By Gustavo Arellano
By Aimee Murillo
By Matt Coker
By Vickie Chang
By Matt Coker
By LP Hastings
By Michael Goldstein
By R. Scott Moxley
* * *
The pretrial depositions occurred in the offices of Meissner and Peter Callahan, then and now the Orange diocese's lead attorney on sexual-abuse cases. Ramos came up from Tijuana, still a priest but now harried and fatigued. He never acknowledged Michael's presence.
Meissner says Monsignor John Urell, chancellor for the Orange diocese, approached him before the depositions began and said the diocese wanted Ramos gone just as much as Meissner and Michael, that Ramos “was a bad apple.” But the diocese adopted a different stance once depositions began at Meissner's office.
First to be deposed was Michael. It lasted three days, eight hours each day, with only a lunch break, and involved every question imaginable. Meissner objected to as many questions as possible, “to protect him,” but Orange diocesan lawyers would not let up. They had already contacted all his previous sex partners and asked Michael about each in detail. They asked about his encounters with Ramos and made him relive them in graphic detail. They asked him about his drug use. “They tried to say I couldn't be that messed up because I was still able to get degrees from college,” he says. “Then they said I wasn't believable because I repressed those memories. Ramos even argued I was gay—therefore, it was okay.”
But the toughest question Michael remembers was when Callahan asked how his family was handling it.
The truth was that Michael's family had become pariahs because of his lawsuit. His parents in particular anguished over how an institution they gave so much of their beings to could so ruthlessly attack their son.
“Here I was taking massive hacks at my family's foundation, and the cocksucker [Callahan] wants to know how it affected my family,” Michael says, tearing up at the memory. “I just broke down. I wanted to jump across the table and kick his ass. You can do what you want to me, but don't fuck with my family.”
Meissner next deposed Ramos. Church lawyers objected to almost every question Meissner asked the priest, citing the Fifth Amendment. Ramos admitted only to having sexual relations with Michael as an adult even after Meissner showed Ramos the letter he sent to Michael in the spring of 1990. And he denied Meissner's charge that he molested at least four other boys during his stay in the Orange diocese.
Meissner saw that the church's strategy was to argue the sexual relations between Ramos and Michael happened as consenting adults. Meissner found the argument misleading: “If someone's been molested since they were a child, you're going to tell me they'll everhave the capacity to consent? That was ridiculous.”
So Meissner asked Ramos about the photos. Ramos admitted to taking photos of Michael, but only after he turned 18. Meissner asked if he still possessed them. Yes.
Then, to Meissner's and Michael's shock, Ramos' personal lawyer, Eugen C. Andres of the Santa Ana law firm Andres and Andres, whipped out a photo album. Photo after photo showed nude boys. Older boys. Younger boys. Michael from preteen to young adult.
“It was disgusting,” says Meissner. “It was as if they said, ‘Screw you—yeah, he did it, and there's your proof.' Out of nowhere! No feeling. No emotion. Nothing. The arrogance!”
Michael collapsed on the table and wept.
“I mean, I see those photos—every night I go to bed I see those photos,” Michael told the diocese's lawyers. “This whole deposition is a nightmare.”
It would get worse.
* * *
The final person to be deposed was Bishop Driscoll. “I didn't receive any complaints [about Ramos] specifically to me,” he told Meissner, claiming instead that all the information he knew came secondhand. Meissner pressed. Again, Driscoll claimed he had no knowledge of Ramos' abuse and only hearsay evidence of Ramos' alcohol problem.
Meissner knew Driscoll was lying. Earlier, he had deposed Lyda Brown, the teacher who originally wrote to Orange diocese authorities about Ramos. Brown stated under oath that she had threatened to report Ramos to police if Driscoll didn't do anything. He also had letters in Driscoll's own writing (see accompanying article) jotting down specific complaints about Ramos and boys. Meissner's sources also dug up a Dec. 3, 1979, letter Johnson wrote to Rev. Michael Peterson, head of the pedophile program Ramos attended in Massachusetts. In it, Johnson tells Peterson that Driscoll “is familiar with the situation and was with me when I met with Fr. Ramos to discuss his treatment at Saint Luke's.”
But Meissner's most damning evidence was a statement by Father Robert P. Tressler, who replaced Ramos at Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1980. In a court declaration, Tressler recalled that an altar boy told him in the spring of 1982 that Ramos had molested him while at Immaculate Heart. Tressler took the complaint to Driscoll, according to the declaration; Driscoll told Tressler he “did the right thing by coming to him and that he would take all necessary and proper action.”
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