Father John Lenihan and Me

Recently released personnel files on one of OC's most notorious pedo-priests remind our Mexican-in-Chief why we've covered the Orange diocese sex-abuse scandal non-stop for a decade—and always will

Father John Lenihan and Me
Photo courtesy Gustavo Arellano | Design: Dustin Ames

The release of the personnel file of John Lenihan, a pedophile priest who molested teenage girls at St. Norbert Catholic Church in Orange in the 1970s, happened this past November with a resounding thud. Few people seemed to care that its 268 pages further confirmed what the vast majority of Orange County doesn't want to acknowledge: that the Diocese of Orange is a pedophile-protection racket that's the envy of NAMBLA. No one raised a fuss that those documents showed that diocesan leaders knew Lenihan molested girls, and yet they promoted him in 1988 to the role of consultor (adviser to a bishop) in the middle of an "investigation"—I use quotation marks because this was the same case they had confirmed a decade earlier. And that letter buried in the files, the one written by attorney Peter Callahan in 1991 that has him blasting a woman who had bravely stepped forward to tell the world of her sexual abuse at the hands of Lenihan and mental abuse by the diocesan hierarchy—the one in which he vilifies her for going to the press for "actions . . . more vindictive than healing"? The public didn't spend their holidays demanding that Orange Bishop Kevin Vann boot the bum out, as Callahan is still legal counsel for the diocese.

The Lenihan file release came on the anniversary of two important celebrations for me: the 10th year since the Weekly started covering the Diocese of Orange sex-abuse scandal, and the 25th anniversary of my First Communion at St. Boniface Church in Anaheim. The priest that presided over this most important of sacraments? Lenihan. And it's this personal connection to the monster that has fueled my fusillades over the years against the snake-tongued guardians of my faith—and has taught me not only that few people care to listen (as evidenced by the non-news of the Lenihan file), but also that that's the reason to report.

My memories of Lenihan are limited. I remember his physical presence—tall, with light brown hair and a prominent birthmark on his face. I can't remember if he spoke with an Irish brogue, but I do remember all of us Mexicans loving him because he spoke Spanish. Imagine that, my young mind thought at the time, a gabacho who knew our language! Lenihan was crucial to my formation as a Catholic, his passion for the Gospel guiding the young me on the road to Catholicism's great parts: the caring for the poor and reviled, the fight against evil, the fidelity toward God.

Where it all began
Dustin Ames
Where it all began

I do vividly remember the furor that bubbled up when Lenihan's molesting ways came to light. Few parishioners believed our Padre Juan would do such sins, so the rumors quickly rose: The woman accusing Father John was a whore, an extortionist, a liar. These excuses continued even after Lenihan finally admitted he did, in fact, molest the girl, at which point a new narrative emerged: It happened so long ago, why should anyone care anymore? This sentiment is best expressed in Lenihan's files, in a private 1991 memo by Lawrence Baird, the longtime communications director for the Orange diocese who still ministers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Newport Beach. "Are those with objections without any awareness of their own failings?" he wrote, angry The Orange County Register had just exposed the diocese's pedo-protecting ways. "Father Lenihan has been an exemplary parish priest. Ask the parishioners!"

Lenihan's apologists shook my faith, but I was told then to get over it, that Father John "had a problem" and to leave things be. When he left St. Boniface in 1995, I figured church leaders had done the right thing and banned Lenihan from the priesthood, so I gave him little thought afterward. Boy, was I wrong: Not only did the Orange diocese transfer him to St. Edward the Confessor in Dana Point, but incoming bishop Tod D. Brown also reappointed Lenihan as a consultor. I wouldn't find any of this out, though, until 2001, when Brown finally removed him—not for molesting girls, but for admitting to Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez that he had multiple consensual sexual relationships with adult women as a priest. So diddling teen girls was fine—but having relations with adult women wasn't? Heckuva job, Brownie!

This background served as my fuel when I finally began covering the scandal, a spark about which I've previously written (see "The Year In Keeping the Faith," Dec. 30, 2004). Thinking of Lenihan and how so many protected him would enrage me and get me through spells when I thought no one other than sex-abuse survivors cared about our coverage. But the path toward the Truth is a lonely one, so I'm one of the guilty ignorants when it comes to the Lenihan file: A sex-abuse survivor forwarded it to me in November (released by the law offices of Ray Boucher, who has represented hundreds of pedo-priest victims), and I didn't get around to reading it until last week. Me a decade ago would've been all over it immediately; now, I have no excuse other than melancholy fatigue.

