Tod Brown's Own Private Idaho

The Orange bishop's track record of covering up for sexual misconduct by priests didn't start here

In November, if all goes according to the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown will celebrate his 75th birthday by retiring. Canon law requires bishops and cardinals who reach that age to submit their resignation to the Pope, as was recently the case for Los Angeles Archdiocese Cardinal Roger Mahony.

But Brown is trying to stave off his walk into the sunset. Diocesan sources tell the Weekly he has already submitted a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking for five more years to head Orange County’s 1.2 million Catholics. It’s unclear when the pontiff will respond or what his decision will be, but if Benedict’s worldwide crackdown on pedophile priest-protecting church officials is any indication, he’ll likely deny Brown’s request.

Brown, after all, has proven to be one of American Catholicism’s most bumbling bishops during the course of the Church’s sex-abuse scandal. His Excellency has allowed spokespeople and attorneys to publicly repudiate sex-abuse victims, employed known rapists, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a PR campaign promising sex-abuse transparency yet never bothered to disclose molestation allegations (ultimately not substantiated) lodged against him (see “Nailed?” April 24, 2007).

Danny Hellman

Documents recently acquired by the Weekly dating back to Brown’s decade as the bishop of the Diocese of Boise show that his dealings with pedophile priests here weren’t an anomaly, but rather a direct continuation of his policies in Idaho. Brown served as bishop there from 1988 to 1998. Newspaper accounts at the time of his transfer to the Orange diocese spent more time describing his looks—“He has a cherubic face, scholarly glasses, graying hair and an angelic smile,” breathlessly reported The Orange County Register—than examining his history of disciplining priests who had abused parishioners. But just a scratch of the surface would’ve revealed four problem cases:

William Gould. In 1989, Brown placed Gould on administrative leave after the priest admitted to sexual misconduct with an adult and sent him to a secret rehabilitation center. The incident didn’t become public until this past May, when the Boise diocese announced it had suspended Gould for child molestations alleged to have happened 30 years ago.

James E. Worsley. In December 1992, a young man told the Boise diocese that Worsley had repeatedly molested him during the 1970s. Worsley confessed and resigned—but Brown didn’t disclose the rapes to parishioners until two months after Worsley’s confession, and he didn’t bother defrocking the priest until the Idaho Statesman broke the story in September 1993.

Even then, Brown tried to spin his way out of controversy. He admitted that Worsley was sent to a therapy clinic and diagnosed with a psychological disorder, but Brown refused to reveal the nature of that disorder to the Statesman. While Boise prosecutors couldn’t charge Worsley due to the statute of limitations, police detectives told the Statesman they suspected there were more victims. Brown said he didn’t think so, and the investigation was closed.

Luke Meunier. In December 1993, just months after the Statesman revealed the Worsley affair, two brothers filed a civil lawsuit against the Boise diocese, alleging Meunier molested them during the early 1970s. At the time of the abuse, Meunier had already seen a psychologist for his pedophilia; confidential church records obtained by the Weekly showed diocese officials had caught Meunier molesting boys and knew he had committed similar actions in other dioceses. Brown’s legal defense team crafted a clever argument to counter the brothers’ lawsuit: Since Meunier wasn’t incardinated to the Boise diocese, Brown had no responsibility for the priest; therefore, the brothers couldn’t sue. “The bishop from the diocese of incardination of a priest has the responsibility for that priest,” Brown’s lawyers successfully argued, and the brothers’ case was dismissed.

Ruben Idalio Garcia. “I am happy to recommend Father Garcia for service,” His Excellency wrote to the Archdiocese of Tijuana’s Bishop Carlos Emilio Berlie Belaunzarán in 1990. Brown wrote this letter despite the fact his predecessors had sent Garcia to the country’s most notorious pedophile-priest rehabilitation camp, the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs in New Mexico, during the 1980s.

Four years after Brown’s letter, a former parishioner accused Garcia of molesting him in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where the priest practiced in the mid-1970s while on loan from Boise. This time, Brown sought to dismiss Boise’s culpability on the grounds that his diocese had no jurisdiction over Garcia at the time of the New Mexico molestation, even though Garcia was still incardinated to Boise.

Samuel Herrera, the lawyer representing Garcia’s accuser, sued Boise, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe (which includes Las Vegas) and the Servants of the Paraclete for Garcia’s abuse. In the discovery process, Herrera found Brown’s letter of recommendation for Garcia—but more than three-quarters of it was redacted. He also found a handwritten note disclosing the Boise diocese held Garcia’s Jemez Springs files, as well as further private correspondence revealing diocesan officials knew Garcia had had problems with “celibacy” since his seminary days.

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14 comments
Steve Martin
Steve Martin

This whole mess is a crying shame. People need to be held accountable, in the church or not.

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Diane E Johnson
Diane E Johnson

I really like the illustration accompanying the article. It's great!

Joelle Casteix
Joelle Casteix

It will be interesting to see how the Vatican responds. I believe the Pontiff and Roger Mahony will have more of a beef with the fact that Brown somewhat followed court orders and allowed public access to documents without a "bankruptcy" filing. All that AND an abuse allegation? I'm not seeing any checks in the "Brown should stay" column.

Brown wants to stick around and build the Cathedral that no one wants during a time when no one has the money for donations and no one cares. Besides, Brown has absolutely no moral credibility.

I'm no expert, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rome was itching for him to go so that they can replace him with an ultra conservative.

bill martin
bill martin

those priests should be shot nothing has happened to them what about the parents or family members of the victims. If that was my son brother cousin friend i would knock the shit out of them

 
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