Declines tribute under pressure
In a bizarre misstep, this save-the-date invitation to a black tie gala was sent out to members of a Valley faith-based community.
One of the trio of honorees was former Bishop Thomas J. O‘Brien. After widespread criticism erupted, O’Brien, who served as bishop for two decades, rightly declined the award of the charitable and philanthropic group.
The group’s president, Donna Marino, apologized in a prepared statement to those who resented the decision to honor the bishop: “The executive committee of the board of directors did not anticipate the reaction of the public before the selection was made, which was based solely on (O’Brien’s) role as the founder of the organization and the event,” she said. “We are sorry for any pain and suffering this has caused victims of abuse and their families. We offer our apologies for not having shown more understanding and compassion,” according to a report in USAToday.
In 2003, O’Brien signed an agreement with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office acknowledging he protected pedophile priests, transferring them to unsuspecting parishes where they continued to sexually abuse children. He avoided prosecution by acknowledging that he had covered up reports of sexual misconduct.
The agreement he signed said in part: “He allowed Roman Catholic priests under his supervision to have contact with minors after becoming aware of allegations of criminal sexual misconduct. He shall further acknowledge transferring offending priests to situations where children could be further victimized.”
Within two weeks after his admission of collusion in these depraved acts, O’Brien was involved in a hit-and-run fatality — striking and killing Jim Lee Reed, a 43-year-old carpenter, as he was crossing a Phoenix street. A jury convicted him of the charge and he was sentenced to four years probation and community service. Even then his arrogance was extreme as he asked the sentencing judge to deduct travel time from 1,000 hours of community service he received. He faced up to 45 months in prison.
During the three-and-a-half-week trial, O’Brien stated from the witness stand that he had no idea he had hit a human being with his car while driving home from an event, insisting it might have been an animal or even a rock that shattered his windshield and caused the “loud smash.” The victim was 6 feet tall and weighed 250 pounds.
O’Brien admitted in testimony that he had inspected the damage to his car upon arriving home, but was unable to explain why he did not call the police, even after hearing the next day from one of his aides that detectives were looking for him. Instead, he called a diocese secretary to locate someone to replace his windshield. When the police came to O’Brien’s home two days after the fatality to question him, he did not respond — explaining later that he “simply wanted to be alone.”
It is only fitting that disgraced former Bishop O’Brien should be alone the night of Saturday, April 14, 2012, when the gala takes place without him.