Blind Eye Unto the Holy See
Pope Benedict XVI Named Him Roman Catholicism's Top Doctrinal Watchdog—Even
Though, As San Francisco Archbishop, William J. Levada Resolutely Looked
Away from Sex-Abuse Complaints against a Renowned Priest and Legal Scholar
By Ron Russell
San Francisco Weekly
July 13, 2005
During the 2002 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas -- at the
height of public outrage over the clergy sex-abuse scandal -- San Francisco
Archbishop William J. Levada projected himself as a reformer on the abuse
issue, chastising some fellow bishops for not doing enough to remove miscreant
priests from their domains.
|Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop
Emeritus William J. Levada to the Roman Catholic Church's second most
powerful position. Photographs courtesy of AP Wide World Photos.
In the end, the conference voted to remove from ministry any priest
who had sexually abused a minor, even if the abuse occurred far in the
past. Afterward, however, the late Pope John Paul II felt the bishops'
reforms were too severe and appointed Levada to help reconcile them with
Vatican policy. The archbishop, in turn, asked Father Gregory Ingels,
a prominent canon lawyer and a longtime Levada favorite, to help write
the guidelines for a "zero tolerance" sex-abuse policy that
the pope could later sign off on.
In this ironic way, American bishops now follow a program for dealing
with sex-abuse complaints that was significantly influenced by two men:
A Catholic priest and lawyer who has had two serious sexual-abuse cases
filed against him -- one of which the church recently agreed to settle
by paying an alleged victim $2.7 million.
And an archbishop who has helped shield the lawyer/priest for nine years
-- and who has now been appointed to what many consider to be the Roman
Catholic Church's second most powerful position.
From the day Pope Benedict XVI named him as the new head of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Levada, now San Francisco's archbishop
emeritus, has garnered the kind of wide attention one would expect of
someone about to assume an office of global influence. His new post, which
he will officially take in August, makes him the church's chief doctrinal
watchdog. As such, he replaces the man who ascended to the papacy -- his
longtime friend, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- as the pre-eminent
protector of Catholic teaching, entrusted with issuing guidelines and
commentaries on the most sensitive aspects of church life. With the new
job comes the power to define the boundaries of religious dialogue as
well as set the limits of dissent on a host of hot-button moral and social
issues. Not least of all, it puts Levada at the helm of overseeing the
church's handling of clergy sex-abuse cases worldwide.
The pope's choice of Levada for this role seems highly unusual and, in
light of months of investigation by SF Weekly, perhaps inappropriate.
|Gregory Ingels as a young church deacon
The investigation shows that during more than nine years in San Francisco,
Levada and his top aides have worked to keep complaints about priestly
sex abusers shrouded in secrecy, particularly two complaints against Father
Gregory Ingels, a widely known church legal scholar. After learning in
1996 that Ingels had been accused of sodomizing a 15-year-old boy, Levada
allowed Ingels not just to remain in public ministry, but to flourish
for years as a force in church legal matters. And Levada continued to
support Ingels as a church official -- even after learning of a second
serious allegation of sexual abuse by the priest.
With Levada's blessing, Ingels served as an adjunct professor at St. Patrick's
Seminary in Menlo Park and performed parish duties at St. Bartholomew
Church in San Mateo without parishioners ever being told that their priest
was an accused molester.
Levada appointed Ingels chancellor of the San Francisco Archdiocese, a
position reserved for a trusted lieutenant, whose duties typically include
overseeing archival records and helping instruct other priests on liturgical
Levada put Ingels in charge of the Permanent Diaconate, entrusting him
with the job of supervising church deacons.
