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Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Claims Tucson Was “Dumping Ground” For Predatory Catholic Priests

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According to allegations raised in a lawsuit filed on behalf of at least three survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the Church used southern Arizona as a “dumping ground” for priests suspected of predatory behavior against children.

The complaint (PDF) was originally brought in Arizona federal court in late December, on behalf of two individuals who indicate they were abused as children in the Tuscon area, after priests were transferred from the St. John’s Seminary in Los Angelos. However, a third named plaintiff was added to the lawsuit last month, raising similar allegations against the Archdiocese of Los Angelos, The Diocese of Tucson and St. John’s Seminary.

Each of the three plaintiffs claim that known or suspected child sex abusers were purposefully shunted from the Seminary to the Diocese of Tucson, instead of having their crimes reported to the police. This left children in the Diocese as prey for known abusers, according to the lawsuit, which presents racketeering claims that are usually reserved for criminal organizations like drug cartels and the mafia.

“By exporting graduates of St. John’s Seminary and its problematic priests to Tucson, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles knowingly exported a pervasive culture of sexual abuse and misconduct to the Diocese of Tucson’s parishioners,” the lawsuit states. “By accepting, failing to report, and moving its own abusive clergy members from parish to parish, the Diocese of Tucson has likewise thwarted criminal investigations and prosecutions leading to the sexual abuse of minors. Decisions to cover up rampant acts of child sex abuse, block criminal proceedings, and move predators from parish to parish evince both dioceses were willing to stop at nothing to increase their financial gains.”

The lawsuit notes that previous investigations by the Los Angeles Times revealed that 10% of the seminary’s graduates since 1950, or 65 out of about 625 graduates, were later accused of sexually abusing children. A third of its graduates from 1966 to 1972 face such charges, according to the lawsuit.

Retired Archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, as well as other high ranking church officials, purposefully sent priests who had abused children to Arizona in order to help them evade criminal and civil liability for their crimes in California, according to the complaint. This was due in large part to a policy which required therapists in California to report any evidence of child abuse to the authorities; a law which did not exist in Arizona.

In an amended complaint (PDF) filed on February 16, 2021, the latest plaintiff to join the case indicates that she was sexually molested in her own home by Father Charles Knapp, a graduate of St. John’s Seminary, who was assigned to St. Bernard’s Parish in Pirtleville, Arizona. On an evening her family was hosting the priest in their home for dinner, Knapp allegedly touched and fondled her, and then threatened her if anyone was told about the incident.

After many years of silence and repressing the sexual assault, the abuse was reported to the Diocese of Tuscon in June 2019, after the latest plaintiff learned that Knapp was still active in the ministry.

One of the two original plaintiffs was a former alter boy who was sexually abused in the late 1970s by Father Bob Gluch, who ran the youth group at St Andrews Catholic Church in Sierra Vista. When the boy’s mother found out, she reportedly confronted the priest, who slapped the child in front of her, before taking their complaints to Bishop Francis Joseph Green.

Although Bishop Green assured the mother that Gluch would be removed from the ministry, the family later learned that he was transferred to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Bisbee, Arizona, where he continued to serve from 1981 to 1983. At least eight other survivors of abuse and molestation by Gluch have come forward with separate claims.

The lawsuit details how the priests involved in each of the claims were moved around to avoid prosecution, and indicates on several occasions that communications between the clergy indicated the Church was clearly aware of the allegations and were conspiring to keep the priests, and the stories of their abuse, out of the spotlight and out of courts.

Case is one of thousands of Catholic Church sexual abuse lawsuits filed in recent months in Arizona and nationwide, as several states have passed legislation allowing claims that were previously barred by the statute of limitations to now be filed.

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