A Brief History of Child Sex Abuse and Cover-up in Arizona

You want a juicy scandal? Don’t go to Hollywood. Instead, look no further than State 48.

And because of a new law, it’s time for a dive into the history of child (and vulnerable adult) sex abuse and cover-up across Arizona.

I’ll talk about new law and why survivors can come forward at the end of this post. But first, let chat about why it’s important to speak up.

The Phoenix Catholic Church has perpetrated and covered-up abuse for decades

In 2003, the Maricopa County DA made then-Phoenix bishop Thomas O’Brien sign a memorandum of understanding after a blockbuster investigation.

Six priests were indicted. Two fled the country. O’Brien himself admitted that 50 church leaders had been accused of sexual contact with minors.

The memo itself stated that he “allowed Roman Catholic priests under his supervision to have contact with minors after becoming aware of allegations of criminal sexual misconduct.” (page 10 of link) They also made him write out an apology (page 14 of link). He did this to avoid criminal charges himself in the cover-up.

Two weeks later, O’Brien hit a pedestrian in his car and killed him. O’Brien then fled the scene. He refused to return police calls and continued to drive around in his car with a dented fender and shattered and caved-in windshield.

O’Brien was later found guilty of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

In 2017, O’Brien himself was credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

He died in 2018.

If you think that the current bishop, Thomas Olmstead, is going to change things, think again. In a February 2019 column in the Catholic Sun, Olmstad blamed the clergy sex abuse crisis on the sexual revolution, weak seminaries, and clericalism.

What does that mean? It means it’s everyone else’s fault for allowing those nasty kids to blab.

So basically, it’s business as usual in Phoenix. The bishops will protect the church over a child and a priestly reputation over anything else.

The Diocese of Tucson and religious orders across the state are no better. I will dive more deeply into those in later posts.

Things will only change if the courts and survivors force the church to change.

It’s not just the Catholic Church

The LDS Church in Arizona has allowed its bishops to sexually abuse children for years and then covered up the abuse. These victims’ stories are just now being told. You can read some of them here.

The public school system in Arizona, including the charter school system, has been rife with sexual abuse. Lack of oversight and screening has allowed teachers with previous sex offenses to work in classrooms across the state.

The Boy Scouts are facing imminent bankruptcy due to the predators they allowed to works as volunteers across the country, including Arizona.

The Hacienda case—where a woman who was in a coma for 14 years gave birth after being raped by a nurse—shows us the vulnerability of disabled children and adults.

What does the new law say?

If you were sexually abused as a child in Arizona, you have a unique opportunity to come forward and protect kids—making sure that what happened to you doesn’t happen to another child.

Anyone abused as a child in Arizona—no matter when the abuse occurred—can come forward in the civil justice system until December 31, 2020.

After December 31, 2020, a victim must come forward before age 30.

For victims over age 30—especially if your perpetrator is still out there, working with kids—that’s not a lot of time.

I have always believed that the number one way to keep kids safe from sexual abuse and stop the cycle of crime and cover-up is to allow survivors to tell their stories and use the courts for justice.

The sexual abuse and cover-up happening in Arizona and elsewhere has to stop. The only way to do that is to help brave survivors find their voices.

If you know someone who was sexually abused as a child in Arizona, please share this with them. Want to know next steps? Reach out to me here or visit here.


You can also contact the Rape and Incest National Network.

If you see child sexual abuse, call 911.

If you suspect abuse, contact ChildHelp. Serving the U.S. and Canada, the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who—through interpreters—provide assistance in over 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are confidential.

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