Because, as I look back at our decade of coverage, I see it's one giant failure. Although Orange County may have a new bishop in Vann, he has yet to exile any of the men who let Lenihan roam all those years. Lenihan, meanwhile, never served any prison time for his crimes and is now happily married, living in South County and still beloved by his former parishioners. The Diocese of Orange grows, more money rushes in—and sex-abuse survivors are told the past is the past and get out of the way of progress.

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126 comments
mgaffney48
mgaffney48

I'm a lifelong parishoner at Old Mission San Juan Capistrano. For the majority of my life my Parish Priest was the late Msgr. Paul Martin one hell of a good guy. I remember thinking how dynamic Lenihan was when he was at St. Edwards. Boy was I wrong. As a young Altar Boy growing up at the Mission I never saw anything like this. There was a priest, who's dead now, that was named in the diocese files. Ironically he left the parish in 1961 & was replaced by Fr. Martin. I was a member of the Parish Council at the Mission when Bishop Brown settled the suit over these claims. The majority of Parishoners I talked to were happy to settle this sad matter up & hopefully move on from a very sorry chapter in the Church's history. I didn't then nor do I now condone the way the hierarchy handled these priests. I do remember when as a Eucharistic Minister I had to get fingerprinted to continue in the ministry. That was strange. This was before any of these revalations came out. My daughter was the same age as the young girl Lenihan admitting getting pregnant & then paying for her abortion. Had I been that young girl's father Lenihan would've been long dead by now.

wyndhamwales8
wyndhamwales8

Lenihan was defrocked for having sexual relationship with women, not for molesting children.  The writer of this piece obviously does not know the difference, and he's just another hired pen trying to helplessly undermine the Catholic Church.  We Catholics are hurt that a small number of priests have committed such despicable acts, but we consider the number of offending priests infinitesimally small compared to the holy, honest and self-sacrificing priests serving God's Catholic Church worldwide. Say there are 300, even 3,000 bad priests, but we have hundreds of thousands of holy, honest, self-sacrificing priests serving God's Catholic Church worldwide. Catholics know this and we will never leave the Church (as the enemies behind the ongoing media attacks on her hope we do).  On the contrary, we hold on to Our Church and will defend her to the death.  To any Catholic reading this muckraking article, don't be upset or disheartened.  These articles are written by avowed enemies of the Church, and most of those who comment on them are one and the same group of people who work against the Catholic Church.  They've been banging their heads against Jesus The Christ and His Catholic Church for 2,014 years. Idiots.

loudfilms
loudfilms

The way the church has handle these sick scumbags is a scandal but once again Gustavo has put himself at the center of the story.  When you decide to write a story about narcissistic personality disorders I hope you find the courage to also put yourself at the center of that story.  Most us don’t love you the way you love yourself so just try and present the facts without putting yourself on the cover of your employers magazine. What exactly was the point of that anyway? Before you write me off as a white racist let me tell you that I’m Mexican. I was the first encounter that many white people had with a Mexican and people in my generation made it possible for you to write your taco book and your idiotic Ask A Mexican column. Your not a voice for me or my people and I hope that no one is this county takes you that serious. Mexican people deserve better after that we have lived through and fought for. Most of don’t have the luxury of paying our rent by calling people gabachos and racists and it makes me think that what you need is some hard work and struggle to sort your troubled mind out.   

BoxTops
BoxTops

@PaulyWalnuts Actually it's important to keep these stories in the limelight! So many kids (like me) who grew up in Catholic communities couldn't understand why priests were abruptly removed from school parishes and what actually the church was doing. This OC Weekly's article will hopefully inform those who do not know and help keep current kids safe. Predators can't hide when the light is shining on them!

PaulyWalnuts
PaulyWalnuts

Gustupido, same old story. This is old news. 

godlessjim
godlessjim

Gustavo, Please email me about SNAP.  There are too many real questions victims have about SNAP's behavior towards victims and who founded them to be ignored by such an intelligent reporter. We've met several times. Thank you, Jim Robertson

CRIMECONCERNS
CRIMECONCERNS

P.S.  In addition to the DA playing the ostrich as it relates to failures to criminally charge Schinderle and many others, it is important to note that the Diocese of Orange, OC Sheriff, Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese and County of Orange, simultaneously share the same defense attorneys, Sullivan Ballog & Williams.

To OC and LA Catholics:  How safe are your children knowing that the OC Sheriff's Department, the agency most likely to investigate crimes against children when reported by members of the public, share the same attorneys retained by the Diocese of Orange and Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese?  Also, is there extra protection considering that defense attorney Albert Ballog's daughter works for the Los Angeles District Attorney?  WHERE IS THE FBI AND USDOJ?