After prosecutors learned of sex complaints against Ingels, Levada finally
removed him from public ministry -- but allowed the canon lawyer to keep
his place on a tribunal that decides the outcome of marital annulment
Indeed, during the years after Levada learned of Ingels' alleged misconduct,
Ingels solidified a reputation as being among the U.S. church's leading
experts on priestly sex abuse. As church documents and newly available
court materials reveal, Ingels was used -- with Levada's approval -- to
advise U.S. bishops and their aides on the handling of cases of clergy
sex abuse in their dioceses. Ingels served as an expert witness on behalf
of the church in cases all over the country, helping defend against legal
claims by alleged clergy abuse victims. In addition, court records show,
Ingels provided legal advice and spiritual counsel to priests accused
of molesting children; published scholarly articles on the abuse issue
under the imprimatur of the Canon Law Society of America, a group devoted
to the study of church law; and lectured on the topic at clerical gatherings
in the United States and abroad.
Incredibly, considering his background as an accused molester, Ingels
also served -- again with Levada's blessing -- as the canonical prosecutor
of notorious former Stockton priest and convicted child molester Oliver
O'Grady, who is alleged to have engaged in sex with at least 25 children
while a cleric. As the so-called "promoter of justice" in the
case, Ingels played a key role in the church's frantic efforts to defrock
O'Grady and thus avoid unwelcome publicity upon the Stockton priest's
release from prison in the year 2000.
|Ex-priest and convicted child molester
Oliver O'Grady. AP Wide World Photos.
"As an emblem of the gross hypocrisy that exists in the Catholic
hierarchy, that may have taken the cake," says John C. Manly, an
attorney who has represented numerous alleged victims of sexual abuse
committed by Catholic clerics. "Allowing one accused child molester
to prosecute another is like putting [former drug lord] Pablo Escobar
in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration."
A fourth-generation Californian, William Joseph Levada was born in Long
Beach in 1936 and grew up, along with his sister and only sibling, in
suburban Los Angeles (minus a brief stint in Texas when his father took
a job at a chemical plant while Levada was in elementary school). Levada
attended a "junior seminary" for high school boys in L.A.'s
San Fernando Valley and went on to obtain a bachelor of arts degree at
St. John's Seminary and College in Camarillo. There, his classmates included
the future archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger M. Mahony, and G. Patrick
Ziemann, who would later become bishop of Santa Rosa before resigning
in disgrace after being accused of extorting a subordinate priest for
Much of Levada's early clerical career was spent hurtling between Los
Angeles and Rome.
After going to Rome to complete his seminary training, Levada was ordained
as a priest in St. Peter's Basilica in 1961. Afterward, he spent five
years in parish work in L.A., including a part-time teaching post at a
Catholic high school. He returned to Rome in 1967 to pursue graduate studies,
earning a doctorate in theology in 1971 from the Pontifical Gregorian
University. He then came back to St. John's to teach theology while serving
as the first director of continuing education for clergy in the sprawling
But it was Levada's assignment to the Vatican in 1976, where he ultimately
worked for and became friends with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now the new
pope, that undoubtedly laid the groundwork for being tapped as the church's
new chief doctrinal prefect. By the time Levada once again returned to
Los Angeles in 1982 he was clearly on the fast track for greater church
responsibility. Upon his return, he was named an auxiliary bishop of Los
Angeles and appointed executive director of the California Conference
of Catholic Bishops, the bishops' Sacramento-based political arm.
After his friend Mahony became L.A.'s archbishop in 1985, Levada was given
new duties, including that of chancellor of the archdiocese. The following
July, Pope John Paul II appointed Levada Portland's archbishop, a post
he held for nine years before coming to San Francisco in 1995.
As someone known for conservative to moderate theological leanings, Levada
was considered a surprise choice for the San Francisco post, where former
Archbishop John R. Quinn had for 18 years burnished a reputation as a
liberal theologian. Levada inherited an archdiocese riven by Quinn's unpopular
decision to close several historic parish churches and his failure to
deal forcefully with the priestly subjects of sex-abuse allegations that
had crept into the press.
Ingels, however, was not among those subjects; his alleged misdeeds were
buried in the church's secret files.
Ingels, too, was Los Angeles born and bred, and he, too, had shuttled
between California and Rome. Records show that Ingels finished his theological
training at St. John's Seminary in 1970, barely a year before Levada returned
there to teach. Ingels was in Rome studying canon law at least part of
the time when Levada was at the Vatican. Whether they knew each other
before Levada's arrival in San Francisco, however, isn't clear.
