|Bishop Brown Speaks
Out about Critical Media Coverage
By Fr. Joseph D. Fenton, S.M., Media and Public Relations Director
Recent press coverage of the scandal in the Church has fostered the opinion that Bishop Tod D. Brown has been less than candid and honest about his efforts to comply with civil and criminal legal requests, and also challenged his sincerity in helping the healing process of victims. These are serious allegations and need to be clarified by the bishop.
Here is my interview with Bishop Brown that will appear in the July issue of the ORANGE COUNTY CATHOLIC.
Fr. Fenton: Bishop Brown, what specific steps have you taken to prove to the civil authorities and to the public that you have reported every case of sexual abuse in the diocese, or in the words of your critics, ‘that you have cleaned out the files?’
Bishop Brown: I have directed that the files be searched and thorough background checks be conducted to determine whether there ever was a credible accusation made against a priest, religious or lay person ministering in our diocese. Every file on every priest was examined for any charge. Then alleged names were handed over to Child Protective Services and the district attorney’s staff with the supporting data.
Fr. Fenton: What do you say to those who claim that you are stonewalling, protecting priests and withholding documentation that would prove these allegations?
Bishop Brown: I have handed over every document that the district attorney has requested, and I have directed my staff to fully comply with any request. We have named names, given the civil authorities the data surrounding the accusations and immediately removed from ministry any person who has ever been credibly accused of or admitted to sexual misconduct.
Fr. Fenton: Your critics say that you took no action about the sexual abuse of children and young people by the clergy until the decision in the Ryan DiMaria case forced your hand. Is that true?
Bishop Brown: No. We were in litigation trying to do our best to find a genuine and real solution to this case. My first concern is for the welfare of the victim. To imply that I did nothing to look into alleged charges of sexual abuse is misleading and wrong. The diocese agreed to the conditions of the settlement; they were not forced on us. The settlement called for the setting up of a toll free reporting line (800 364-3064) to report cases of abuse and also to regularly provide information to our parishioners about our diocesan sexual misconduct policy. The diocese has had a Sensitive Issues Committee since l987 for the sole purpose of responding to these kinds of accusations, and now this committee has become the Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board.
Fr. Fenton: Joelle Casteix is reported to have said that the Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board is a ‘PR sham,’ and ‘that all it’s concerned about is protecting priests, and keeping the files out of the hands of the district attorney, the media and the trial lawyers’. Is that an accurate appraisal of the committee’s work? And if not, what is it doing?
Bp. Brown: Her statement is false and misleading. The Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board was set up in response to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that we bishops approved at the June 2002 Dallas meeting. Joelle Casteix came on the interim board at her request, which I thought was an excellent opportunity to begin to deal with the healing process of the victims. She resigned during the organizational period -- the transition between the previous Sensitive Issues Committee and the new Board -- when the committee was discussing how it should approach the criteria laid out by the National Review Board.
Fr. Fenton: Casteix has also raised a serious question in reference to the person who raped her? According to news reports, she was raped by one of her high school teachers. Was he a priest? And is he still teaching in a Catholic college?
Bp. Brown: The person involved in that case is a layman, who was fired immediately when the school administrators learned about the matter, and a report was filed at the same time with Child Protective Services. I don’t know if or where he teaches but it is not in the Diocese of Orange.
Fr. Fenton: One of your more vocal critics said that you are ‘supporting Cardinal Mahony’s efforts to conceal documents from prosecutors, that if produced would expose child molesters and put perpetrators in prison where they belong.’ What do you say to these highly inflammatory accusations against you?
Bp. Brown: I don’t know what motivates my critics, but I do know that my primary concern is the healing of these people who were abused by priests and church personnel, and also to make sure that this never happens again in this diocese. I do not inject myself into the affairs of another diocese just I would not tolerate it in my diocese. But I do know that Cardinal Mahony is trying to find his way through the California legal maze as it affects a much larger and older diocese than Orange.
Fr. Fenton: The resignation of Frank Keating as chairman of the National Review Board is troubling to a lot of people. It raises questions about the credibility of the bishops in resolving this crisis and the objectivity of the Board itself. Was Keating forced out because he equated some high-ranking bishops with La Cosa Nostra?
Bp. Brown: Keating did get a lot of bishops upset with that remark. I think that after the dust settled, he could have kept his job, if he wanted it. But a number of the members of the National Review Board-- and they are all lay people -- wanted his resignation, and Keating himself wanted to return to his corporation work. But the manner of his resignation is a major setback for the bishops.
Fr. Fenton: Are there bishops who are not cooperating fully with the National Review Board?
Bp. Brown: I’m unaware of any bishop who is not cooperating. Here in California the bishops had to clarify questions pertaining to state law before they could go ahead with John Jay School of Criminal Law study of the scandal. But every bishop is now on board. We bishops are not civil lawyers, and some of us do not understand its relationship to canon law, and the complexities of the many facets of this crisis. But I believe that every bishop wants to resolve this scandal and bring about a lasting healing. It’s overwhelming at times with the charges, legal litigation and the intense efforts to foster healing among the victims. It will take time and a lot of effort to finish our task.
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