- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

PHOENIX — The Roman Catholic bishop of Phoenix was arrested yesterday in a deadly hit-and-run accident after police traced a license plate number to his car and found the windshield caved in.

Bishop Thomas O’Brien, 67, was jailed last night. Police said he would be booked on a charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

The bishop’s attorney, Jordan Green, declined to comment on the arrest.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Bishop O’Brien relinquished some of his authority in an unprecedented agreement with prosecutors that spared him from indictment on obstruction charges for protecting child-molesting priests.

In the hit-and-run case, 43-year-old Jim Reed died after he was struck by two cars Saturday while crossing a street in the middle of the block. Both cars drove off.

The bishop “does admit that he was driving the vehicle and in the area at the time,” Sgt. Laurie Williams said.

Witnesses gave police a partial license plate number from the first car, which led investigators to the diocese, Sgt. Williams said. The diocese told police that it was Bishop O’Brien’s car, she said.

Police armed with a search warrant for any evidence of blood, hair or glass samples went to the bishop’s home and examined the car. The tan Buick’s windshield was caved in on the passenger side, Sgt. Williams said.

The sergeant said Bishop O’Brien had told police he was returning home after a Mass on Saturday night. Police had no information on the second car.

After being detained, the bishop was briefly hospitalized for unstated reasons.

In a statement, Monsignor Richard Moyer, the diocese’s chief of staff, said the diocese would cooperate with the investigation.

“I sincerely regret reports I have received about Bishop O’Brien being involved in a fatal accident,” Monsignor Moyer said. “The sympathy of all of us in the Diocese of Phoenix as well as our prayerful support goes out to the victim’s family.”

Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said yesterday that the organization had no immediate comment on Bishop O’Brien’s arrest.

The Rev. Russell Roide, a priest at St. Francis Xavier Church in Phoenix, said he was shocked by the arrest. “I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach,” he said.

A parishioner at St. Francis Xavier, Larry Hillmert, said he would give Bishop O’Brien the benefit of the doubt.

“I feel sad for him because he’s been under a great deal of pressure,” Mr. Hillmert said. “If it looked like he panicked and made a wrong decision, he should be held accountable. We should treat the bishop like everyone else.”

Some U.S. Catholic bishops have previously been arrested during political protests.

In 1985, the former president of the U.S. hierarchy, Archbishop John R. Roach of Minneapolis-St. Paul, pleaded guilty to drunken driving and was sentenced to 38 hours in jail, a fine of $445 and ongoing substance-abuse treatment. He did not resign as archbishop after the incident and served another decade.

Since 1981, Bishop O’Brien has led the diocese, which covers all of Arizona and includes about 430,000 Catholics.

In the agreement with prosecutors earlier this month, Bishop O’Brien admitted that he allowed priests to work with minors after he knew of sexual-misconduct accusations against them and that he transferred them to ministries without telling their new supervisors.

Under the deal, Bishop O’Brien agreed to appoint the church equivalent of a chief of staff, who would supervise the enforcement of the church’s sexual-misconduct policies instead of the bishop.

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