CRIMECONCERNS
CRIMECONCERNS

At Lenihan's first Mass as pastor at St. Edward's, he stood at the podium and told the faithful in the pews about the rumors about he and a teenage girl.... most of us fell for his story and accepted him as pastor at St. Edward's, while admiring his honesty for confronting so called rumors on the first day as pastor.  Years later, we learn there were not rumors, BUT TRUTHS, about Lenihan's fascination with minor children and his admitted sexual abuse of at least 2 minor age female children.   

Diocese of Orange General Counsel Maria Schinderle, also an active member in the St. Edward's parish, had full knowledge about Lenihan's past and as a licensed attorney under the name of Maria Michelle Rullo (see www.calbar.ca.gov), she let the fraud against the faithful in the pews continue.  Schinderle is still gainfully employed by the Diocese of Orange and has never been charged with multiple child endangerment crimes... crimes that DA Rackauckas has had full knowledge of for many years.

When the Diocese of Orange head honcho (Bishops Brown and Vann) fear terminating a Diocesan attorney and practicing Catholic, while the OCDA looks the other way, there is no way that children, adults and employees are safe from violations of the law.... these known aiders and abettors are guaranteed life time employment, while laughing all the way to the Bank with donated monies from hard working Catholics. 

Disgust and disgrace are the only two words that describe the many frauds committed by Diocese of Orange General Counsel Schinderle and others protected by her and the OC District Attorney.  Where is the FBI and USDOJ? 

Jerry Vazquez
Jerry Vazquez

Childmolester were already childmolestors. They decided to join the churh because that was there way of getting aces to kids. The churh didnt make them childmolestors.

Mary
Mary

As the victim of John Lenihan who publicly came forward in 1991, after fighting for documents that I released then that I thought would remove Lenihan from ministry to protect you and countless others failed. And then after fighting for decades after that led to Lenihan's recently released sanatized personnel file, I'd like to say THANK YOU, Gustavo, and all of the other advocates and fellow victims/survivors for all you have done to protect so many people from predators..  I'll share a memory on my mind---that is when I was a kid while being sexually abused by Lenihan; I punched him in the stomach, on St. Norberts property, as he denigrated and verbally abused me in front of the his church youth group there. That's not the only time I tried to fight him off.  Lenihan laughed, after all he and his complicit heirarchy knew  many other clerics were abusing kids and vulnerable adults and didn't care because they knew that they were getting away with it with no problem no matter what; or so it seemed.  He and his bishops were so much bigger than I was.  Yeah, like I had a chance.  Be that as it may again,  I thank you, Gustavo, and the many other tireslessly working advocates who want to end the cycle of abuse/cover-ups.  Great work Gustavo! I hope others victims/witnesses will find the strength to come and report crimes to police, Not church officials.  Mary Grant

bphood
bphood

You are not the only one sickened by this molestation machine...great writting

Gustavo Esqueda
Gustavo Esqueda

Religión is not the issue....my believe in God is not the cause. ...It's the ill cowards , The ones that turned the heads and close the eyes...

canycany
canycany

This is beautifully written and very compelling. The depth of sadness at your Church's inaction and failure to correct is palpable. I am so sorry that you have had to deal with this. It obviously means a great deal to you.


I am not a Roman Catholic, but my tradition stems from the Roman church. I can tell you this; if this happened in my church, poo would freeze the fan. We are a more democratically run belief than the Roman church (and please, do not take that as a criticism) and that lay oversight (Vestry) is constant and continual.  Hell would freeze over before this would have EVER been tolerated or let go of until the house of cards was collapsed, torn and thoroughly shredded.


My life-long respect for the Roman Catholic church began as a child when the local Catholic Church/school helped near-starving families and their underserved children by taking them into the church school. These families lived on an abandoned Chevron Oil site in Whittier across from what later became La Serna High School. 


No one knew what kinds of problems lay in these chemically tainted lands at the time, but the poor children (my classmates) were constantly sick. The families lived in the most despicable conditions imaginable. I don't remember exactly what year this took place, but it must have been about 1965. It was St. Brunos that took the kids in.


Most of the community there (in those days called Sungold) were not only conservative, but Birchers to boot. To whit, my sixth grade teacher at Murphy Ranch Elementary School sent kids home with John Birch literature to give to their parents. My mom, though conservative and prejudiced (though not a Bircher) , was furious. The teacher never returned. 


