Sierra Madre of too many sorrows

Pasadena Star News [Pasadena CA]

June 18, 2021

By John Crawford

I used to live in Sierra Madre. That is where I started writing news, an adventure that has taken me in many interesting directions. One of them was straight out of town. Something that happened several years ago, and with only minor consequences.

One of the joys of running a local news blog is you have the honor of airing out your city’s dirty linen. Local newspapers, economically deprived and newsroom depleted ever since readers decided Facebook stories about the neighborhood dogs were preferable, pretty much give an independent newser free rein to share the pain.

One Sierra Madre story we broke had to do with water bonds issued to purchase infrastructure needed to moisten some downtown cheese-box urban renewal. The city had to raise some cash tout de suite to take advantage of a matching federal water grant, so it cooked up $6 million worth of 30-year economic bondage. Sadly for these faulty financiers the residents rose up against the demolition of their beloved downtown village, put a measure on the ballot and crushed those identikit development dreams with merciless joy.

So how did the knuckleheads handle all this now unaffordable bond debt? They made interest-only payments on that $6 million nut for 19 years. Kind of like a college freshman might do with his first credit card. And if you live there, you’re still paying.

There is something similar going down in Sierra Madre now. A priceless resource in the form of open land surrounding the Mater Dolorosa monastery is about to be sold off to some out-of-town development cowboys in order to, we’re being told, fund education projects in India.

Oddly, Sierra Madre is not the only place Passionists are selling the farm. A brief Google review will take you to news accounts detailing similar moves elsewhere. Riverdale, New York, North Palm Beach, Florida and Union City, New Jersey are all in on the Passionist land boom.

The Mater Dolorosa developers are planning for 42 new homes, each selling in the seven figures. Laid out in grids, these wedged-in tract McMansions will be generic in appearance and out of kilter with civilized norms.

Here’s the skinny. On July 16, 2007, according to Wikipedia, “Bishop Mahony and the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles apologized for abuses by priests after 508 victims reached a record-breaking settlement worth $660 million, with an average of $1.3M for each plaintiff.”

The Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, I’m sad to say, appears to have been at the heart of this terror. A letter I’ve obtained, written by Fr. Michael Higgins, the fellow now running the Retreat and driving force behind the housing project, details the carnal fall of Fr. Arthur Carrillo. Carrillo was often at Mater Dolorosa between 1970 and 1994. His known prey was an underaged girl.

On the Horowitz Law website you can read about a Fr. Henry X. Vetter, another Retreat resident. Vetter was there — off and on — for years. During a near-decade-long span, Vetter molested children. He later fled to Mexico where a truck collision sent him to his unhappy maker.

Bishop discusses Fr. John Ormechea, an itinerant Mater Dolorosa occupant from 1974 to 1994. He was shown to have sexually abused four boys during this period.

Building so immense a housing project will take years of construction, dust, diesel exhaust, noise and misery. The folks being called upon to suffer all that are the residents of Sierra Madre.

If, as many believe, this is all a stratagem designed to raise money and help service $660 million in Archdiocese of Los Angeles child sex abuse debt, people deserve to hear about it.