PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Accountability for sex abuse in the Catholic Church has really come to a head this week.

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted and his national brother bishops were just about to vote on new proposals to end the crisis at a conference in Baltimore.

[WATCH PART 1: Former AZ priest speaks about exposing pedophiles in the church]

[WATCH PART 2: Bringing pedophile priests to justice]

The Vatican stepped in and stopped the vote.

The church ambassador to the U.S. also suggested they do not need to work with any lay councils or law enforcement.

And Wednesday, Jesuits West just announced they are getting ready to release a new list of priests accused of sexual abuse going back to the 1950s here.

[READ MORE: Brophy College Prep. preparing for possible new sex abuse scandal involving priests]

So what does that do to the progress we saw in transparency?

The Justice Department and 18 states are now investigating the Catholic church.

The Valley had one of the first task forces in the country and we got to sit down with their key witness.

Joe Ladensack helped take down a bishop and a half-dozen priests here in Phoenix 15 years ago.

He says his decision to protect the victims instead of the institution, cost him his calling.

"In the Catholic Church, these predatory behaviors are seen as a sin, not a crime," Ladensack said.

Faith in the Catholic Church is being shaken by scandal.

Decades-old scars, raw with the #MeToo movement and Pennsylvania grand jury report, revealing hundreds of pedophile priests, and hundreds of thousands of victims.

"It's insidious. It's institutional. Everybody has blame, from the bottom all the way up to the top," Ladensack said.

Now retired and married in Tucson, he was one of the first priests to ever voluntarily testify before a grand jury in the church sex scandal 15 years ago.

Many of the families were shamed.

“It’s not father so-and-so’s problem. It’s yours,” Ladensack said.

"I'm not sure my parents even believed me when this happened," he said.

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Harry Takata grew up as an altar boy in Mesa.

Harry Takata grew up as an altar boy in Mesa.

"It's amazing to me, the effort and energy that goes into being a predator," Takata said.

“It started with 'you seem tense' backrubs, things of that nature, things that seem maybe innocent at first, then icky later,” Takata said.

He says his abuse started around seventh grade.

“Every time it was like, maybe this will be the last,” he said.

Takata was only 15 when his dad walked in on him and found Father John Giandelone, on his knees, molesting him.

“I got called to the house and walk in, and there’s dad, with a gun,” Ladensack said.

Ladensack could relate.

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Giandelone was arrested and convicted twice before Takata was abused.

Four years earlier, he says he reported the very same priest for abusing an 8- year-old boy and was promised the church would take care of it. Giandelone was arrested and convicted twice before Takata was abused.

Ladensack says he went to his bishop and voiced his concern Giandelone was placed in a parish, then a high school working with kids after his convictions.

He was ignored.

So when Ladensack got that frantic call in the summer of 1984 from Takata's mother, he was troubled but not surprised.

"The wife said, 'What do you think we should do?' And I said, 'I think we’ve got to call the police,'" Ladensack said.

Ladensack knew that was the right call.

He also knew his bishop, then Thomas O' Brien, wouldn't be pleased.

"He said, ‘You called the police?’ He said, 'I want you to go back out to the family and I want you to convince them not to file the report,'” Ladensack said. “He said, 'You owe obedience to me, and you should have called me first, not the police!'"

Ladensack refused.

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His calling to become a priest came when he survived a slaughter in Vietnam.

You see, his calling to become a priest came when he survived a slaughter in Vietnam, one of 68 men shot in a hillside ambush.

“I got shot in the leg. I got shot in the arm and I got shot in the back of my head," Ladensack said.

He saw a bright light.

"And Jesus said, 'It's not your time, you have to go back because I have things for you to do,'” Ladensack said.

"I got out of the Army and went into the seminary," Ladensack said.

He says that military foundation gave him the backbone to disobey his bishop's order.

And after helping a dozen other families file police reports, he says he was given an ultimatum.

"The bishop called me in one day and said, ‘The next time you do this, you're out of here!' So, I said, ‘Fine, you might as well get me out of here right now, because every time a case comes, I'm going straight to the police,"' Ladensack said.

He says that’s when Bishop O’Brien told, "I remove your faculties," stripping him of ministry in the Phoenix Diocese.

Ladensack says he was fired, shunned, even threatened so he went off the grid for more than a decade.

"I was in a self-imposed witness protection program,” Ladensack said.

