|Church Official Refuses to Finish Deposition
A High-Ranking Catholic Official Accused of Covering up Child Sex Abuse Claims Broke down Crying during Recent Testimony.
By Rachanee Srisavasdi
Orange County Register
September 13, 2007
A high-ranking Catholic official accused of covering up child sex-abuse claims broke down crying during recent testimony and refuses to finish the deposition, citing an undisclosed medical condition.
Monsignor John Urell, the pastor at St. Norbert's Catholic Church in Orange, is also on temporary medical leave from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, diocese attorney Peter Callahan said.
Urell used to be the gatekeeper of sex-abuse complaints against the diocese. In 2005 he was identified as one of the diocese officials who let priests stay in ministry despite reports of past abuse, according to church records made public during the diocese's $100 million settlement with 90 sex-abuse complainants in 2005.
Lawyers representing a former Mater Dei Catholic High School student have asked a judge to force Urell to finish his testimony. Today's hearing will deal with the recent deposition of Bishop Tod Brown, which is temporarily under seal at the church's request. Lawyers representing the former student and other plaintiffs have publicly demanded Brown's entire deposition – the bishop's first testimony on the issue – be made public.
"Urell's testimony is very important. Former Bishop Norman McFarland called him the 'right-hand man' with respect to sex-abuse allegations," said plaintiff's attorney Vince Finaldi. "We need him to testify."
The legal wrangling comes days before the anticipated jury trial of the civil lawsuit, "Jane C.R. Doe" v. the Diocese of Orange, which is scheduled to start Monday before Superior Court Judge Gail Andler. The woman, now 26, alleges that when she was a minor, she had a two-year sexual relationship with former high school assistant coach Jeffrey Andrade starting in 1995.
Andrade, who no longer works at the diocese and is named as a defendant in the suit, admitted in a November 2006 deposition to having sex with the girl.
The lawsuit, filed in July 2005, is the first child sex-abuse claim against the diocese since the settlement. Though that settlement made public thousands of pages of internal church documents on abuse allegations, church officials never had to testify about their knowledge or policies.
In this case, diocese officials have orders to speak about their knowledge of sex-abuse claims in the diocese from 1998 to 2001. Bishop Norman McFarland gave a deposition Saturday, and Brown testified Monday.
Urell's turn was last month. During his deposition, he became distraught when asked about his handling of such complaints. He left without finishing his testimony.
Urell's personal lawyer, Patrick Hennessey, then wrote the plaintiff's attorneys, telling them his client had a medical condition and could not finish the deposition, Finaldi said.
Last week a judge ordered Urell to specify the medical condition, but Urell has yet to comply, Finaldi added.
Hennessey did not return calls seeking comment.
The monsignor has been shunned for his handling of such claims. In October 2006, he withdrew his name from a possible renomination to the Orange County Human Relations Commission after abuse complainants opposed it, saying he had become a distraction for the board.
Callahan, the lead attorney for the diocese, said Urell and other church officials are upset about past sex-abuse claims.
"He grieves over clergy priest matters. He has taken this very hard," Callahan said. "Some of the accused were people he knew. Like a lot of us, he felt betrayed by them."
In the case of the former Rev. Michael Pecharich, an accused priest in the $100 million settlement, Urell in 1995 interviewed a boy who went to the diocese to complain about Pecharich's hugs.
Urell did not order Pecharich to be removed from priesthood. Pecharich, the founder of Francisco Solano Church in Rancho Santa Margarita, was forced to resign in 2002 after admitting to a separate sexual relationship with a teenage boy in the 1980s.
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