catholics. But some questioned whether it will be enough to cleanse the church.
Mesa resident Angela James, 77, a parishioner of Holy Cross Catholic Church, said the resignation was “the best thing that ever could have happened to this diocese, as far as I’m concerned. Things have been bad for too long.”
It was a difficult realization for a “cradle Catholic” such as herself to support a change in leadership, James said. “It’s devastating. My husband is a convert to the church and this has really hurt him.”
She said reform in the diocese needs to go beyond replacing O’Brien.
“I hope the new bishop will clean that diocese out, will get rid of everyone down there,” James said. “The whole leadership has got to go. It’s a cancer and there’s only one thing you do with a cancer — you get rid of it.”
Sandy Simonson, who helped establish the Phoenix chapter of the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful, was optimistic.
“The Vatican accepting his resignation is a very positive step,” she said. “I do think it is necessary for the diocese to begin the healing process.”
She called the past week’s events “profoundly sad. It is just a tragedy. You don’t wish this for anybody and certainly we are praying for the victim and Bishop O’Brien.”
Dick Filler, 76, of Scottsdale has been a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help since 1964. “I feel sad for the bishop, number one, but I think I’ve always been optimistic and think the church can weather any kind of storm,” Filler said. “This is just another storm it can weather.”
John Evans, 69, is a 35-year member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Tempe. He first heard about O’Brien’s resignation on NBC’s “Today” show.
“It was an appropriate decision on the part of the bishop and the Vatican,” said Evans, a longtime professor of English literature at Arizona State University. “It was a mercy all around. I trust it will be time for the church to heal and move on to the type of life and work that Jesus commissioned us to do when he was on the earth.”
About 60 attended 8:30 a.m. Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mesa, where the Rev. Leonard Walker mentioned the resignation in his prayer. “We pray for the church,” he said. “. . . Let’s pray for our diocese at this time of crisis, that God’s help will be with us in this time of transition, that our new bishop who will be coming sometime will be a man of wisdom, justice and peace.”
John Szilagy of Mesa referred to one of the sex-abuse scandals that has directly touched the Queen of Peace parish, the case of the Rev. Karl LeClaire, who was one of six current or former Phoenix diocese priests indicted earlier this month. LeClaire formerly served at Queen of Peace.
“Basically, I have had bad feelings toward the bishop for a long time,” Szilagy said. “I have met him personally several times. He is very amiable and laughs at my jokes, but I knew he was hiding. I thought a lot of him, but when he covered for our pastor here, Father Karl (LeClaire) who is now in jail, I lost all respect for him because of that.”
State Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix, led several state lawmakers and Hispanic Catholics in calling for O’Brien’s resignation two weeks ago after O’Brien’s agreement with Romley was made public.
Miranda said Wednesday those officials now need to step back and allow Catholics to start healing their diocese.
“It’s important that the community focus on where do we go from here,” he said.