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

A Nov. 7, 2001, memo to Urell from the psychologist stated she was "deeply impressed by the church's willingness to make reparation to [the victim] by paying for his therapy without any intervention of the judicial system (a process which [the victim] wants to avoid)." Nevertheless, Urell wanted to see "how we might come to some common agreement on the treatment plan and end time for it" because of the "high rate of charge." And a May 1, 2001, e-mail from Urell to Ken Fineman, the diocese's point man on psychological issues, expressed his concern at how much the treatment was costing the diocese. "We haven't given an end date yet for counseling. . . . We are still going two hours per week . . . every week," Urell wrote. "And this has been going on since September 2000. My concern is that he is getting the best help he can at $140 per hour."

When Manly asked Urell about Ramos on July 27, diocesan lawyers instructed their client not to answer.

According to the same priest personnel files, Urell's involvement with Pecharich is even more damning. In 1993, a woman told Urell that the priest had hugged her son strangely when Pecharich served at St. Bridget of Sweden in Van Nuys during the 1970s, and that other boys complained that Pecharich asked them to sleep in his bed. Urell told the woman her son would have to lodge the allegation in person. No meeting ever occurred, and Urell never asked Pecharich about the allegation.

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

The Orange diocese was already suspicious of Pecharich, since he had admitted to molesting a teen in 1983. But Urell wouldn't confront the priest until 1995, when another teenager complained that Pecharich hugged him too long. Nothing came of this meeting.

In a memo dated Aug. 17, 1996, Urell recounted his conversation with someone who claimed that Pecharich had grabbed his penis and slept nude with him when the two went camping in Wrightwood. Urell's notes quoted the victim as saying, "I'm glad to hear that [Pecharich] said yes—said he was sorry." Urell told the victim that Pecharich was undergoing therapy and that the Orange diocese had contacted Child Protective Services about Pecharich's transgression. The victim was "impressed, glad, happy [Pecharich] had admitted" and asked that Pecharich be removed from the priesthood.

Pecharich confessed to Urell that he was "emotionally involved" with this teen and promised to stay away. There is nothing in his personnel files, however, that suggests Urell ever contacted Child Protective services, or that Pecharich went through therapy. The priest was removed from the ministry in 2002, but not before Bishop Brown announced in a press release that "there have been no further instances of misconduct by Father Pecharich, nor any new accusations" since 1983.

There's one other case worth noting involving Urell. In 2001, Manly deposed him as part of a lawsuit filed by Ryan DiMaria (now an attorney in Manly's firm) alleging he was molested by Monsignor Michael Harris. Harris—the former principal at Mater Dei and Santa Margarita High Schools—was one of the most popular priests in Orange County history but had to resign in 1994 after he refused to undergo therapy for an attraction to teenage boys.

Urell told Manly that he was put in charge of following up on sex-abuse allegations lodged against Harris at the time of his resignation. But Urell merely asked Harris whom he should interview to second DiMaria's claims. He also confessed to attending a going-away party held for Harris by the Orange diocese and supporters. The host was Michael Pecharich.

"I guess some of the guys wanted to get together and say: 'It's over. You're leaving,'" Urell said in the 2001 deposition. "I can say now I believe it was inappropriate to go."

On July 27, Manly asked Urell about his dealings with Harris. Church lawyers wouldn't allow the monsignor to answer. Manly didn't mind.

"You know what?" Manly replied to no one in particular. "I'll just let the record speak for itself. I know what it was, and I know what he called [the dinner] last time. So we'll just leave it there."

Three minutes later, Urell cracked.

Note to readers: Many of the parts of this story involving Bishop Brown were previously reported on the Weekly's blog, Navel Gazing. Visit us at for breaking news and even more diocesan shenanigans.


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