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

The report split the media's "spin" with the diocese's "facts." It claimed Bishop Brown never hid the allegation of sex abuse lodged against him in the 1990s. Besides being investigated by the Fresno diocese, "the unsubstantiated allegation had already been disclosed earlier in the press," Lilygren wrote. By "disclosed earlier in the press," Lilygren referred to the Weekly's five-month-old story—the same story previously ignored, and then derided, by the diocese.

The report argued that Bishop Brown didn't break his Covenant with the Faithful because it "does not require the disclosure of allegations which have no credible or factual basis." But in 2004, Brown publicly announced that Father Richard Delahunty—who at the time served at St. Nicholas in Laguna Woods—was being placed on administrative leave after a lawsuit claimed Delahunty molested a boy in the 1980s while at Santa Ana's St. Barbara's Church. Brown reinstated Delahunty after a year-long investigation because the diocese's sexual-abuse-misconduct board found the molestation allegations unfounded. Delahunty remains at St. Nicholas.

Lilygren also addressed Urell's unfinished deposition. "It was reported that Monsignor John Urell refused to complete his deposition," he wrote. In reality, "After nearly six hours of answering numerous questions, Monsignor Urell became so distraught that he was unable to finish his deposition; it remains an open question whether or not he will be able to complete it at a later date or to testify at trial."

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

Whether Urell returns or not, his shortened deposition has renewed interest in the monsignor's past. Mickadeit devoted a Sept. 20 column to Urell's testimony, describing it as "one more strike against the Covenant with the Faithful's vow of openness."

But the most damning evidence of Urell's direct involvement with the Orange diocese sex-abuse scandal is documented in the thousands of previously confidential priestly files that Brown released in 2005 as part of the diocese's $100 million settlement with molestation victims but that remain largely hidden in the archives of the victims' lawyers (you can find all the cited documents here). Brown has never committed to making these documents easily accessible to the county's 1.3 million Catholics.

In two cases, Urell tried to keep admitted pedophiles from returning to Orange County. After a victim alleged that a visiting Franciscan friar named Gary Pacheco molested him while on a trip to Disneyland around 1981, the Orange diocese whisked the Franciscan to the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, a notorious treatment center for pedophile priests. At no point did diocesan officials alert authorities, as required by law.

After Pacheco's release, Urell wrote a letter to Pacheco's Franciscan superiors alerting them that the Orange diocese no longer wanted him. "Following the public accusations made against Father Pacheco, about which no judgment has been made, and the admitted professional imprudences about which Father Pacheco has spoken," Urell wrote, "this decision is made for Father Pacheco's good and the good of the Church." The Orange diocese would settle a suit against Pacheco in 1994, the terms of which remain sealed.

Another Servants of the Paraclete alumnus was Andrew Christian Andersen, one of only two priests ever criminally convicted for sex abuse in the Orange diocese's 30-year history. Church officials sent Andersen to Jemez Springs after the priest received a suspended sentence in 1986 for molesting at least four boys while serving at St. Bonaventure in Huntington Beach. According to records, Urell and then-Bishop Michael Driscoll thought of paying Andersen between $9,000 and $19,000 in 1994 to discontinue practicing as a priest.

"If [Andersen] refuses to get going with the laicization process, he receives none of this," Urell wrote to Driscoll, who is now the Bishop of Boise.

Urell was also directly involved in the cases of the Orange diocese's most notorious admitted pedophiles: Eleuterio Ramos and Michael Pecharich. A letter dated Oct. 2, 1987, shows that diocesan leaders asked Urell to forward a monthly stipend to Ramos while he ministered in Tijuana. "I send you my prayerful good wishes, Al," Urell wrote to Ramos. The priest was in Tijuana after admitting to molesting a teenage boy while at Anaheim's St. Anthony Claret in 1985, just one of the more than 25 children he molested in the Orange and Los Angeles dioceses over a 20-year career (see "King of the County Pedophiles," Dec. 14, 2005).

The diocese never reported Ramos' admission to the police.

Six years after the note, Urell thought to complain about Ramos continuing as a priest. A July 13, 1993, letter shows Urell asking Tijuana Bishop Emilio Berlie to remove Ramos from a children's ministry. "It is also Bishop [Norman] McFarland's opinion," Urell wrote, "that Father Ramos not serve anywhere in any capacity as a priest due to the serious nature of a previously settled lawsuit and the current allegations being made against him."

Throughout the 1990s, Urell approved diocesan-paid psychological treatment to at least three of Ramos' victims—in one case, at least $20,160 worth. His signatures are on checks as recently as March 15, 2002. Urell, however, wasn't necessarily pleased with the therapy. On Jan. 9, 2001, he complained to a psychologist that her approach to helping a Ramos victim "could be at odds with the Catholic Church moral teachings in the way you might suggest that [the victim] deal with this issue, which, in itself, if experienced outside of the marriage bond, is contrary to our Church teaching." It's unclear what Urell is referring to, but the victim's psychological profile revealed that he had a "sexual dysfunction" when attempting intimacy with his girlfriend.

« Previous Page
Next Page »