In those days, the church seemed to have a real mission and heart for the poor and those in need. Today, that doesn't seem its mission (though I credit your current Pope with, perhaps, trying to get the Church back in line with this and not focusing so much on politics, though it would appear that American politicians aren't buying that). Later in life, I met others in the church whose lives were devoted to enrich and help the poor; both men and women (Many in Catholic Worker). Their service and devotion both to God and humanity was held in very high esteem by me. Still is.


The Roman church's molestation debacle stunned me. And the Church's reaction (and actions) more so. But what truly broke my heart was seeing the seeming antipathy and lack of serious protest in the pews. 


I know for some, belief means 'praying things away' or putting it in the hands of God (though that doesn't seem distinctly Catholic to me... I never thought of the modern Roman tradition as a "lapdog" to indifference). But how a tradition's followers could have allowed those that either ran the church or actually interacted  with believers to lie, deny, obfuscate and in some cases promote the guilty or responsible and allow others to leave the county I cannot understand at all. 


I'm surprised the church has ANY members at this point.


And all this to say... I understand why you are frustrated and why you have devoted so much time (and personal emotional time) to this.


I applaud you. 


YOU hold your beliefs deeply. YOU know right from wrong. And YOU won't shut up about this monstrous mess.


YOU are the exemplified Roman Catholic I have respected and believed in along with Catholic Worker. The rest of them, well...


Silence is complicity.


I wish you well, and thank you for this beautiful and personal piece.



daleandersen
daleandersen

Good write, Gustav. Thorough and written with the passion of a believer.


A bit of history. The sixties and seventies marked the time when fervent American Catholic families stopped sending a younger son into the priesthood. The demographics had changed. Families were smaller. Kids were talking back to Mom and Dad and not getting their butts whipped. And the Church was getting fewer recruits. They solved the numbers problem by lowering standards. Some guys got in who had no business there. I went to USD with one of them. He was in the seminary there.


Fast forward to now. The Church is getting even fewer American recruits. And those they're getting are being scrutinized as if they were potential time bombs. The Church is making up the shortfall by bringing in priests from Peru and Uganda and assigning more authority to deacons. It's a mess, at least in the short run.


As for the aging priest/pedophiles, I sympathize with the Bishop. If I were he, I'd never send one of these guys to a US court. It's the last place you go for justice. Personally, I'd rather be dead than go there. I'd handle it internally. I'd put the guy in a locked room with a gun. And wait for the sound of a shot.


Then I'd send him off with a nice funeral.

FFO1939
FFO1939

What's this ugly looking alien? Mas puto!!!

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

I saw that dude Mahoney out at Pelican Hill Golf Course once when I was a security Guard before they tore the place apart and rebuilt it and when i got near him he really gave me the creeps, I felt no warmth coming from the man (if you can call him a man?) almost as if he had a cold aura around him, I would say that that was probably around late 2003 or early '04.

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

I just saw a docudrama today about Medieval Times with the Knights Templars where 200+ people that were considered to be Pagans were marched down a hillside in London England back during the Dark Ages and torched to death just because they wouldn't accept the Christian Religion.

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

"God is an invisable spirit that cannot be seen by human eyes" - Jesus Christ

And you are a human so you cannot see God because he's invisable, therefore he does not exist.

Mitchell_Young
Mitchell_Young topcommenter

Jesús H Cristo, you have the same smug smile even as an 8 year old.

HughJasol
HughJasol

I wish I could shake your hand. Good piece of work.

Thank you!

Michele Andrews Rodecker
Michele Andrews Rodecker

Krisztina I think the biggest issue with this topic (and the reason why it won't die) is that every other person who has committed equal crimes against children is usually punished to the full extent of the law (if the victim reports it). Teachers are routinely arrested for this, Coaches @ major Universities have been imprisoned...School Principals taking advantage of their power, etc etc...the exception is (and always has been) that religious leaders appear to have a hall-pass allowing them to NOT face consequences for evil deeds committed on children and that doesn't sit well with the public, Catholic or non-Catholic. The fact that these priests aren't charged, arrested or investigated is infuriating to the victims & their families not to mention the irreparable psychological damage suffered by many of them. When it ceases to exist - they won't be "under attack" anymore. Perhaps this can happen with more prayer, less "blind-trust" in clergy-members & more open communication w/our children about stranger-danger (even when that that person's wearing a robe & a collar) ;-)

Mel Kinnee
Mel Kinnee

Yep....that works. The last one I experienced was a 5 year-old with cancer.....had hundreds of people praying for him........he died. What the hell happened??

