Goodwill Shunting

The image made the front page of newspapers across the country and led off multiple newscasts: a tearful Joelle Casteix accepting the humbled apology of Bishop Tod D. Brown moments after he announced the settlement of 90 sex-abuse cases against his Diocese of Orange for $100 million, the largest settlement amount in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The image was supposed to signify a new era for the Orange Diocese—an era of reform, transparency; an era where, as Brown put it, the harassment of molestation victims “will never happen again.”

The image was a fraud.

Just four days later, Brown's spokesman, Father Joseph Fenton, ruined whatever goodwill the bishop established with sex-abuse victims.

Among those named in the $100 million settlement was Thomas Hodgman, a former Mater Dei High School choir teacher who was alleged to have repeatedly raped Casteix while she was a student at the Santa Ana parochial school in the late 1980s. The Toledo Blade discovered Hodgman working as a choir director at Adrian College, a small liberal arts institution in southeast Michigan, and asked him about the Orange diocese decision. Hodgman dismissed Casteix's story as “bogus;” school officials admitted they knew about their employee's molesting past but supported him.

Blade reporter Robin Erb then contacted the Orange Diocese for comment. Fenton, loathed by Orange County Catholics for his abrasive bluster, seemingly sided with Hodgman. “Under no circumstances does the settlement imply any guilt on anyone's part,” Fenton told the Blade.

Father Joe is shrewd enough to know he cannot disclose the guilt or innocence of a former employee who has not been convicted in a court of law, lest his diocese become vulnerable to a lawsuit by a former employee. But his quote was insulting because it willfully ignored the diocese's relationship with Casteix, who has emerged as the most vocal sex-abuse survivor from the local scandal. Diocesan lead counsel Maria Schinderle even praises Casteix for her courage to come forth.

Casteix was one of two sex-abuse survivors appointed to the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board when Brown established it in May 2002 (Casteix later resigned, calling the body a “PR sham”). In an interview Fenton did with Brown in the July 2003 edition of the Orange County Catholic, Fenton asked Brown about whether the diocese still employed “the person who raped [Casteix];” Brown replied that Mater Dei officials quickly fired Hodgman when they “learned about the matter, and a report was filed at the same time with Child Protective Services.” And it was Fenton who told Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons in a June 16, 2004, article on Casteix that the Orange Diocese wanted to “heal those people who have been deeply hurt.”

And Fenton obviously missed even more highly publicized irony: the Brown-Casteix photo, which ran just two days before Fenton was quoted in the Toledo Blade, appeared all over the country to secure Brown's carefully crafted, national reputation as a “fair and compassionate” bishop.



One Reply to “Goodwill Shunting”

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