Thomas O'Brien update: Ex-Catholic bishop of Phoenix accused of sex abuse

Posted at 7:18 PM, Aug 03, 2017

A former head of the Catholic church in Phoenix has been accused of molesting a young boy 35 years ago.

Retired Bishop Thomas O'Brien is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing the boy at parishes in Phoenix and the suburb of Goodyear from 1977 through 1982. The accuser says he reported the abuse to Phoenix police, who refused to comment.

The Diocese of Phoenix says O'Brien denies the allegation.

He led the church in Phoenix as dioceses across the United States, including Boston, were accused of letting priests suspected of sex abuse go unpunished.

The bishop acknowledged in a 2003 immunity deal that he let church employees accused of sex abuse have contact with children.

Weeks after the deal, O'Brien resigned as bishop after he was arrested for hitting and killing a pedestrian with his car.

The Diocese of Phoenix released the following statement: 

A civil lawsuit has been filed against the Diocese of Phoenix, several parishes and Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien, who has been retired since 2003. The lawsuit alleges that an unnamed plaintiff was sexually abused by Bishop O’Brien while in grade school in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

According to Diocese of Phoenix records, Bishop O’Brien was never assigned to any of the parishes or schools identified in the lawsuit, and no specific information has been presented which connects Bishop O’Brien to the plaintiff. Bishop O’Brien categorically denies the allegations.

The Diocese of Phoenix immediately contacted the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office upon learning of these allegations in September of 2016, and has offered its assistance and cooperation with any law enforcement investigation into the matter.

Because this is a pending litigation matter, we will not be sharing additional information. The Diocese of Phoenix is committed to protecting all young people and will continue to work diligently to keep our young people safe. We are dedicated to providing a safe environment in which every individual is valued and honored as created in the image and likeness of God. Anyone who has been a victim of abuse or who may have information concerning these crimes is encouraged to call a local law enforcement agency.

We continue to pray for all those who have been harmed by childhood abuse and will remain vigilant to protect the dignity of every person. For additional information about support services for those who have been abused, please contact the Office of Child and Youth Protection at (602) 354-2396 or at