Diocese of Fresno Lies to OC Weekly, Spins for Brown

By Gustavo Arellano
Orange County Weekly
September 14, 2007

[See also other articles by Gustavo Arellano.]

Back when I reported about the molestation allegation lodged against Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown that suddenly has everyone in a tizzy, I gave Jesse Avila a call. Avila is the communications director for the Diocese of Fresno and also the chancellor, which means he's in charge of all priestly personnel files and investigations. I asked Avila about Brown's allegations, which date back to when he served in Bakersfield during the 1960s (Bakersfield is part of the Fresno diocese). "This is the first time I heard of this," Avila told me and promised he'd look through the diocesan archives for copies of the letters regarding the allegations. Avila never called back.

Flash forward to today. Avila tells the Bakersfield Californian that the Fresno diocese "promptly initiated an investigation" when the allegation first surfaced in 1997 (Avila wasn't working with the diocese at that time). Reports Louis Medina, "The diocese conducted 'several documented interviews of the complainant [sic] and others,' Avila said, but the investigating board found 'absolutely no factual or credible basis whatsoever' in the accusations. This was communicated to the accuser, Avila said, and all investigative reports were turned over to the Kern County District Attorney's office."

Interesting how quickly Avila responds to requests for others, ¿què no? But they had time to prepare: Diocese of Fresno Bishop John Steinbock spoke to his fellow seminarian Brown about the Weekly's story shortly after it appeared. But the Fresno Diocese spin gets spinnier with the Los Angeles Times.

Times reporter Christine Hanley interviewed Kern County District Attorney Edward R. Jagels about whether they investigated Brown's molestation allegation. Jagels, according to Hanley, "said he and some of his supervisors vaguely remembered reviewing the case and believed 'it amounted to a completely uncorroborated allegation. I remember someone telling me [Brown] was absolutely furious,' Jagels said. 'I remember we looked into it. I doubt we have our reports anymore.'"

Here's the problem: Brown's alleged victim (let's call him "Larry") told me in April when I interviewed him that he only spoke with Fresno diocesan officials. No one in Bakersfield or Fresno-area law enforcement, according to Larry, interviewed him about the matter, meaning the Kern County D.A. and Bakersfield police probably took Steinbock's investigation at face value.

Time for a remedial course on OC Priestly Pedophilia 101: Steinbock served as interim bishop in Orange County around 1986 between the death of founding Orange diocese Bishop William Johnson and Norman McFarland. While Steinbock served in Orange, the diocese received pedophilic priest Richard Coughlin from the Archdiocese of Boston. Years later, when the Boston sex-abuse scandal emerged, Boston leaders told reporters they alerted the Orange diocese about Coughlin's ways. Orange diocesan officials denied everything until the Beantowners released a 1985 memo addressed to Steinbeck regarding Coughlin's pedo-problems.

But Steinbock's worst sins involve Orange County's king of pedophiles, Eleuterio Ramos. In 1985, Ramos admitted to church officials he molested a 17-year-old boy while serving at St. Anthony Claret Church in Anaheim. A church log shows that Steinbock recommended that Ramos be placed on "vacation immediately" to Mission San Luis Rey in San Luis Obispo. Steinbock also wrote that the "possibility of past lapses and this knowledge gives us responsibility under liability to remove [Ramos]." And remove Ramos they did: they sent him to Tijuana, where Ramos ministered to children for almost a decade until a Santa Ana Ramos victim filed a civil suit.

Reporters: be careful what Steinbock says when it comes to sex-abuse allegations. His Excellency covers up like an Eskimo.


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