In the spring of 2002, then-District Attorney Terence Hallinan dropped
a bombshell, demanding that the San Francisco Archdiocese turn over records
related to possible sex abuse by its priests going back 75 years. Prosecutors
in the other counties served by the San Francisco Archdiocese -- San Mateo
and Marin -- soon joined in the demand.
Among the church documents that came into the hands of the Marin County
DA were materials about Gregory Ingels and a 1972 incident allegedly involving
a 15-year-old male and an outing at Muir Beach. At the time of the reported
incident, Ingels, though not yet ordained as a priest, was a young deacon
on the faculty at a high school in suburban Kentfield, where he was chairman
of the theology department. The boy was one of his students.
Subsequently, police obtained the cooperation of the alleged victim, by
then in his early 40s, who helped in the tape-recording of phone conversations,
during which Ingels appeared to incriminate himself. In May 2003, Ingels
was charged with engaging in "substantial sexual conduct" with
a minor. According to the criminal complaint against him, Ingels acknowledged
having had sex with the boy and could be heard, on tape, saying, "What
I did to you was terrible."
The alleged victim has never presented himself publicly in connection
with the matter. Several plaintiff's attorneys whose clients are among
the 50 or more alleged abuse victims who've sued the archdiocese (to date,
the archdiocese has spent $21 million to settle 15 of the cases) say he
is not among them. Neither the alleged victim -- now married and living
in Sonoma County -- nor the archdiocese has ever revealed whether Ingels'
former student sued the church, or, if he did, how the case may have been
In a court deposition in February, Levada said he learned of the incident
in 1996, shortly after becoming archbishop, upon reviewing Ingels' personnel
file and interviewing him about it.
During that deposition, conducted in a downtown law office, Levada was
pressed for information about more than a dozen accused clerics whom plaintiff's
lawyers and attorneys for the church had agreed to discuss. Ingels' name
apparently wasn't on the list, and when plaintiff's attorney Jeff Anderson
of Minnesota asked about him, a lawyer for the archdiocese, John Christian,
tried to head him off. "I'm going to allow him [Levada] to answer
that question, but we're not going into Father Ingels," Christian
But Levada did offer some information after Anderson asked him when he
had first restricted Ingels' clerical privileges.
"Well, Father Ingels was serving at that time, after the time I interviewed
him and reviewed his file, which had been dealt with by Archbishop [Joseph]
McGucken. [McGucken retired in 1977.] And he was serving in a capacity
which assignment did not involve contact with or supervision of minors,"
Levada said. "And I determined that, given the long history without
any incident, his own assurance to me and the therapy that he had done,
that the assignment he was in was -- was sufficiently restricted from
contact with young people that it would be prudent for him to remain in
The archbishop's assertion that Ingels' contact with young people was
"sufficiently restricted" appears open to interpretation. Ingels'
curriculum vitae, produced at the request of plaintiff's lawyers in a
1998 civil case, shows that he was associate pastor at St. Charles Church
in San Carlos from 1982 to 1984. He was assigned to St. Bartholomew Church
during Levada's watch, taking over pastoral duties whenever the regular
priest was absent. Each parish has a school serving students from kindergarten
to the eighth grade.
Levada did not respond to interview requests for this article. (Similarly,
a Vatican press office spokeswoman declined to comment regarding Levada.)
Asked why the archbishop had left Ingels in public ministry and appointed
him to prominent posts long after knowing about his alleged sex abuse,
Levada's spokesman, Maurice Healy, issued a brief statement saying that,
before the conference of bishops adopted its 2002 policy on sex abuse,
"there was no requirement for bishops to remove clergy who had been
cleared by therapists for ministry."
