$1.2 Million Settlement in Alleged Sex Abuse Case
IRVINE -- A woman who settled a lawsuit for $1.2 million after alleging that a Roman Catholic priest got her pregnant when she was 16 and paid for her abortion said today she will file a crime report against him.
Lori Haigh, 37, who lives in Northern California, met reporters in her lawyer's Irvine offices to talk about the settlement reached yesterday with the Orange and Los Angeles dioceses. The suit had been filed in December.
Haigh said the Rev. John Lenihan's assurances that he will ask to be defrocked by Pope John Paul II is not enough.
"I feel better knowing that Father John has agreed to be defrocked," Haigh said. "However, he belongs in jail. I am going to the police today to report these crimes."
Haigh said that after the abortion, she turned to the priest at Holy Family Cathedral for consolation. She said the Rev. Lawrence Baird began to hug her after she told him about Lenihan.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I could feel that he had an erection. Father Baird was kissing me on the mouth. I pulled away in shock, and tried to leave his office."
She said he gave her his telephone number and told her to call him if she needed to talk again.
Several weeks later, she said, she went to the Rev. John Urell, who asked, "How long have you been telling these stories? Who else have you told these lies to?"
Haigh said Urell told her he did not ever want to see her in the church again.
Both men, she said, are now high-ranking monsignors in the Diocese of Orange. Baird is communications director, whose duties include commenting to the media on matters involving the diocese, including priest molestations.
Urell, she said, was assigned "chief investigator of the `sensitive issues team' which is supposed to investigate allegations of priest molestations," she said.
The team released a report Friday declaring that the diocese had gotten rid of all priests accused of molestation.
Marie Schinderle, the diocese's director of human resources, denied the allegations regarding Baird and Urell.
"We have investigated those allegations and found they are not substantiated," Schinderle said. "We invited Ms. Haigh to come in and talk to us about it but she has not."
Schinderle said Urell heads the team that investigates complaints, but she denied that he told Haigh to leave the church.
Haigh, who lived in Villa Park while growing up, said Lenihan molested her from 1979 to 1982 -- starting when she was 14.
When she turned up pregnant, she said, he urged her to get an abortion, then withdrew the money from his bank account to pay for it.
"I cannot begin to explain the emotional torment I've lived with all of these years," Haigh said.
"I struggle with the thoughts that my first sexual experience was with a man twice my age, who was trusted by my parents and other families because he was their priest. I have never been able to reconcile the fact that the priest who preached on subjects like `abortion is a mortal sin' was the one who told me to have an abortion.
"Right about that time," she said. "he started backing off. I think he moved onto somebody else."
While confirming the case is over and revealing the name of the suspected priest, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles -- which paid 20 percent of the settlement -- stressed that the alleged sexual contact occurred about 20 years ago.
According to the Archdiocese, discussions between Haigh's lawyer and the Archdiocese "did not yield specific enough information to identify this person or confirm whether the events described by Ms. Haigh ever occurred. The Archdiocese, nevertheless, reported the allegations from Ms. Haigh's complaint to the Los Angeles Police Department."
Tod Tamberg of the Archdiocese said it "settled the case based on the estimated cost of defending against the lawsuit, not on the merits of the allegations regarding the unidentified priest."
In her lawsuit, Haigh alleged that the Orange and Los Angeles dioceses "knew that Father Lenihan had molested another girl before Father Lenihan began molesting Lori in 1979.
The dioceses knew this because the stepfather of the other victim wrote to the dioceses, warning them that Father Lenihan was having `intimate physical relations' with his 15-year-old stepdaughter," according to the plaintiff's statement.
The Los Angeles archdiocese will pay 20 percent, or $240,000, of the settlement to Haigh. The rest will be paid by the Diocese of Orange.
Katherine Freberg, who represented Haigh, also represented Ryan DiMaria in a case against the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the Orange Diocese and Monsignor Michael Harris.
In that case, the two dioceses ended four years of litigation by paying DiMaria $5.2 million and agreeing to adopt 11 policy changes, including the "zero tolerance policy" that recently resulted in the removal of up to a dozen priests from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, according to the plaintiff's statement.
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