Father Jerome Henson never faced child-molestation accusations while working in the Orange Diocese from 1983 until 2002. Nevertheless, Henson remains one of the most notorious individuals in Orange County's Catholic sex-abuse scandal, not just for his alleged fondling of a child two decades ago while serving in the Diocese of Sacramento, but because the resulting cover-up involved former Orange Bishop Norman McFarland.
McFarland was bishop of Reno on Aug. 10, 1981, when Sacramento diocesan officials asked him for a favor. A police officer had just caught Henson in a graveyard with a 13-year-old boy's legs wrapped around his neck, and the Sacto see was wondering if McFarland would accept Henson immediately. McFarland agreed; three years later, he shipped Henson to the Diocese of Orange. When McFarland assumed the Orange County bishopric in 1986, Henson had already served in the county for three years as an assistant for diocesan communications director (and eventual Orange County GOP chairman) Tom Fuentes. And, with McFarland's blessing, Henson began saying Mass again in 1991 at Saint Anthony Claret in Anaheim. Orange officials suspended Henson in 2002, when the alleged Sacramento victim filed a lawsuit against the priest.
The following document is the 1981 police report based on Henson's graveyard tryst. The lowlights:
PAGE 2: The reporting officer observes Henson with a boy sitting on a fence, the youth's legs "draped over [Henson's] shoulders." He recognizes Henson because he is "assigned to ST. DOMINIC'S CHURCH of which I am a parishioner." When Henson sees the officer, the priest "immediately removed [the minor's] legs from his shoulders, causing [the minor] to fall to the ground."
PAGE 3: The boy denies that Henson molested him. However, when an officer contacts the Sacramento Diocese, a church official admits that he "has suspected Father Jerome may have been too involved with different young boys" and that he would try to get the priest "transferred out of the community as soon as possible and also have his assignments changed so that [Henson] will be working with adults and not with so many boys."
PAGE 4: Henson's supervising priest informs detectives that "he already had suspicions about [Henson] from past incidents and arrangements were made today to immediately transfer [Henson] to a parish in Reno."