Fiddlin' in St. Augustine

A Tale of Two Sex-Abuse Settlements in the Orange Diocese

Last week, the Orange diocese was in a state of chaos. Former chancellor John Urell rested in Canada, seeking treatment for a psychological ailment his own attorney admitted was triggered by the monsignor's heavy soul from handling diocesan sex-abuse complaints. Church lawyers were telling the press they were ready to fight in court against a young woman who alleged that former Mater Dei assistant boys' basketball coach Jeff Andrade molested her during the mid-1990s, even as the attorneys feverishly worked on a settlement. Priests across Orange County told parishioners not to believe what the press published about the Andrade case, while church bulletins contained diocesan-dictated fliers purporting to state the truth.

While all of this was going on, Bishop Tod D. Brown was in St. Augustine, Florida, attending a conference between Catholic bishops and Orthodox Christian leaders. It was from the Sunshine State where Brown fought a contempt-of-court motion claiming he whisked Urell away so the monsignor wouldn't finish a deposition. This is also where Brown announced on Oct. 5 that the Orange diocese had settled four molestation claims against former lay employees for $6.685 million, just four days before the Andrade case was scheduled for trial.

It's emblematic of Brown's decade in the Orange diocese to leave his episcopal see at a time of crisis in favor of attending a meeting whose participants have fought for more than a millennia: The latter is an easier headache to bear than the former. For the past five years, ever since the Orange diocese paid Ryan DiMaria $5.2 million to settle a sex-abuse case, Brown has portrayed himself as a national leader in handling sex-abuse cases involving priests and other church employees. But His Excellency's actions over this past month show that he and his inner circle have abandoned all sympathy and righteousness in dealing with sex-abuse victims in the Orange diocese.

Compare this most recent settlement with the actions of Brown on Jan. 3, 2005, when he finalized a $100 million agreement—the largest in the history of the Catholic Church up to that date—with 87 people who alleged abuse at the hands of Orange diocese priests and employees. That Monday, the bishop met with victims, formally apologized to them, said he was "ashamed" that the abuse happened, and released thousands of pages of once-secret documents showing that church officials had actively protected pedophiles for decades. All of this was necessary, Brown stated at the time, to create a "holier, humbler and healthier" Church.

This time around, Brown announced the settlement on a Friday afternoon, in the form of a press release. No apologies, just a tersely worded paragraph noting he "sincerely hope[d] that it will enable the women who brought these actions to begin the process of healing and reconciliation." The rest of the release was dominated by diocesan lawyer Peter Callahan, who insisted he was "ready to present our case before the trial jury" and complained that "the effort to repudiate Bishop Brown's character, and by extension Monsignor John Urell," by plaintiff's attorney John Manly "is unwarranted." Urell's personal attorney, Patrick Hennessey, issued his own press release stating he was "extremely disappointed" by the settlement.

This time around, the sex-abuse victims revealed themselves to the world on Oct. 8 outside the Newport Beach offices of Manly, McGuire and Stewart. All of the women were in their late 20s, well-dressed and nervous. One chose to remain anonymous.

First to speak was Christina Ruiz, whom Andrade admitted to molesting from 1995 through 1997. Fighting back tears, Ruiz—who now lives in Brea—said she looked forward to moving on with her life and hoped other sex-abuse victims "can use me as an example" and come forth with their stories. Next up was Elaina Kroll, who said she was molested by Albert Lee Schildknecht while he was choir director at St. Timothy in Laguna Niguel during the 1990s and she was 16. (Schildknecht was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff's Department on two counts of oral copulation with a minor and one count of digital penetration; a criminal trial is scheduled for next month.) Kroll hoped that the church could recover from something "so dark and so hideous."

The final victim to speak was Sarah Gray, a Notre Dame graduate and former Mater Dei valedictorian who says the school's former choir director, Larry Stukenholtz, molested her in the 1990s. (Mater Dei officials let the teacher go after he admitted to the charges.) She criticized Callahan and his associates during an eight-day deposition in which they probed into her sexual history, including "my first kiss and how long it lasted." After taking questions from the media and complaining that Brown hadn't apologized to them, they retreated to the sanctuary of Manly's office.

There wouldn't be a diocesan press conference until Oct. 9, after Judge Gail Andler refused to dismiss Brown's contempt-of-court motion. (A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 3.) Before dozens of reporters—and with victims Ruiz and Gray present—Brown apologized to the "four young women who were violently abused," describing the molestations as "sinful, reprehensible."

But Callahan again dominated the diocese's remarks, railing about the "innuendo and character assassination in the press" on more than one occasion. When Gray tried to dispute Callahan's claim that diocese officials followed up on the complaints of parents, the lawyer gave her a cold look. "You had your press conference yesterday," he snapped, as Brown looked on. 

 

Read Gustavo Arellano's related article: Jane C.R. Doe Speaks, an exclusive interview with Jeff Andrade's victim.

 

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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