Bad Moves

The bishop broke his covenant. The former chancellor broke down. But the truth about the Diocese of Orange's sex-abuse scandal is emerging in court anyway

"So I—I just don't know what to do today," he continued. "I don't know. I mean—so I don't know. I don't know what to say. I . . ."

Jameson called off the deposition with the understanding Urell would return. But on Sept. 14, Urell's personal lawyer made an extraordinary announcement: His client could not give any more depositions.

"[Monsignor] Urell's physicians have determined that he is unable to finish his testimony as a witness in the case involving [Andrade]," Patrick Hennessey wrote in a press release. The reason: "an acute anxiety disorder caused by the strain of his prior responsibility for responding to complaints of sexual abuse by others." Hennessey finished his press release by stating that Urell's "compassion and concern for all who have been devastated by clergy sexual abuse has been evident in his ministry."

Monsignor John Urell, from a videotape of his deposition.
Monsignor John Urell, from a videotape of his deposition.

Urell remains in a Canadian treatment facility. Hennessey would later issue another press release, stating Urell would "require a minimum of three months of intensive treatment and hospitalization before he can be re-evaluated to determine whether he is able to withstand the rigors of a deposition." Manly is trying to hold the Orange diocese in contempt of court; a hearing is scheduled for next month.

*     *     *

The only reason anyone knows about Urell's breakdown is because Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown kept his mouth shut—and then tried to clamp it tighter, and Urell's for good measure.

In April, the Weekly obtained documents that revealed Brown had been accused of molesting a boy when he served at a Bakersfield church during the 1960s (see "Nailed?" April 24; the victim has since been identified by the Los Angeles Times as Scott Hicks of Fresno). No one with the Orange diocese ever returned calls for comment on that story, and Callahan tried to dismiss the Weekly's findings—he described the revelation to a judge as "not a compelling matter of public interest" since "it was not picked up in the legitimate press" and ran "only in a—and I use the word generously—publication that's handed out for creative massage parlors and coffeehouses and whose advertising runs to escort services and the like."

The silent treatment seemingly violated Brown's Covenant with the Faithful. This much-ballyhooed set of promises cost the Orange diocese nearly half-a-million dollars and swore, in part, that the diocese would "be open, honest and forthright in our public statements to the media, and consistent and transparent in our communications with the Catholics of our Diocese."

But Brown's secrecy would come back to bite His Excellency. Urell's deposition was already in the public record but had escaped the media's notice. When Callahan tried to seal Brown's Sept. 10 deposition in the Andrade trial, newspapers around the world reported that Brown was trying to block public knowledge of his undisclosed molestation allegation—which was already out in public thanks to the Weekly.

Brown's deposition, however, revealed much more about the church's continued efforts to withhold information. Manly attempted to put correspondence between Brown's alleged victim and church officials in the public record, but Callahan objected, reasoning they could be "inadvertently released to the press." He also complained that Manly was beating "[the Brown molestation allegation] to death."

And Callahan accidentally revealed a long-held diocesan secret. In 2004, Andrade successfully sued the Orange diocese after Mater Dei officials publicly identified him as a former employee who was dismissed for allegedly molesting a student. The settlement amount was kept under seal, but Callahan blurted out the figure—$100,000—during Brown's deposition.

Brown, for his part, told Manly he didn't want to announce the accusation against himself "because I knew it wasn't true" and "it wasn't up to me. . . . It was very embarrassing and very painful. And to be very honest, I think that kind of an allegation is difficult to deal with regardless of how innocent a person may be."

But then came the shocker: Urell was no longer in the country, and Brown didn't know why. Because of this, Callahan wanted to seal Brown's deposition.

Judge Gail Adler didn't agree and ordered Brown's deposition be made public, with no sealing of Urell's condition.

With their tactics revealed, the Orange diocese went on the counteroffensive. Callahan told Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit on Sept. 13 that, despite all previous attempts to seal depositions or restrict Manly's scope of discovery, he relished taking the Andrade case before a jury because Jane C.R. Doe "[chose] to enter into a relationship." That same day, diocesan spokesman Ryan Lilygren released a statement that read, "Bishop Tod D. Brown has served with distinction for 43 years and is today widely recognized by Catholics and those of other faith communities as a progressive church leader committed to transparency and accountability."

Sex-abuse victims thought otherwise: They burned a copy of the Covenant with the Faithful outside Orange County Superior Court on Sept. 13.

Lilygren and his communications team wouldn't be deterred. On Sept. 14, he published a report on the Orange diocese's website (rcbo.org) titled "CLARIFICATION OF CURRENT MEDIA REPORTS" that purported to set the record straight on the recent travails of Brown and Urell. "The courts give great latitude to lawyers in the way they represent their clients, particularly in cases involving civil litigation," the report's introduction stated. "In the current case involving former Mater Dei basketball coach Jeff Andrade, certain lawyers have gone beyond the facts."

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