A Jesuit priest who taught at Brophy College Preparatory for seven years in the 1980s and coached the boy’s football team is the latest Phoenix-area Catholic priest to be accused of sexual abuse.
In a lawsuit filed today, an anonymous alum now living in California alleges that Reverend James A. Sinnerud, S.J. engaged in sexual contact with him without his consent and when he was a minor incapable of giving consent. The lawsuit does not specify the nature or time frame of the alleged misconduct, but Sinnerud would have been been in his late 40s when he taught at Brophy.
The lawsuit alleges that Brophy, the western U.S. Jesuits chapter, and the Phoenix Roman Catholic diocese were negligent in protecting the plaintiff from Sinnerud and either knew or should have known about his abuse. It cites longstanding evidence of the Church’s efforts to conceal an epidemic of child sex abuse by clergy, including a 2003 confession by the Phoenix bishop that he had moved priests around to conceal their misdeeds.
Sinnerud was one of 38 clergy members named by the Omaha, Nebraska, archdiocese as credibly accused of sexual abuse in 2018 following a probe from that state’s attorney general. It is unclear when the incident from that allegation occurred, but the Catholic school he was working for in 2018 said it occurred before he began work at the school in 1987 after leaving Brophy. Before arriving at Brophy, Sinnerud taught at Jesuit high schools in Seattle and Portland, according to research by the law firms filing the suit.
The allegation brings the number of priests accused of misconduct with ties to Arizona to 150, according to a list compiled by one of the firms, Jeff Anderson & Associates. A leading national firm for clergy sex abuse cases, Anderson & Associates, is filing the suit along with local attorney and former prosecutor Robert Pastor.
Pastor is currently handling a number of cases against the Phoenix and Tucson dioceses, including two against the Phoenix diocese filed earlier this month. Under a fiercely fought bill passed last year, middle-aged survivors of child sex abuse have until the end of this year to file a lawsuit related to their abuse.
Pastor told Phoenix New Times that the latest survivor coming forward is partly due to the new law.
“Part of the purpose of the statute was to identify offenders we don’t know about yet,” he said. Pastor said the information about priests accused of abuse released by dioceses is inconsistent. While the school in Nebraska has said the allegation of abuse against Sinnerud occurred before his time there, none of the three dioceses he taught in before that include him on their lists of credibly accused priests.
Sinnerud’s assignment history.
Courtesy of Jeff Anderson & Associates
Pastor said he hopes the lawsuit will turn up answers for the plaintiff about what the Church might have known. He said Sinnerud’s multiple transfers before being sent to Nebraska raise questions — particularly as the Church had a pattern of moving around abusive priests. Learning more and discovering other survivors can help with the healing process, as “so much of what [survivors] go through is alone,” Pastor said.
A spokesperson for the Phoenix diocese did not respond a phone call or email this afternoon seeking comment.
In 2012, a former Brophy instructor was arrested after former students said he molested them. The Jesuit order has also identified an additional eight priests credibly accessed of sexual abuse who taught at Brophy at some point.