In the spring of 2003 a former police officer and bit TV and movie actress
named Jane Parkhurst decided to reveal a painful secret. She told authorities
that Gregory Ingels had sexually abused her for four years starting in
1973, when she was a freshman at Marin Catholic High School. Parkhurst
describes herself as a mixed-up teenager whose biological parents had
died in a car wreck; she says Ingels began to "cultivate" her
at age 15. On numerous occasions -- at the school, in a church rectory,
and once while taking her for a ride in his Mustang convertible -- he
insisted that she masturbate him and fellate him, Parkhurst says. As SF
Weekly disclosed earlier this year ("Fast Times at Marin Catholic
High," Jan. 19), Parkhurst kept nearly three dozen love letters Ingels
had written to her starting in 1974, letters he continued to write even
after he went to Rome in 1977 to study canon law.
In June 2003, then-Marin County DA Paula Kamena was preparing a second
criminal case against Ingels, this one based on Parkhurst's allegations,
when those plans were abruptly halted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Stogner v. California overturned the 1994 California law that had extended
the statute of limitation for sex crimes and made it possible for accused
offenders -- many of them Catholic clerics -- to be charged long after
the alleged crimes had occurred. The charge already filed against Ingels
was dropped and the Parkhurst criminal case abandoned.
Like scores of other California priests caught up in the clergy abuse
scandal, Ingels escaped the criminal process. And in an indirect way,
so did Levada. Aside from the unsavory headlines it would have generated,
a criminal trial of Ingels could have shed light on what Levada knew and
when he knew it with respect to the priest whose career he had helped
In the two years since the Stogner decision, Levada has sought to keep
from the public eye information about Ingels' alleged misdeeds and the
archbishop's efforts to harbor him. Last year, SF Weekly sought documents
related specifically to Ingels and other accused priestly abusers, and
then-Marin County DA Kamena agreed in writing to provide some of them.
Lawyers for the San Francisco Archdiocese took the extraordinary step
of going to court to prevent the Marin County DA's Office from fulfilling
a public records request.
Kamena abruptly retired in January, citing health and family reasons.
Her appointed successor, Ed Berberian, reversed her decision to provide
the documents -- part of the trove the church was forced to turn over
after the Hallinan edict -- shortly before a judge was to rule on whether
they should be made public. In fact, in a February agreement with the
archdiocese, Berberian agreed to notify the archdiocese in writing whenever
his office so much as receives an inquiry about the Ingels records. Berberian
has repeatedly declined requests by the Weekly to explain his actions.
To help keep the Marin documents under wraps, Levada used a legal team
headed by Joseph Russoniello, a former U.S. attorney who -- to the chagrin
of victims' rights advocates -- sits on a 13-member national review panel
appointed by Levada and other U.S. bishops, ostensibly to oversee the
church's handling of the abuse scandal. "The archbishop makes a mockery
of the idea that he favors openness," says David Clohessy, national
director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
"It's outrageous that someone [Russoniello] who occupies such a position
should be doing Levada's bidding to keep information about clergy sex
Levada has also acted to forestall possibly unpleasant revelations about
Ingels -- and therefore himself -- as the result of a civil lawsuit filed
by Parkhurst. A lawyer for Ingels in January told the Weekly that his
client denied ever abusing Parkhurst, but it seems unlikely that the matter
will be explored in a public forum. In June, the archdiocese laid the
Parkhurst case -- along with any unflattering material that a trial might
have dredged up -- to rest.
With Levada's blessing, the church paid Parkhurst nearly $2.7 million.
By his own admission, former priest Oliver O'Grady abused up to 25 children
in the Stockton Diocese between 1971, when he arrived from his native
Ireland, until his arrest and incarceration in 1993. (His youngest alleged
victim was 9 months old.)
The sordid details of O'Grady's misdeeds were a publicity nightmare for
the Catholic Church. It didn't help that two former Stockton bishops failed
to take action when they learned of O'Grady's predatory behavior. As became
abundantly clear during civil proceedings, after O'Grady in 1976 admitted
to molesting a young girl, Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle, who is now deceased,
did nothing about it.
In 1984, after O'Grady admitted molesting a young boy, underlings of then-Bishop
Roger M. Mahony helped squelch a police investigation, and Mahony -- now
a cardinal and the archbishop of Los Angeles -- shuffled O'Grady from
parish to parish, even promoting him to pastor. O'Grady went on to molest
20 more children. A civil jury in 1998 awarded $30 million to two of his
victims, brothers Jon and Joh Howard. Although a judge later reduced the
amount to less than $7 million, the judgment stands as the largest ever
rendered in a case involving individual abuse victims.
