OC Blog Spins for Urell (And Spins and Spins…)

Bear with us, gentle readers–this is a long post…

Though the Weekly anointed Orange Juice as the county's best blog, even the Juicers would admit that the king of the county blogosphere is OC Blog, started and administrated by Jubal, the nom de plume of political consultant and longtime local Republican activist Matt Cunningham. Its politics are unapologetically center-right–it says so on the banner. But we had no idea that OC Blog would also evolve into a mouthpiece for the pedo-priest protectors over at the Catholic Diocese of Orange.

Yet that's what has happened over the past month, shortly after the news came out that Monsignor John Urell had sought psychological treatment in Canada to treat his anxiety after failing to finish a deposition in one of the Church's many sex-abuse civil lawsuits. Cunningham has strayed from his usual daily news roundups, weekly Raymond Chandler quotes, and regular Diane Harkey apologias to slam media coverage of Urell and trash John Manly, the Newport Beach attorney who has spent the past couple of years suing the Orange diocese over sex abuse in its parishes and schools.

The personal is definitely political for Jubal, a parishioner at St. Norbert's in Orange, where Urell serves as pastor. Unfortunately, it has also clouded Cunningham's judgment to the point of parody.


Take, for instance, this long post regarding my Urell cover story and the recent coverage by Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit. Cunningham calls the coverage “gratuitous and self-serving” and complains that that the cases I mentioned in which Urell helped out pedo-priests “have been well-reported on” and “are already known” and thus besides the point since the current case Manly is pursuing is against former Mater Dei boys' basketball coach/statutory rapist Jeff Andrade. He also insists the media isn't paying attention to Andrade since going after Urell “make for 'better' stories” and “opens the door to writing about multiple cases of abuses and their victims, and to attack the Catholic Church without fear of blow-back.”

A couple of points:

*Cunningham acts amazed that reporters have concentrated on Urell. Spare us the wide-eyed innocent act, Matt. When the former point man for sex abuse in a Catholic diocese breaks down during a deposition for a trial and leaves for a foreign country to seek treatment, that's news. When his attorney admits the point man is seeking treatment for “an acute anxiety disorder caused by the strain of his prior responsibility for responding to complaints of sexual abuse by others,” that's news. Readers and any curious person want to know what could possibly have caused such a dramatic exit, especially given that Urell isn't directly involved in the Andrade trial–thus, the coverage.

*Urell's involvement in the Orange diocese sex-abuse scandal is not “well-reported.” Media accounts of Urell's direct involvement previous to 2005 focused on three cases, those of Lori Haigh, Ryan DiMaria (who now works as an attorney in Manly's firm), and Richard Coughlin. In the first two, Urell investigated allegations of abuse; in Coughlin's case, Urell told the media that the Orange diocese never received a letter from his former diocese warning of sexual misconduct. In 2005, after Bishop Brown released thousands of pages of personnel files revealing diocesan complicity in protecting pedo-priests, the Register, Los Angeles Times and Associated Press implicated Urell as part of the cover-up, each citing his involvement with Andrew Christian Andersen and Michael Pecharich. Being that Urell was in charge of investigating sex abuse allegations from 1988 to 2002, a time when he admits the Orange diocese received at least 25 complaints of sexual abuse involving clerygmen, the lack of coverage on Urell's role has been deafening. And point of order, Matt: no previous newspaper to my knowledge has written about Urell's role with Gary Pacheco and Eleuterio Ramos, nor did they mention Urell claims he contacted Child Protective Services after receiving a molestation confession from Pecharich. How is that “well-reported?”

And Urell's involvement in the sex-abuse scandal is definitely not “already known.” The whole scope is found only in the personnel files Brown released with great fanfare in 2005, and the subsequent media coverage. The only problem is that those files aren't readily available to the public. In 2005, I asked Brown at a press conference if he would commit to making copies of the documents available to every Catholic parish in Orange County; Brown declined. As a result, the only non-diocesan people with ready access to the documents are the lawyers who represented sex-abuse victims for the 2005 $100 million settlement, reporters present at that press conference, and the secular saints at Bishop Accountability. I've been covering the Orange County Catholic sex-abuse scandal for almost four years, read through those documents dozens of times, and I'm still finding new information about Urell's role.

*At this point, Cunningham will no doubt say that I'm piling on Urell, especially since the case in question involves Andrade. See my first point in regards to coverage of Urell. As for Andrade, Cunningham insists the media isn't focusing as much attention on the statutory rapist as they are on Urell. “[Andrade] was the abuser, and yet I hardly hear a word about him,” Cunningham wrote as a comment to his post.

Oh, Matt: you're revealing your ignorance of OC Weekly and favoring of the MSM! On my end alone, in the space of little more than a year, I've written two cover stories on the case (not including the Urell story), named him one of Orange County's Scariest People, and been breaking stories on Andrade and Andrade alone up to last week. That coverage loud enough for you, Matt?

*And, finally, Cunningham's ridiculous insinuation that reporters write about Urell and others as a way to “attack the Catholic Church without fear of blow-back. Church leaders are using that same strategy against Mickadeit and has used it against me, never mind that Mickadeit and I are cradle Catholics–I might no longer attend Mass, but that doesn't mean I've left the faith. And no fear of blow-back, Matt? Last I checked, the Weekly must adhere to libel laws. If we get our facts wrong, we can get in trouble. And even if we get the facts right, that hasn't stopped the Orange diocese from siccing a lawyer on me to send harassing cease-and-desist letters.

I feel for Cunningham. His beloved pastor is loco, and the truth is pouring out about Urell. “I fail to see how destroying Monsignor Urell as a man or a priest will heal anything or anyone, and I plan to stand up and support Monsignor Urell against efforts to destroy him,” Cunningham writes. “I am open about my motivation. Perhaps others writing about this case could be about their own.” Matt: the only person destroying Urell are the documents and deeds of his past ('member what his lawyer said?). As for my motivation? Telling my fellow Catholics what their church leaders have done to the lives of innocents. Redemption is for God to grant; humans must still face the laws of Caesar, laws that our church leaders have never faced and helped others evade. You can look it up.

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