By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
* * *
On May 1, 2003, Juan knocked on Ramos' trailer. Orange police wired Juan to record the conversation. A tape of that recording shows Ramos did not recognize Juan until he began crying.
Ramos was near the end. He was no longer the burly, gregarious giant everyone knew as Big Al. His weight stood at 177 pounds. He had difficulty walking due to his diabetes. Ramos was on the waiting list for a kidney transplant and had to visit his doctor weekly for dialysis treatment. But Ramos was still a priest; despite the various lawsuits brought against him in the preceding years, the Orange diocese never bothered to defrock Big Al.
Juan began yelling and cursing at Ramos, blaming him for his failed life. All he wanted Ramos to do, according to the police report, was “for Ramos to say he is sorry.”
“Forgive me for using you for an instrument of my pleasure,” Ramos told Juan. He was still going to counseling for his alcoholism and pedophilia, Ramos said. He prayed for his victims every day. And then Juan and Ramos clasped hands and prayed.
“Forgive Ramos for all the things he did to me . . . molesting me as a child,” Juan proclaimed, as heard on the secret tape.
“Forgive me for using him for an instrument for my pleasure,” Ramos asked of the Lord. “Thank you for this opportunity to ask Juan for forgiveness. Give me all the illnesses so that I can be forgiven for all my sins.”
Orange police visited Ramos four days later. Ramos confirmed Juan's story and provided the detectives with the names of three other victims. One of them was Michael; another was Robert; another was Frank. Ramos also admitted to molesting three other boys that police mentioned.
“Ramos also told me that there could be over 20 additional victims that I don't know about,” wrote the Orange detective who filed the police report.
Manly began the procedures to depose Ramos. But a Los Angeles Superior Court judge stopped lawyers from any investigative work while he tried to negotiate a settlement between the Orange diocese and the alleged victims. So even after Ramos told all to the Orange police, Manly could only hope the priest stayed alive just a couple of months longer. Just until the deposition.
* * *
On Nov. 16, 2004, Pasadena attorney Randy Medina used a computer database to conduct a records search on Ramos. By that point, lawyers for 90 sex-abuse victims and the Orange diocese were on the verge of announcing they had reached a $100 million settlement—at the time the largest in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Eleven victims had filed suits against Ramos—more than any other Orange County priest. Manly represented five, Meissner three, Medina one.
But as Medina pored over records, he discovered that Ramos had gotten away again. He had died eight months earlier, at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, due to complications from a kidney transplant. His family held the wake at Community Funeral Services in La Habra, just six minutes away from Ramos' old parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Ramos' family requested the morgue cremate Ramos; they kept his ashes.
No one with the Orange diocese or Los Angeles Superior Court had bothered to inform Medina, Manly, Meissner or any of the other lawyers pursuing Ramos. Medina called the Los Angeles coroner's office and other law-enforcement agencies to discover the circumstances of Ramos' death, but found nothing. Just a date: March 24, 2004, one day after Ramos' 65th birthday.
Medina met with Manly and the other lawyers that mid-November day and broke the news. There was general disbelief. The man who was key to breaking open the Orange diocese sex-abuse scandal was gone.
“I was worried about telling my clients,” Manly admits. “They wanted the opportunity to confront him. They had suffered an emotional death sentence thanks to Ramos. And nothing of consequence had ever happened to him. The Catholic Church protected him through death.”
Ramos' victims greeted the announcement in different ways. Some finally felt they could rest. Another told Manly he hoped Ramos' “motherfucking soul burns in hell.”
Meissner was similarly angry. “My clients would rather have seen him rot in a jail cell,” he says. “By dying, it wasn't much of a reaction. It was an easy out for Ramos. He should've suffered longer. His victims think he deserved to repent and apologize. He owed them more than just upping and dying.”
Michael was almost beyond caring. The day Ramos died was also the five-year anniversary of his own son's death. “Ramos was secondary by then,” he says. Michael visited St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, released some balloons in memory of his son and drove home silently. And, as he had done for the past couple of years, he prayed for Ramos' soul.
THE ROSE GARDEN
I visited the Hacienda Trailer Rancho a couple of weekends ago looking for a rose gardener.
Manly told me Ramos had lived in a seedy trailer park on the bad side of town, but that's not true. All of the trailers, though small, feature the traits of people in their 50s enjoying the autumn of their life. Potted plants are everywhere. Vines snake up walls. Various tchotchkes decorate gates and doors. Wind chimes tinkle somewhere.