Arizona man sues church using racketeer statute

A Tucson man with dashed hopes of becoming a priest filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against the Catholic Church in federal court last week.

Philip Hower alleges racketeering, negligence, discrimination, defamation and fraud, among other charges, naming the Archdiocese in Santa Fe; the dioceses of Tucson, Phoenix, Boston and Los Angeles; and several bishops, including Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien.

He is asking for $5 million in compensatory damages and hopes for $45 million in punitive damages, said Hower’s attorney, Ivan Safyan Abrams.

According to the complaint, all of the individuals and institutions named are part of a pattern of cover-up and conspiracy.

In the suit, Hower alleges that he was sexually assaulted by two Arizona priests and that he was denied ordination as a priest because he blew the whistle. Hower’s case starts with his own experience and places it in what he sees as a national pattern of covering up sex scandals. His attorney stated that the offending priests are transferred all over the country to keep them from being apprehended.

The attorney representing the Phoenix Diocese had not yet been served with the lawsuit. Nor had the Tucson Diocese, although Hower had made similar allegations against the Tucson Diocese in an earlier lawsuit.

“From the standpoint of the diocese, Mr. Hower’s claims are outrageous,” said Fred Allison, Tucson Diocese spokesman.

Hower, 45, is out of work and caring for his mother, also a plaintiff in the suit.

According to the narrative of the complaint, Hower’s problems began in 1985, when, as a seminarian in Pennsylvania he complained to a bishop about a deacon’s homosexual trysts. He claimed that he then lost his summer internship and was blackballed from becoming a priest when he later moved to Tucson.

The suit goes on to allege that in 1988, Hower was sexually assaulted by priests in Tucson and Yuma. He alleges that when he reported them to then-Bishop of Tucson Manuel Moreno, he was admonished and again denied the chance to become a priest.

The suit says that Hower then repressed his memories of the incidents.

Abrams said that Hower’s memories resurfaced after “extensive debriefing” and that he is not worried about their credibility.

Hower and Abrams first filed suit against the Catholic Church in 2002 in Pima County Superior Court. Abrams withdrew the original suit and filed another in federal court July 16; on July 22, he included more defendants, including the Phoenix Diocese.

There is a precedent for using racketeering charges against the church.

The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, called RICO, was intended to fight organized crime but has been used against other organizations.

In 2002, Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson became one of the first to use RICO in child sexual-abuse cases against the Catholic Church.

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