Local Boy Makes GoodFor Child Molesters

Former Tucson bishop comes clean about allowing pederast priests to visit Orange County

Manuel D. Moreno, former bishop of the Diocese of Tucson, resigned last year after serving southern Arizona for 21 years, a period that saw Moreno settle 11 lawsuits alleging child molestation by Tucsonan priests for $14 million. He also offered refuge to seminary classmates accused of sexual misconduct such as Patrick Ziemann (former bishop of Santa Rosa, who resigned in 1999 after accusations arose that he kept a priest as his personal sex toy) and Robert Trupia (nicknamed by his fellow clergy members "Chicken Hawk") even after the Vatican defrocked the two. At the time of Moreno's resignation, 17 more sex-abuse lawsuits awaited Tucson-area parishioners, inching the current Tucson Catholic hierarchy toward the once-unimaginable brink of bankruptcy.

But worst of all? Moreno is All-Orange County, baby: he was born in Placentia on Nov. 27, 1930, and graduated from Fullerton High School, class of 1949. In 1978, Moreno even received a Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater, Fullerton College. Moreno loved his mother county so much that His Excellency allowed Tucson's kiddie-raping priests to visit Orange County repeatedly, where they would officiate over Mass or take kids on trips to Disneyland before molesting them.

Moreno admitted his complicity in the Orange County-Tucson sex-abuse connection in an extraordinary June 2 deposition taken by Costa Mesa-based attorney John Manly, who's currently representing alleged sex-abuse victims in Tucson and Orange County. In the course of the two-hour deposition held in Pima County Superior Court, Moreno acknowledged, among other things, that he was aware that notorious county pederast Eleuterio "Big Al" Ramos was molesting boys as far back as the 1970s, when both served in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Moreno also recalled allowing Fernando Monzo to work at Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra during the summer of 1983 despite having received a complaint that Monzo was engaging in sexual acts with young men and boys.

But the most shocking revelations in Moreno's deposition involved Kevin Barmasse and Juan Guillen, two priests the Tucson diocese lists as molesters. In the former, Manly asked Moreno if he remembered a Los Angeles archdiocesan official pleading the following:

Manny, We've this problem with this new priest, Kevin Barmasse. He got picked up by the sheriff [for an incident with a boy in Long Beach]. The attorney general wants him out of town. We'll pay his stipend, but would you please take him?

"Do you remember that?" Manly asked Moreno.

"I just cannot remember," Moreno—who earlier in the deposition affirmed this conversation—responded softly. "If somebody said that they did, then it's my problem that I forgot. Maybe it's psychological. Maybe it's denial."

Whether the discussion between Moreno and the Los Angeles prelate took place, one thing is certain: Moreno allowed Barmasse to take children on diocese-sponsored trips to Disneyland despite knowing Barmasse's past. In one such visit, according to a lawsuit filed by Manly against Moreno, Barmasse and the Diocese of Tucson, Barmasse rented a condo in San Diego in 1988 after spending the day at Disneyland with a 17-year-old Tucson boy. Court papers describe how the priest "invited the plaintiff to have evening prayer one night alone in his room." Reflection soon turned into rape as Barmasse "removed much of the plaintiff's clothing and his own, then straddled the plaintiff and rubbed the plaintiff's back and buttocks with his hands and aroused penis."

Moreno also told Manly he knew about the predatory Guillen, who's currently serving a 10-year sentence for repeatedly molesting two brothers. In one instance, according to an Aug. 22, 2002, Yuma Police Department report, Guillen allowed a group of altar boys to sleep in his room at Immaculate Conception Church in Tucson during the summer of 1994 before they took a bus to Disneyland the next morning. During the night, Guillen stripped a 14-year-old boy and "attempted to anally penetrate [the victim]. He tried in several positions but was unable to and finally stopped and put [the victim's] pants back on." Two weeks after the Disneyland trip, the report continued, Guillen "masturbate[d the victim] with one hand. Guillen gave oral sex to [the victim] until [the victim] ejaculated in his mouth."

By the time of this molestation, Tucson diocesan officials already knew Guillen's predilection for boys. A diocesan memo written by Monsignor Richard W. O'Keeffe on Aug. 3, 1992, opined that Guillen would "profit from this 'apparent wrongdoing,' as reported by concerned people," referring to parishioners who informed O'Keeffe that Guillen was spending too much time with the same boy whom he'd one day attempt to sodomize.

Moreno—who still has family living in Orange County—was unavailable for comment. But in his final years as Tucson's bishop, Moreno expressed regret for condoning pedophilia with several letters and homilies to parishioners asking for forgiveness.

Nevertheless, even the moderate religion website Beliefnet.com calls Moreno one of the nine worst bishops in the country, lambasting him for lording over a sex-abuse-plagued diocese in which "officials protected one another, lied to a victim's family, failed to counsel victims, destroyed statements, did not notify child-protective authorities and were uncooperative with police."

Still, at the conclusion of Manly's deposition, Moreno once again exhibited his repentance.

"As you sit here today," Manly asked Moreno, "is there anything with Father Monzo's case or any of the other cases that you would do differently, if you could turn back the clock?"

Moreno stumbled a bit, then remained silent. "Well, I wish we could have avoided them as much as possible. I wish they had been the holy priests they're supposed to be. Perhaps I could have been more strict in that. I don't know."

garellano@ocweekly.com

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