" A Critical Witness"
Orange Diocese's Lawyer Defends Bishop's Decision to Send Former Chancellor to Canada in Midst of Sex-Abuse Depositions

California Catholic Daily
November 14, 2007

Bishop Tod Brown is "very respectful of the law, but he follows his own conscience… and he's going to do what he believes is right and not what is popular or which may get him off a hot spot," explained Diocese of Orange litigation counsel Peter M. Callahan in the November Orange County Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.

Callahan was referring to Brown's decision to send former diocesan chancellor Msgr. John Urell for treatment in Canada at a time when, according to plaintiffs' lawyers, Urell could have given important testimony in a sexual abuse case against the diocese.

Last July, Urell was deposed in a civil case involving allegations of sexual abuse by a former Mater Dei High School assistant coach. Disturbed by questions about his handling of sex-abuse complaints as chancellor, Urell walked out of his unfinished deposition, crying. Urell then checked into the Southdown Institute near Toronto, Canada.

As chancellor, Urell took part in processing sexual abuse claims against clergy -- a task to which he responded "with compassion, sensitivity, and appropriate action," said Callahan. Urell, however, "had no legitimate involvement" in the Mater Dei case at all. In fact, said Callahan, as chancellor, Urell "had very little involvement in claims of wrongdoing involving lay personnel."

When Urell became "distraught" during his deposition, "it was clear both to all of the lawyers involved and the retired judge who was sitting as a referee that he really had little practical knowledge about the facts in that case and was emotionally unable to continue," explained Callahan in the newspaper article.

Everyone, including plaintiff's lawyers, agreed that the July deposition need not continue, said Callahan. They would rely instead on what Urell had said thus far and on four days of deposition had given in an earlier lawsuit, he told the diocesan paper.

Urell's doctor informed Bishop Brown that the monsignor needed immediate evaluation of his emotional condition, said Callahan. Brown sent Urell to Southdown, which is "one of the foremost facilities in all of North America that specializes in evaluating and treating clergy -- and, most importantly, it had an immediate opening," Callahan told Orange County Catholic. "It was only when the plaintiff's lawyer learned that Monsignor Urell had gone to Canada for treatment that the priest suddenly became 'a critical witness.'"

Callahan denied claims of the plaintiff's lawyer that Brown sent Urell to Canada to prevent him from testifying. The contempt of court charge subsequently leveled against Brown, said Callahan, is "'quasi criminal,' meaning that the punishment, should the judge choose to impose one, could include five days in jail or up to a $1,000 fine, or some other consequence."

As for the lawsuit, and three others involving non-clergy that have been settled for $6.885 million, school and diocesan officials followed all appropriate procedures in reporting them, according to Callahan. Brown decided to settle the cases in consideration of "the personal emotional impact on parties and the witnesses as well as the financial cost of protracted litigation." He also looked to "the significant amount of erroneous and adverse press coverage that we had received, and the disruption the trial would have caused the high school," Callahan told the newspaper.


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