By Rob PerezSunday, July 28, 2002
strike again on Maui
In 1984, the Rev. Arthur O'Brien was accused of sexually abusing a boy on the mainland, stripped of his ministry there and ordered to undergo treatment at a rehab center for Catholic priests.
The following year O'Brien became a parish priest in Hawaii.
Five years later, he was indicted for sexually molesting a 10-year-old boy who did yard work at the Maui church where O'Brien was pastor.
In 1992, the 55-year-old, 5-foot-11-inch, 285-pound priest was convicted. In the eyes of the law, he officially became a child molester.
Despite his 1992 conviction on three counts of sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault, O'Brien still is a priest, though retired, for the Honolulu diocese.
His mugshot appears along with dozens of other mostly smiling faces in the 2002 directory of Hawaii clergy for the Roman Catholic Church.
How can that be? How can a convicted felon, a man who committed such a heinous crime against a child, still be among the brotherhood of clergy?
And even more troubling, why was O'Brien assigned to a Hawaii parish -- a job that afforded him unsupervised access to minors -- so soon after mainland church officials determined that the 1984 molestation allegation was credible and warranted removing him from his Washington, D.C., ministry?
The answer to the latter question is unclear.
Patrick Downes, a Honolulu diocese spokesman, said he didn't know how much about O'Brien's background was given to then-Hawaii Bishop Joseph Ferrario when O'Brien was accepted into the diocese in the 1980s.
Whatever information was passed along, though, the bishop would have made a judgment about O'Brien, Downes said. "Whether that same judgment would be made now is a good question," he added.
A spokeswoman for the Washington archdiocese said its policy in the 1980s, and still in effect today, would have entailed giving the Honolulu diocese details about the sexual misconduct allegation against O'Brien, his removal from the ministry and the ordered treatment.
"That is information we would certainly share," said Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Washington archdiocese.
The answer to the other question -- how can O'Brien still be in the priesthood? -- is more clear-cut, even if the reasoning seems ludicrous.
Downes said removing someone from the priesthood, a lengthy process that involves the Vatican, is extremely difficult, especially if the priest is uncooperative.
That he's a convicted child molester apparently doesn't make a difference.
Even after his conviction, O'Brien continued to profess his innocence, Downes said.
Yet Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, in one of his first actions after taking office in 1993, removed O'Brien from active ministry, meaning the cleric no longer could perform any priestly duties -- a restriction that remains to this day.
In the Maui case, O'Brien pled no contest to the sex abuse charges and was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and five years probation.
O'Brien, who moved to the mainland earlier this month, could not be reached for comment. The Honolulu diocese refused to disclose his whereabouts, but sent him an e-mail saying the Star-Bulletin wanted to talk to him for this column. O'Brien did not respond to the newspaper.
Given the national controversy that has erupted in recent months over pedophile priests who were quietly shuffled from one area to another, the O'Brien case raises disturbing questions about how effectively the Honolulu diocese over the years has screened or dealt with clergy who came here with a history of problems.
The most disturbing question: Are any such priests still working in local parishes?
The diocese says it isn't aware of any. DiLorenzo had removed four, including O'Brien, from active ministry shortly after taking office. And earlier this year he ordered a review of all priest files just to double-check.
Yet the O'Brien case makes you wonder.
Despite his mainland trouble, O'Brien was assigned to a Kalihi parish in October 1985, moved to a Mililani church the following year and then became pastor at St. Rita on Maui around 1988. His fondling of the Maui boy occurred over several months in 1989, according to court files.
Besides the Maui case, Downes said the church wasn't aware of any other sex-abuse complaints against O'Brien.
But the mother of the Maui victim said she was certain her son wasn't the only one. A detective who investigated the case and other Maui families told her about other victims, she said, but her family was the only one willing to take on the church and stick with O'Brien's prosecution.
Simone Polak, a Maui deputy prosecutor who worked on the O'Brien case, said two victims were alleged in police reports. It was unclear why charges weren't pursued in the other case.
The mother said she wasn't surprised that O'Brien was accused of sex abuse even before getting to Hawaii.
The accusations date to the early 1980s when O'Brien was training to become a priest in the Boston area, currently ground zero for the national controversy.
Robert Fallon, whose family attended Mass at the seminary where O'Brien trained, told the Star-Bulletin he was sexually abused by O'Brien -- a family friend and his pre-confirmation tutor -- when Fallon was around 14.
Now 34 and a California graduate student, Fallon came forward with his allegations only several months ago. After his parents became involved with a Boston-based lay group that helps abuse victims, he told them for the first time of his alleged abuse. In April O'Brien also informed the Boston archdiocese.
Emily Bauman, his college girlfriend from the early 1990s, told the Star-Bulletin that Fallon confided in her back then about the alleged abuse. But otherwise he kept the information mostly to himself.
Fallon said he came forward out of concern that O'Brien may have abused others. He also wanted to sound a warning about the subtle ways in which child abusers will attempt their crimes, often taking advantage of positions of trust and authority.
In O'Brien's case, the priest-in-training, then in his 40s and embarking on a mid-career change, would engineer what he called trust-building exercises during the tutoring sessions, according to Fallon. In the privacy of O'Brien's seminary residence, they would massage each other in various stages of undress, Fallon said. At least once, he added, the seminarian suggested they take a shower together.
On another occasion away from the seminary, O'Brien made a pass at him, Fallon said.
Several years later, Fallon said he ran into O'Brien and confronted him about the past misconduct. The priest apologized and claimed his sexual misbehavior had stopped, according to Fallon.
Unfortunately for O'Brien's Maui victim, that wasn't the case at all.
Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.