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Letter seeks aid for accused priest

Move upsets bishop, man to testify in LeBrun trial

Tribune Staff Writers

SOUTH BEND -- An advocacy group for priests accused of sexual misconduct is attempting to raise money for the defense of the Rev. Paul LeBrun, the former Little Flower Catholic Church priest accused of committing 13 sex crimes with six boys in Arizona.

Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a nonprofit organization based in Detroit, has mailed letters to local residents seeking donations. In Latin, the group's name means "Work for the Good of the Priesthood."

The letter describes LeBrun as "an extra special priest and mutual friend" who needs help.

The Holy Cross Order is not paying for the defense of LeBrun, who is on trial in Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa, Ariz. He is accused of eight counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and five counts of child molestation.

Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John M. D'Arcy said Thursday he has never heard of Opus Bono or its president, Joseph R. Maher, who signed the letter.

Opus Bono is not authorized by the diocese to contact parishioners, D'Arcy said.

"I think it's outrageous what they're doing," D'Arcy said. "We never gave them any list. They're unauthorized to do this and it's wrong. ... I don't know anything about (Maher) and he doesn't know anything about this case. He's out of order writing to our people."

One recipient is a local man scheduled to testify at the trial that LeBrun fondled him in the early 1980s.

"I was extremely offended to receive this thing, and to try to solicit support from victims?" the local man said. "How low."

The man doesn't want his name published because of the nature of what he says LeBrun did to him. He, his brother and two other men who knew LeBrun in the 1980s are scheduled to testify that LeBrun abused them.

LeBrun served at Little Flower in South Bend and at two Phoenix churches before his arrest in May 2003 on the Arizona charges.

D'Arcy re-emphasized that the diocese removed LeBrun from his priestly functions in October 1999, and a subsequent request for reinstatement was denied. D'Arcy said the diocese has no role in LeBrun's defense.

LeBrun was a seminarian at the University of Notre Dame and later served as a priest at Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend in the early 1980s and again in the 1990s.

He served at the Phoenix area churches between his stints at Little Flower.

A woman who answered the phone Thursday at Little Flower said church officials have no comment on the mailing.

Arizona prosecutors say the crimes there occurred between 1986 and 1991, mainly on camping trips.

LeBrun was never charged in Indiana. The statute of limitations had run out before alleged victims here went to police with accusations similar to the Arizona claims.

Last week, an Arizona judge ruled four alleged Indiana victims will be allowed to testify at the trial.

In the Opus Bono letter, Maher writes that LeBrun is "in jail awaiting trial in Phoenix, Arizona," but he does not describe the charges LeBrun faces or the nature of the charges.

Maher includes in the letter what appears to be a note from LeBrun himself, who maintains his innocence. LeBrun has not publicly responded to the charges. The note says:

"I do not believe that God has placed me in a situation wherein my only option is to lie. For me to accept a plea bargain I must lie. I choose instead to try to prove the truth in court. If I fail at trial I go to prison forever.

"I would rather fail at trial while telling the truth and spend the rest of my life in prison with my integrity intact than lie and take a plea admitting to something I did not do.

"No matter what happens I believe my ability to answer God's call to me has little to do with which side of a prison wall I lay my head down at night. God's love and grace are his gift to us and they are enough for me. God is good all the time."

Maher writes that LeBrun's legal fees have added up to "nearly $100,000, and they will triple this figure before the process is complete." Maher writes that contributions to the organization for LeBrun's defense are 100 percent deductible, and stock transfers are accepted.

Repeated phone calls and e-mail messages left for Maher and Opus Bono were not returned Wednesday or Thursday.

The alleged local victim who received the mailing this week said, "I called (Maher) and left him a voice mail. ... It would have been extremely important for him to investigate a little rather than just give LeBrun a free pass."

The Holy Cross Order had no knowledge of the Opus Bono Sacerdotii organization, its efforts to raise money for LeBrun's defense or the mailings sent to St. Joseph County homes until The Tribune contacted the order for comment this week, according to Richard A. Nussbaum II, attorney for the Holy Cross Order.

Nussbaum is serving as the order's spokesman on LeBrun matters and said he is not LeBrun's defense attorney.

Included in the Opus Bono Sacerdotii mailing is an envelope for a contribution and a recent Newsweek article about Maher and the group he founded.


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