In 1993, O'Grady pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with the Howard boys and
was ordered to serve a 14-year prison sentence. He was paroled from prison
in 2000 after serving seven years.
The church clearly wanted to defrock the abusive priest before he was
released -- and chose Ingels, another abuser, to lead the effort to laicize
O'Grady. Documents obtained by SF Weekly, including some made public in
connection with a lawsuit that involved O'Grady and was only recently
settled, show that Ingels was first loaned out to become the so-called
"promoter of justice" in the case in 1994, while John R. Quinn
was still San Francisco's archbishop.
Under church law, it is exceedingly difficult, not to mention rare, to
remove a priest from service involuntarily. Experts say that if a priest
is intent, as O'Grady was, on resisting defrocking, such cases may drag
on for 10 or 15 years before reaching the pope, who is the final arbiter.
Considering O'Grady's notoriety, church officials weren't interested in
waiting that long.
In March 1995, Ingels suggested to a canon law judge a finding of "psychic
infirmity." In canon law parlance, such a determination -- seldom
reached -- implies a psychological condition that might have rightfully
precluded a priest from having been ordained in the first place.
Shortly after Ingels suggested it, however, church officials halted efforts
to defrock O'Grady. Recently disclosed church documents suggest the officials
were concerned that information Ingels was developing as part of the canon
law case might, if discovered, be used by the Howards in their civil suit
against the church. Such a finding would have been explosive, plaintiff's
lawyers say, because it would have given victims ammunition to argue that
the church was derelict for having ordained O'Grady.
In 1998, after the Howard verdict was returned in civil court, Ingels
was once again pressed into service to help remove O'Grady. This time
it was with the permission of Levada, even though the archbishop had known
for two years that the cleric he was allowing to serve as the chief accuser
of one of California's most infamous priestly predators was himself an
accused child molester.
In the end, the Stockton Diocese cut a deal to get O'Grady out of the
priesthood shortly before he was released from Mule Creek State Prison
in 2000. In return for O'Grady "voluntarily" asking to be removed
-- making it possible under canon law to expedite his being stripped of
clerical rank -- the diocese promised to provide him with an annuity worth
nearly $100,000 once he turns 65. His defrocking became official a few
days before his release. O'Grady walked from prison into the waiting arms
of U.S. immigration agents who drove him to San Francisco and put him
on a plane to be deported to Ireland.
Just how it came about that an accused priestly child molester became
the prosecutor of a fellow molester in such a sensitive case -- despite
then-Archbishop Levada's knowledge of Ingels' past -- is a subject about
which neither Levada nor Ingels has apparently spoken in public.
But O'Grady, at least, appears to have found humor in it. Asked during
a videotaped deposition in March conducted in Ireland by a lawyer for
one of his alleged victims if he was aware that his former canonical prosecutor
was also accused of molesting children, O'Grady grinned and said, "I
had heard that, yes."
Ingels did give an assessment of O'Grady's misconduct and how it was handled
by his superiors in a 1998 court deposition. In retrospect, it seems to
reflect, at least indirectly, on Ingels' own circumstances. "I still
cannot separate myself from the fact that in 1976 the church did not,
and really none of us understood this type of pedophilia as a pathological
situation, that this man [O'Grady] was sick," Ingels testified. "As
a priest who's heard confessions, I know some of the horrible things people
can do, and they seek forgiveness for it."
It is a triumphant time for Levada, 69, as he prepares to assume the
highest-ranking church role ever entrusted to an American. Plans are well
along for a farewell liturgy on Aug. 7 at a cathedral Mass to be celebrated
by the archbishop. A $150-a-plate farewell dinner send-off is in the works
for Aug. 13 at the Marriott Hotel downtown. According to Catholic San
Francisco, the archdiocese's official newspaper, political power broker
Clint Reilly, the dinner chairman, sees Levada's Vatican appointment as
bringing "great honor [to] San Francisco, the Bay Area, California,
and the United States."
