Thomas J. O'Brien (bishop)

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His Excellency, The Most Reverend
Thomas Joseph O'Brien
3rd Bishop of Phoenix
Church Roman Catholic
Archdiocese Santa Fe
Diocese Phoenix
Appointed November 9, 1981
Installed January 18, 1982
Term ended June 18, 2003
Predecessor James Steven Rausch
Successor Thomas Olmsted
Ordination May 7, 1961
Consecration January 6, 1982
by John Paul II, Eduardo Martínez Somalo, and Lucas Moreira Neves
Personal details
Birth name Thomas Joseph O'Brien
Born (1935-11-29)November 29, 1935
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Died August 26, 2018(2018-08-26) (aged 82)
Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
Nationality American
Motto To build up the Body of Christ
Styles of
Thomas Joseph O'Brien
Mitre (plain).svg
Reference style
Spoken style Your Excellency
Religious style Bishop

Thomas Joseph O'Brien (November 29, 1935 – August 26, 2018) was an American bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Bishop of Phoenix from 1982 to 2003.

Early life and ministry

O'Brien was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and attended St. Meinrad Seminary. Feeling a call to the priesthood from an early age,[1] he was ordained for the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, on May 7, 1961.[2] He then served as an associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Douglas.

In 1964, O'Brien was transferred to territory that would later become the Diocese of Phoenix,[3] as an associate pastor at St. Theresa Church and later at St. Gregory Church. He was named pastor of St. Catherine Church in Phoenix in 1979, and also served as vicar general for the Diocese.[1]

Bishop of Phoenix

On November 9, 1981, O'Brien was appointed the third Bishop of Phoenix by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on January 6, 1982 from John Paul II himself, with Archbishops Eduardo Martínez Somalo and Lucas Moreira Neves, OP, serving as co-consecrators, in Rome. He was formally installed as Bishop of Phoenix on the following January 18, and selected as his episcopal motto, "To Build Up the Body of Christ."[4]

During his tenure, O'Brien earned a reputation as a successful fundraiser, builder of schools, and advocate for the poor.[1] He was also instrumental in persuading John Paul II and Mother Teresa to make their respective visits to Phoenix in 1987 and 1989. Within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he formerly chaired the Committee on Marriage and Family.

Sexual abuse scandal

In 1990, O'Brien oversaw the development and implementation of a diocesan policy to investigate sexual abuse cases involving priests. The policy was revised in 1995 and 1998, with many of its policies being adopted in the 2002 Dallas Charter. In 2002, Maricopa County prosecutors initiated a grand jury investigation into charges of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the diocese of Phoenix. Bishop O'Brien was a target of that investigation for allegedly covering-up allegations against other priests. The prosecution ended when the bishop admitted he had sheltered abusive priests.[5] O'Brien agreed to cede his authority over diocesan sexual abuse policy in exchange for immunity from indictment for obstruction of justice.[6] On August 4, 2017, it was announced that a civil lawsuit was filed against O'Brien over allegations that he sexually molested a boy on several occasions at parishes in Phoenix and Goodyear from 1977 to 1982.[7]

Hit-and-run accident

On June 14, 2003, less than two weeks after signing a sexual abuse agreement with prosecutors, O'Brien was driving home from a confirmation ceremony when his vehicle struck a 43-year-old pedestrian named Jim Reed.[8] Reed subsequently died from injuries sustained in another car accident later that evening. A driver behind O'Brien reported O'Brien's license plate number to the police.[9] Police discovered a dent in a fender and a crack in the windshield of the bishop's Buick Park Avenue.[8] O'Brien said he did not report the accident because he thought he had hit a dog, cat, or rock. He was arrested for leaving the scene of an accident and released on $45,000 bond.[8] He resigned as Bishop on June 18, 2003.[2]

On February 17, 2004, after a three-and-a-half-week-long trial, O'Brien was found guilty of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.[9] On March 26, 2004, he was sentenced to four years' probation and 1,000 hours of community service, and required to surrender his driver's license for five years.[10] He was the first American Catholic bishop to be convicted of a felony.[11] O'Brien later asked for travel time to be deducted from his 1,000 hours and for flexibility in the number of hours he must serve each month.[12]


O'Brien died on August 26, 2018 following complications from Parkinson's disease.[13][14]

Catholic Community Foundation award

In November 2011, the Catholic Community Foundation of Phoenix announced that it was giving O'Brien its faith honoree award.[15] When news of the intended award became public, a controversy emerged over the decision. A few days later, O'Brien declined the award, and the foundation, stating that it did not anticipate the adverse public reaction, wrote an apology to the community.[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Broder, John and Nick Madigan (2003-06-19). "'Unraveled' by Sex Abuse Crisis In Diocese, Phoenix Bishop Quits". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b "Bishop Thomas Joseph O'Brien". David M. Cheney. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  3. ^ The Diocese of Phoenix was split off from the Diocese of Tucson in 1969.
  4. ^ "Timeline for the Diocese of Phoenix". Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. Archived from the original on 2010-11-22.
  5. ^ Philly DA Charges Priests, Teacher with Assault, Washington Post, February 10, 2011
  6. ^ Gibson, David (2003-06-07). "The Bishop and the Prosecutor". The New York Times.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Broder, John and Nick Madigan (2003-06-18). "Police Investigate Alcohol In Case of Bishop and Death". The New York Times.
  9. ^ a b Madigan, Nick (2004-02-18). "Phoenix Jury Finds Bishop Guilty in Fatal Hit-and-Run". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Madigan, Nick (2004-03-27). "Bishop Spared Prison for Leaving Crash Scene". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Hedding, Judy (September 2006). "Former Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien: Nothing--and No One--Is Sacred Anymore". About Travel. Archived from the original on 2014-07-11.
  12. ^ "Bishop Is Requesting Leeway in Sentence". The New York Times. 2004-04-07.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Kiefer, Michael; Burkitt, Bree (August 26, 2018). "Thomas O'Brien, Phoenix Bishop who hid priests' abuse, dies at 82". azcentral. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  15. ^[full citation needed]
  16. ^[full citation needed]

External links

  • Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix Official Site

Episcopal succession

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
James Steven Rausch
Bishop of Phoenix
Succeeded by
Thomas J. Olmsted
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