Possible Reasons Why Celebrities Protect and Defend Accused Clerics

Adam Horowitz Law [Fort Lauderdale, FL]

October 18, 2022

By Adam Horowitz

Guess what actors Mel Gibson, Spike Lee, John Cusack, and politicians Rudy Guiliani and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb have in common. This grouping may seem like an odd bunch, but each of these prominent men has publicly defended a credibly accused predator priest. That’s right – they have publicly defended alleged child molesting clerics. Why? In each situation, the accused priest is or has been a friend to the celebrity and/or shares the celebrity’s ideological bent.

They apparently don’t understand that many child molesters:

  • are charming and personable
  • perform well on the job and in the public arena
  • come in all stripes, sizes, and types 
  • can’t be ‘detected’ through mere observation or by the naked eye, no matter how smart we think we are or how savvy we believe our ‘gut instincts might be. 

In so many cases of child sex abuse and cover-ups, we seem to let our emotions overtake our knowledge and judgment. We can’t wrap our minds around the fact that people we actually know can have a deeply hidden secret and the troubled side that leads them to commit heinous crimes. Governmental officials, environmentalists, and developers find themselves confronted sometimes by what is called ‘NIMBYs,’ the “not in my backyard” sentiment. Similarly, we in the child protection business are sometimes confronted by what could be termed “NTGIKs,” or “not the guy I know!” For perhaps understandable but still wrong-headed and hurtful reasons, these people refuse to believe that friends and acquaintances who seem ‘normal’ could possibly commit awful crimes against kids.

Here are a few celebrities that publicly defended credibly accused child molesting clerics:

  1. Msgr. Alan J. Placa of Long Island: Rudy Guliani’s childhood friend has been accused of committing and concealing abuse in civil lawsuits and a grand jury report. Msgr. Placa was sued just a few months ago by two individuals for alleged child sexual abuse. He even had a 5-year sabbatical. Yet, as recently as a few years ago, Guliani employed Placa as a consultant. (Placa attended Fordham University and the Hofstra School of Law and worked in Glen Cove, Uniondale, Deer Park, and Great Neck. He was the diocesan vice-chancellor and headed Catholic Charities. Here is a list of other proven, admitted, and credibly accused Rockville Center Catholic clerics.
  2. Fr. Michael L. Pfleger of Chicago: Pfleger was suspended last January because of an abuse report. The alleged victim’s brother came forward with a similar accusation. Two other men spoke up last March about Fr. Pfleger’s alleged crimes. None of that, however, stopped actors Spike Lee and John Cusack from defending Fr. Pfleger. Both celebrities applaud Fr. Pfleger’s vocal support of many liberal causes (as if no activist clergyman has ever been a predator), and Lee even based a movie on him that Cusack portrayed in “Chi-Raq.
  3. Fr. Marshall Gourley of Denver: Gourley was accused in a 1997 civil lawsuit of abusing a boy and put on leave. Gourley has reportedly left his religious order, the Theatines. Denver’s Mayor Wellington Webb “rallied to (Gourley’s) moral defense,” according to a media report
  4. Fr. Mario Porras Blanco: Blanco is a credibly accused serial predator who’s a friend of Mel Gibson. The actor reportedly regularly flew the priest from Tacoma, Washington, to southern California to celebrate Mass for Gibson’s family. One Catholic man, who is now studying for the priesthood, said Gibson also took the priest to Mexico to buy vestments and other items for the church. Fr. Blanco was in Tacoma (in the Seattle archdiocese) after being ousted from Sacramento because of allegations of sexual misconduct. Later, those same church officials settled two cases where the priest was accused of sexual assault, and at least ten men sued the diocese claiming Blanco abused them. (Fr. Blanco has also reportedly traveled to such cities as Redding, Spokane, Tucson, Denver, and Los Angeles.) Sacramento Bishop William Weigand publicly said in an interview last summer that the cases involving Blanco were “the most serious ever in the diocese.”

As far as we know, Gibson has never denounced Fr. Blanco. But it’s not just predator priests. High-profile individuals have also rallied around the enablers of predator priests, the clerics who ignore or hide the predators’ crimes. In California, for instance, the former head of a county Democratic Party helped start “an informal Catholic group to support a priest criticized for his handling of past sex-abuse cases.” That group, called “Friends of Monsignor John Urell,” ran a full-page ad in the Orange County Register’s local newspaper, backing that embattled priest. It was headed by John Hanna, a civil lawyer and former leader of the Orange County Democrats.

For years, Msgr. Urell, the pastor of St. Norbert’s Catholic Church, was responsible for clergy-abuse complaints as the Orange diocese’s chancellor. He also was involved in taking reports of accusations against laypeople. During that time. Msgr. Urell said he met with 20-25 victims or families who alleged abuse by a priest or layperson. In particular, Msgr. Urell faced criticism over how he dealt with Msgr. Michael Harris, a former Mater Dei and Santa Margarita High School principal accused of abusing several boys. Msgr. Urell said under oath that he didn’t remember if he told the family of one victim to call the police. The diocese ended up paying victims $17.6 million for alleged abuse by Harris, who was later removed from the priesthood. At one point, Bishop Tod Brown of the Orange diocese sent Msgr. Urell to a treatment center in Canada after breaking down during a deposition for a civil lawsuit.

One assumes there are and were any number of Orange diocesan staff – ordained clerics or lay people – who would have enjoyed and benefitted from a full-page newspaper ad praising their work. Or the establishment of a new Catholic organization applauding their efforts. But no such luck. The good work of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of deserving church employees went unappreciated and unrecognized, while a handful of influential Catholics like Hanna rallied around a high-ranking cleric while also (perhaps unwittingly) rubbing salt into the already-deep and still-fresh wounds of hundreds of southern California families who were devastated by abusive priests, bishops, brothers, monks, seminarians, nuns, and other church workers.

We at Horowitz Law believe it is rarely too late to right a wrong. We hope everyone with information or suspicions about possible clerical crimes in California, particularly the Orange diocese, will come forward and explore their legal options. Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at (888) 283-9922 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.