PHOENIX – Retired Bishop Thomas J. O’brien, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix for more than 20 years for the step to a sexual-abuse scandal involving accused pedophile priests, died Sunday. He was 82.
A statement from the diocese said O’brien died of “ongoing health complications related to Parkinson’s disease.”
O’brien served as bishop of the diocese in Arizona, the most populous city in the world from 1982 to 2003.
An investigation by the local officers of justice in 2002, O’brien had protected alleged pedophile priests.
He received immunity from prosecution after signing a document admitting his part in the cover-up of alleged sexual misconduct by diocesan priests.
O’brien resigned as bishop after he was arrested for the death of a pedestrian in June 2003 hit-and-run accidents.
He was convicted for leaving the scene of an accident and sentenced to four years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
Phoenix city Councilman Michael Nowakowski said in a statement that “as director of the Spanish Ministry for eight years, I was witness of his advocacy for the Hispanic community who have provided ministries and services for the Spanish speaking. His gentle spirit will be missed.”
O’brien was ordained for the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, in 1961 and served as associate pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Douglas.
He was transferred to the territory that later became the Diocese of Phoenix in 1964, was appointed pastor of the St. Catherine Church in Phoenix in 1979 and served as vicar general for the diocese before being appointed the third Bishop of Phoenix by Pope John Paul II in November 1981.
O’brien played host for the pope’s 1987 visit to Phoenix that was capped by an open-air Mass in Tempe’s Sun Devil Stadium and a meeting with Mother Teresa when she visited Phoenix in 1989.
Funeral plans were not immediately available on Sunday.