Krisztina Lamb
Krisztina Lamb

Bottom line- what is needed most in this world is more prayer, by all. God Bless.

OC Weekly
OC Weekly

Actually, we bash ALL pedophiles—but you choose not to see that. May we suggest you read the OC Register instead?

Mel Kinnee
Mel Kinnee

Krisztina, OMG.....PEDOPHILES!!!! & you want to look at the GOOD????? They've ruined the lives of (probably) thousands over the centuries! Stop judging because they sin DIFFERENTLY????? It's not a sin, it's ILLEGAL and your church protects them, along with their brain-washed followers! Yeah, let's quit bashing them, poor perverts!! I hope you don't have any children or young relatives who are sent to Catholic church/school! I can't believe your tolerance of those you're told are 'holy'.....what if it was a neighbor molesting your son or daughter???? I guess we should just just look the other way & forgive him. How would that settle with you??

Frank Zamora
Frank Zamora

Reporting on it keeps it in the forefront and let's these Cabrones know that SOMEBODY is watching and you could be in a world of shit now if caught.

Krisztina Lamb
Krisztina Lamb

Catholic priests are under attack- they sin just like everyone else. Mind you- I am not saying what they did is ok by any means, it is horrible. But what of other religions and their scandals? Why just bash the Catholics? Here's an idea- how about we stop focusing on ANY bashing of these humans and focus on the GOOD that is done in the world by any and all those who believe in God. LET'S STOP JUDGING PEOPLE JUST BECAUSE THEY SIN DIFFERENTLY THAT YOU MIGHT.

EsmeraldaBlue
EsmeraldaBlue

@wyndhamwales8 Actions speak louder than words Brother, when those within the Church's bureaucracy found out about the crimes they had the opportunity to right the wrong or at least stop the child-raping priests in their tracks but what did they do instead? Countless of  pedophiles in priestly garb were aided and abetted by those in power in the Catholic Church with numbing regularity by transferring to new, unsuspecting parishes; fertile ground for yet another crop of broken lives and wounded souls. A helpful litmus test before taking sides in any huge controversy; Imagine explaining this case to Jesus and try to justify taking sides with the powerful and knowing Church over (@ last count )tens of  thousands of child victims over DECADES. The Church knew these monsters were guilty for decades and helped them along, some are currently collecting retirement benefits from the Catholic Church and enjoying their freedom while too many of their victims have committed suicide or living out miserable, dysfunctional lives. The Church does not equal Christianity or Salvation for that matter. We represent our Christian Faith with our daily actions and the lives we lead. 

joels6
joels6

@PaulyWalnuts  How new does child rape have to be before pedophile apologist assholes like you give a fuck? I ask the troll, hypothetically.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@MaryThank you for your courage, Mary, and kind words.

Mary
Mary

p.s. I'm sure you can understand Gustavo that your sharing your own story/memories/experiences reminds me of some of my own too.  Thanks for being there for so many abused by church officials and others!

Done
Done

Hey Mitchell, it must be killing you that this little 8 year old  kid, Gustavo, grew up to expose child molestors.  You sound like a church official trying to shame a kid for reporting abuse.  I'm sure OC bishops are proud of you....for doing their dirty works for them. Btw, that's an adorable childhood pic of you Gustavo.  That's what this mom says!  In other words..well I think you know what you should do with yourself.

chilehead
chilehead

Wow, Krisztina, the amount of mental gymnastics you do to make it all right to continue supporting people that rape children and the organization that protects and enables them is truly prodigious.


If one of your neighbors kills someone on the sidewalk, should we ignore it because you have another neighbor that killed two?  Or because the single murderer also makes regular donations to the charities? Your call to pay more attention to other religions, or to pay more attention to the "good" done by your church is like that.  Perhaps you should spend your time dealing with the offenses in our own church before giving precedence to organizations that have miniscule presence in this country and haven't yet handed us boatloads of evidence of wrongdoing?  Plank in your own eye before a splinter in your neighbors, and all that.

Rockmedia
Rockmedia

By your reasoning, no one Catholic should ever go to prison for a crime. You are one scary person!

Mary
Mary

I'm wondering OC DA, has the criminal "statute of limitations" run out for prosecuting a little kid for punching their rapist in the their stomach while the kid was being abused?  Oh. talk about dropping the ball. Oh yeah, what an ongoing scandal, DA.

Done
Done

.....what you should do with yourself, Mitchell.

Mitchell_Young
Mitchell_Young topcommenter

@Done Nothing your hermana hasn’t done to me already, subnormal.

 
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