Convictions in the church

Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley says Ladensack was the key to proving obstruction of justice, the church cover-up beyond the crimes of the repeat pedophile priests.

“It was the cover-up, the cover-up, the cover-up, that's what it was!” Romley said.

In 2003, he gave Bishop O'Brien immunity for a public apology and indicted six priests.

“And that's how we made the agreement to eventually make huge changes,” Romley said.

Three of those priests got convicted, one died and two skipped town to avoid court.

One was sentenced to 111 years in prison.

Diocese responds

As part of that deal, the Diocese agreed to report abuse to police, train and supervise clergy and set up a victims advocate and counseling fund.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who took over when O'Brien left, released a pre-recorded message to the 1.1 million faithful in his Phoenix Diocese.

"I know that many of you are suffering deep levels of disgust, confusion and even outrage. I am deeply sorry for your pain and I ask your forgiveness,” Olmsted said.

He had a personal apology for survivors.

“I am deeply sorry for your pain and I ask your forgiveness on behalf of the church. I am committed to protecting you and all others from this happening again. If you have not come forward I encourage you to make a report to the civil authorities and contact our safe environment office,” Olmsted said.

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The Phoenix Diocese just launched this new website showing how they respond to everything from allegations of abuse, to recent calls for the pope's resignation.

The Phoenix Diocese just launched this new website showing how they respond to everything from allegations of abuse, to recent calls for the pope's resignation.

Anne Vargas-Leveriza runs the Child and Youth Protection Office for the Phoenix Diocese.

"We have learned from our past," she said.

She says she's getting a lot of calls from survivors seeking help and they are doing their best to be transparent.

“We address it right away. It doesn’t matter if the statute of limitations has expired already,” Vargas-Leveriza said.

Crisis in perspective

The new website also lists more than 100 priests  accused of abuse dating back to the late '30s across the state, acknowledging the potential for thousands of Arizona victims.

The Phoenix Diocese is reporting more than 30 accused priests since they were founded in 1969. Prior to that, Catholic churches were part of the Diocese of Gallup and Tucson.

Ladensack says this is merely scratching the surface.

To put the crisis in perspective, he says six of his 17 fellow seminary school grads went on to be accused of sex abuse.

Tracking names of pedophile priests accused, indicted, removed by the church, convicted by the courts, as well as ones in cases settled out of court with victims in non-disclosure agreements is complicated.

The Phoenix Diocese says it cannot speculate whether any priests who self-reported or disclosed in confessional are on record in any lists. They say they are in prevention mode now and doing all they can to encourage all survivors to come forward, regardless of how much time may have passed staying in the shadows harboring their secret.

“We won’t stop. We're going to continue to reach out to those victims, to the survivors, to let them know that we are here and ready to listen at any point," Vargas-Leveriza said.

Their first priority when they get a call is getting the survivor help. They will pay for private counseling if needed. Then it goes to the bishop who decides within 24 hours if the priest should be suspended if still in ministry. We’re told 90 percent of the cases are years and decades old, and some of the accused have died.

"You're not alone. Have the courage to speak to somebody," Takata encouraged.

Takata left the Catholic Church.

So did his dad.

“The church knew about it! They are liable for all of this! It’s amazing how it was just shoved under the rug,” Takata said.

He says his mom was so devout, if Father Joe had asked her not to go to the police, she likely wouldn’t have.

He can’t imagine where he’d be today if that were the case.

“To stand up to the church as powerful as it is and to stand for what's right,” he said of Joe Ladensack, “he's my hero.”

Would Bishop Olmsted ever consider restoring Ladensack’s faculties?

The Diocese says that’s a confidential matter between the bishop and the priest only.

“You owe it to yourself to be much more than just a survivor," Ladensack said.

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 Ladensack just wrote a new book, "Hard to Kill.”

From his close call in combat to tested faith, Ladensack just wrote a new book, "Hard to Kill,” an inspiration to find the hope in healing, speaking your own truth.

How far does the cover-up go?

Romley is convinced it went all the way to the Vatican.

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Romley is convinced the cover-up went all the way to the Vatican.

We asked him about that tough call, to cut a deal for immunity and an apology instead of taking Bishop O’Brien to court.

“It was a tough call. It was an extraordinarily tough call. I think it was the right call, even to this day,” Romley said.

He says forcing O’Brien to make some major concessions and changes in vetting, training, supervising, reporting and reprimanding priests saved everyone years of fighting in court to prove the church complicit in the cover-up.

