Tod Brown's Own Private Idaho
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).
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.
“Despite such knowledge, the Santa Fe and Idaho Archdioceses and Paracletes negligently and recklessly continued to employ Garcia in positions of trust and authority as a Roman Catholic priest where he was able to commit wrongful and negligent acts,” Herrera wrote in a complaint filed in the case.
Brown and his lawyers not only successfully prevented Herrera from un-redacting Brown’s note, but they also stiffed Herrera out of hundreds of pages of documents he requested, according to court records obtained by the Weekly—and many of the documents he did receive were blurry to the point of illegibility. Boise diocese lawyers ultimately succeeded in convincing a San Miguel County judge (the New Mexico county that includes Las Vegas) to throw out Herrera’s case against Boise. The Paracletes also succeeded in having themselves removed from the lawsuit, but the Santa Fe archdiocese ultimately settled with Garcia’s accuser.
Herrera appealed his case to the New Mexico Court of Appeals, and lost again. The case, Doe v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise Inc., is still used by Church officials across the country to discourage sex-abuse victims from suing dioceses that knowingly transferred pedophile priests to other churches.
While the Weekly revealed Brown’s involvement in these cases on our Navel Gazing blog in June, His Excellency has previously alluded to them. In 2007, Newport Beach lawyer John Manly was questioning the bishop during a deposition held for a lawsuit against a former Mater Dei High School boys’ basketball coach. Orange diocese attorney Peter Callahan was also present. (Neither the diocese nor Callahan responded to requests for comment for this story.)
Manly asked Brown if he had ever heard of Worsley, Gould or Meunier. He had. Did he know of Ruben Idalio Garcia? “I think I do,” the bishop responded.
“Who is he?” Manly replied.
“I think he was a priest who at one time was ministering in Idaho, and if it was the one I’m thinking about, he . . .”
But before Brown could finish, Callahan blurted out, “That’s good enough.”
Portions of this story originally appeared on the Weekly’s news blog, Navel Gazing.
This article appeared in print as "His Own Private Idaho: How Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown helped pedophile priests escape lawsuits and the law while leading Catholics in Boise."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.