|Deposition: Bishop Let Priest Accused of Rape Work
Orange Diocese Leader Says He Based Decision on Predecessor's Judgment to Keep Pastor in Diocese
By Rachanee Srisavasdi
Orange County Register
September 14, 2007
SANTA ANA - Bishop Tod Brown, the highest-ranking Catholic official in Orange County, admitted in a sworn deposition that when he became bishop he allowed a priest accused of raping a 15-year-old girl to work at a parish with an elementary school.
The bishop's 4½-hour testimony, which also includes his admission that a boy accused him of sexual abuse in 1965, highlights some older sex-abuse allegations at the diocese, what Brown knew of such claims and how he did not immediately disclose a report against him publicly.
"I think earlier on with regard to molestation cases, that a lot of bishops, including myself, were not fully aware of the seriousness of the problem in terms of putting other people at risk," Brown testified Monday.
Brown said he relied on the judgment of his predecessor, former Bishop Norman McFarland, who decided to allow the Rev. John Lenihan – accused of the rape – to stay on in the diocese.
Lenihan, pastor at St. Edward Catholic Church in Dana Point, left the church in 2001 after admitting to having sex with underage girls. The diocese has paid out more than $1.5 million to settle multiple abuse claims regarding Lenihan.
The confession was part of Brown's deposition released Thursday by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler, despite objections by Diocese of Orange attorneys.
Several high-ranking church officials were ordered to give pretrial testimony in a lawsuit by a former Mater Dei student who alleges she had a two-year relationship with Jeffrey Andrade, a then-coach at the school, while she was 15, starting in 2005. In a deposition, Andrade has admitted to having sex with the girl. He was never criminally charged.
The jury trial was supposed to start Monday but was delayed Thursday until at least Oct. 9.
In his testimony, Brown said he was not aware of sex-abuse claims at Mater Dei High School, other than the current case. He also said he learned of accusations in the diocese "almost exclusively" from accusers' lawsuits. He said he was not told by other diocese officials of abuse allegations when he became bishop in 1989.
Brown also testified about an abuse allegation against himself.
When he was bishop in Boise, Idaho, Brown said he got a call in July 1997 from Diocese of Fresno Bishop John Steinbock that they were investigating a report that Brown molested a boy during catechism classes in 1965. Brown was then a priest in Bakersfield.
But he decided against putting the accusation out in the open. "I was shocked at the accusation. … I didn't make the allegation public because I knew it was not true," Brown testified.
The claim was deemed by prosecutors and church officials to be unfounded.
But that's not the point, victims' attorneys and advocates said.
"People have a right to know," said attorney John Manly, who represents the former student, now 26. "He's the bishop. … He should have come clean."
Brown also testified that he sent Monsignor John Urell, who broke down and couldn't finish his deposition in the case last month, to Southdown Institute in Canada last week. The hospital offers psychological treatment for clergy. Urell, now pastor at St. Norbert's Catholic Church in Orange, was formerly the church official who fielded child sex-abuse complaints for the diocese and has been criticized for his handling of such cases.
Urell's lawyer, Patrick Hennessey, said his client has never been accused of abuse and was not at Southdown for any such treatment.
Ryan Lilyengren, a diocesan spokesman, said Brown was out of town and not available for comment.
Under Brown's leadership, the Diocese of Orange paid $100 million to 90 claimants of child sex abuse in 2005.
As part of the settlement, thousands of church documents were released that showed church officials sometimes allowed clergy to stay in the priesthood. In his deposition, Brown admitted he never read any of those records, instead relying on his diocese attorneys to review them.
Brown also pledged to heal the church through his seven-part Covenant with the Faithful, which includes a pledge to be open and honest regarding such claims.
"Bishop Tod D. Brown has served with distinction for 43 years and is today widely recognized by Catholics and those of other faith communities as a progressive church leader committed to transparency and accountability," the statement released by Lilyengren said.
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