The late Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno, often characterized as a poor advocate for sexual abuse victims, struggled with both canon law and Vatican mandates in his efforts to defrock two local priests, documents obtained by the Arizona Daily Star show.
In one case, Moreno pleaded with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, for help in removing the Rev. Michael Teta, who was convicted by the church in 1997 of five crimes including sexual solicitation in the confessional.
"I make this plea to you to assist me in every way you can to expedite this case, because the accused was a priest in whom I had great confidence at one time, but who, unfortunately, worked among our former seminarians, and, terrible to say, evidently corrupted many of them," Moreno wrote in an April 1997 letter to Ratzinger.
Ratzinger's office oversaw Teta's case because the crimes allegedly occurred in the confessional. His office did not handle the case of the other priest, Monsignor Robert C. Trupia, until 2001, when jurisdiction over such cases changed.
Teta's case, Moreno wrote, had already gone on for seven years. Teta was first suspended in 1990.
Teta and Trupia were defrocked in 2004. The diocese suspended Trupia in 1992 after a Tucson mother told the diocese her young son had been sexually abused by Trupia.
The diocese did not notify police about allegations against Trupia until 2000, when mandatory- reporting policies were adopted here.
Benedict has been criticized recently for mishandling abuse cases as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the Vatican department charged with guarding church principles - and as archbishop of Munich, Germany. In one instance, he allegedly halted a church trial of a Milwaukee priest accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1975.
Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said delays in cases here were not due to any Vatican office, including Ratzinger's.
"The frustration that you can sense in (Moreno's) letter, when put in the context of the delays experienced in our diocese, clearly refers to the challenges of getting the case resolved locally and did not refer to a frustration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," Kicanas wrote in an e-mail response to Star questions.
The church's canonical court in 1997 found "there is almost a satanic quality in (Teta's) mode of acting toward young men and boys." The court found that Teta's "insidious 'rape' of so many young men in his capacity as a priest" warranted his immediate removal from the priesthood.
"What is wrong with this system in which it takes another seven years to defrock a priest that has been found guilty of 'satanic abuse?' " Tucson lawyer Lynne Cadigan said.
Kicanas said that from 1997 to 2003, a process of review and appeals by Teta's canonical lawyer took place. "Unavoidably, criminal cases in our civil system of justice and canonical trials in the church, because of the need to respect the right to due process, can take a long time," Kicanas wrote.
"While clearly I would wish these processes could have progressed more rapidly, especially because people had been harmed and rightly wanted closure, nevertheless justice requires care and attention to the rights of all involved."
Cadigan has represented more than 35 local church abuse victims in civil cases, including two men who said they were assaulted in the confessional by Teta as children and, combined, received about $2 million from the diocese. The two men were not witnesses in Teta's canonical proceedings.
"I spent years claiming that (Moreno) was the evil one allowing the abuse to occur, but after reviewing the documents from the Vatican, it's clear that he did what he could within the confines of an incompetent system," Cadigan said.
The sexual-abuse scandal has cost the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson at least $36 million, according to Star archives.
At the same time Teta's case was being resolved here, Moreno was struggling to keep Trupia from being able to retire from the priesthood in good standing. Trupia has now been accused of molesting more than 30 boys.
During the 12 to 14 years it took for the two priests to be defrocked, the diocese and its parishioners paid them each about $1,400 per month for living expenses and health insurance, as is required by church law. The diocese also paid for Teta's canon lawyer, while Trupia represented himself.
As an expert in canon law, Trupia filed numerous appeals. In 1997, the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy told Moreno to let Trupia resign in good standing, but Moreno appealed.
"As the bishop of the diocese, I cannot take the chance of his working among our people unless I am sure of his suitability," Moreno wrote to a high Vatican official in 1997.
Said Cadigan: "Bishop Moreno tried desperately, within the confines of the Vatican, to get rid of Trupia but they wanted to let him go with good recommendations. Bishop Moreno stated very clearly that (Trupia) was a sexual predator, but the Vatican cared more about saving face and keeping it quiet than protecting children."
Attorney Kim Williamson, Cadigan's co-counsel, said it was still three years until Trupia was defrocked, and only after an Arizona Daily Star article revealed Trupia was living in Maryland and still receiving monthly checks from the Diocese of Tucson.
Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or firstname.lastname@example.org