With its mostly local-boy-makes-good take on the archbishop's advancement,
the secular press has been only slightly less effusive. "Levada goes
to Rome with a keen understanding of Vatican politics, but also with decades
of experience dealing with such explosive American issues as gay rights,
the role of women in the church, and the ongoing fallout from the sexual
abuse crisis in the church," the San Francisco Chronicle observed.
Others are less sanguine.
"His experience is in denial, cover-up, and secrecy," says Terrie
Light, Northern California regional director of SNAP, the sex-abuse victims'
advocate group. She and others fault Levada for dragging his feet in response
to pleas for help and working to keep complaints about priestly sex abuse
secret, even while preaching openness on the issue.
James Jenkins tells SF Weekly he began to lose confidence in Levada in
the summer of 2003 -- and the reason involved Ingels. As chairman of the
so-called Independent Review Board that Levada appointed in late 2001,
ostensibly to investigate claims of priestly sex abuse in the San Francisco
Archdiocese, Jenkins learned that Ingels was among at least nine priests
whose clerical privileges had been restricted in keeping with the new
sex-abuse policy adopted by American bishops.
The review board's mandate was to investigate any and all priests accused
of child sex abuse -- some 40 names had wound up on its agenda -- and
Jenkins saw Ingels as no exception. But the board didn't get far with
Ingels. Jenkins recalls Ingels as being "derisive, condescending,
and uncooperative" after being invited to appear before the panel
to explain his version of events, something Jenkins says the priest/ lawyer
|The Menlo Park house where accused molester
Father Gregory Ingels lives with former San Francisco Archbishop John
R. Quinn. [Photo by] James Sanders.
At about the time Ingels was arraigned on criminal charges, Jenkins
and other members of the review panel learned that he was living with
former San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn at Quinn's residence on
the campus of St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park. Quinn moved to the
century-old mansion on the seminary grounds after his unexpected retirement
as archbishop in 1995. Ingels has been living with him in the elegant
mission-style home, built as a summer residence for the late Archbishop
Patrick William Riordan, since then, say persons who know the men. Neither
Ingels nor Quinn responded to requests for comment for this article.
Jenkins says that he and others of the six-member panel were especially
disturbed by reports that a "support group" for priests accused
of sex abuse had held meetings at the residence. (The founder of one such
group, Detroit-based Opus Bono Sacerdotii, confirmed recently that Ingels
is an "adviser" to it. "Father Ingels may be the best canon
lawyer in the United States, and we're grateful to have him," said
Joe Maher. "He's an excellent priest, a very holy man, and he's a
great help to us.")
Jenkins says he and other panel members "didn't believe that a former
archbishop had any business keeping house with someone who had acknowledged
on a wiretap that he had sodomized a 15-year-old boy," and he and
his colleagues saw the living arrangement as a source of scandal should
it become publicly known. He says panel members conveyed those sentiments
to Levada face to face, recommending that the archbishop order Ingels
be moved elsewhere. "We looked at the archbishop and told him in
no uncertain terms that there needed to be daylight between Ingels and
Quinn," Jenkins says.
Levada responded that he would consult with Quinn, Jenkins says. A week
or so later, Jenkins says, Levada reported back that he had spoken with
Quinn, and the former archbishop "had seen no reason" for Ingels
to move out.
Jenkins says his experience left him with "the clear impression that,
for whatever reason, Ingels was being protected." Frustrated that
Levada had blocked the public release of the review panel's findings on
sex-abuse allegations involving dozens of priests, including Ingels, Jenkins
resigned last October, faulting Levada for "deception, manipulation,
and control" of the panel. He says he made one last effort to broach
the subject of Ingels with Levada during a phone conversation last fall
in which, Jenkins says, he sought to explain why he'd decided to announce
But, Jenkins says, Levada did not respond. "There was dead silence
on the phone, and I remember asking if he was still there," Jenkins
recalls. "He just said, 'Yes, I'm taking notes.'"