“I felt having the bird in the hand and making real changes in the church to stop the sexual abuse of the future would be better than maybe losing it totally in the court,” he said.

O'Brien was the first bishop to admit to knowingly putting priests accused and convicted of sexual abuse into churches and schools.

“He admitted he had been transferring pedophile priests around,” Romley said.

“I think people need to be held accountable," Takata said.

Harry doesn’t think Bishop O'Brien deserved immunity.

His case is one of the many settled by the Phoenix Diocese over the years to the collective tune of more than $3 million.

Civil settlements also kept the scope of the crisis under wraps in the early years.

Would the Phoenix Diocese be willing to allow those survivors to break non-disclosure agreements for full transparency?

Vargas-Leveriza says their general counsel would have to answer with regards to the specifics but said, “I totally agree. Everybody has their own story and that’s their story to tell when they're ready to tell it. We’re here to listen and protect our children.”

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“We address it right away. It doesn’t matter if the statute of limitations has expired already,” Vargs- Leveriza said.

“Romley simply took the accused people and put them on trial. He didn’t ask for the church to open up the records,” Takata said.

Romley did get a search warrant for records from the Phoenix Diocese. He got hundreds of thousands of documents.

“We opened the last box that came in and the first thing we saw was the manual for how to install a toilet. We took that as them sending a message,” Romley said.

“We had heard there may be some secret files and I was very willing to do a grand jury search, but we were never able to identify a location where they may be,” Romley said.

He says 15 years ago the church didn't even want to acknowledge the problem.

Today, dioceses are far more willing to work with law enforcement, despite the Vatican this week suggesting that's not the answer.

There is a push right now  to get attorney generals from all 50 states to impanel grand juries and force the Catholic Church to open their books to out pedophile priests.

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, speaking at the national conference Wednesday,  said the church owes it to the faithful to continue to seek healing and transparency.

“Here and now, our people are angry, embarrassed, confused and disgusted," Olmsted said.

He put together an online survey and more than 1,500 responded to questions about the crisis, everything from, "Have you ever been a victim?" to "Has the scandal made you question your faith or leave the church?"

“There was a mass movement to hide the priests that were doing this,” Romley said.

Vatican response

He sent a letter to the Vatican to ask the pope to order two priests who skipped town when they got indicted to come back to face charges.

“It came back, return to sender, but I saw on the side, it had been retaped. They had opened it, read it and just returned it!” Romley said.

“That tells me that the leadership in Rome, it went all the way to the top. I'll just put it that way.” He said.

What does justice look like for the victims, the abusers and those who knew and did nothing?

"Whatever it takes to heal, either the victim or the offender, we are dedicated to doing that,” said Nicole Delaney, director of canonical services and the tribunal for the Phoenix Diocese.

They say they train 30,000 people a year to look for and report any warning signs.

They also have a lay review board made up of local judges, police detectives, child psychologists, teachers, nurses and priests to investigate abuse allegations.

“Our schools, our parishes are probably one of the safest places,” Vargas-Leveriza said.

In fact, just this week, the bishop removed another retired priest after hearing about an out of state allegation from the ‘70s.

“I’m not sure that there's ever a purity of justice, we touch it, but for the victims of these crimes, they live it for a lifetime,” Romley said.

Takata knows that all too well.

He says while the statute of limitations means your legal justice might be limited, your hope is in your healing.

"You can survive. You can overcome. You can get beyond it. Was it a crappy thing that happened to me? Absolutely, but if I thought I could make something positive out of it, then, we win, not them," Takata said.

The Diocese has a victims’ fund to pay for counseling. So does the Maricopa County Attorney’s office.

We asked if there are any tandem criminal investigations with the Jesuits West internal investigation.

Both the County attorney and Attorney General's Office assure they will be keeping a close eye on this.

Romley hopes if the Vatican is serious about ending the cover-up, the pope would issue an edict to all priests to report any sex crimes to civil authorities.

“And it would be good to see a collaborative effort by all the county attorneys in the state and the attorney general to say, if you are a victim, please come forward, we want to hear from you, we will investigate, and we will seek justice,” Romley said.

Nicole Crites anchors 3TV's Good Evening Arizona weekdays alongside Brandon Lee. Nicole also digs deep into issues affecting Arizonans.  You'll see her reports on 3TV News at 9 p.m.
 
 


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