Orange Diocese Settles Molestation Suit; Priest
Still in Post
By William Lobdell - LA Times Staff Writer
September 4, 2004
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange quietly paid $500,000
late last year to settle a molestation lawsuit against a high-ranking
priest who, nine months after the payout, remains the official
pastor of a Newport Beach parish.
Although Msgr. Daniel Murray of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Church has been on paid leave since last September when the
allegations first surfaced, Bishop Tod D. Brown will wait
until an internal investigation is complete before deciding
whether to remove the cleric from his post, church officials
Murray has denied the claims made by a Riverside County man
who said he was molested over six years during the 1970s,
beginning when he was 8 years old.
The Times does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse without
Murray, who couldn't be reached for comment, also is accused
in a second lawsuit of molesting another boy.
An attorney for the Riverside County man said his client
is disappointed that Murray hasn't been forced from the ministry.
"It certainly disappoints him," said lawyer Roland
Bainer of Corona, who confirmed the settlement amount. "He
was hoping that him coming forward would be a wake-up call."
And victims advocates said they were surprised and outraged
to hear about the unannounced settlement and the fact that
Murray still officially retains his job.
Murray has served the diocese in a variety of top positions,
including as a church legal expert and chief recruiter of
Church officials said the case was quickly settled after
weighing the cost of litigation, the amount of insurance coverage
and the alleged victim's plight. The settlement included no
admission of guilt.
Canon law, which governs internal church affairs, requires
that a thorough process be followed to determine if Murray
should be permanently removed from ministry, officials said.
In Murray's case, that procedure includes an investigation
by a retired law enforcement officer and a recommendation
by the bishop's sexual abuse review board.
The investigation will also reexamine an allegation of sexual
abuse by Murray that was brought to the diocese in 1991 and
dismissed for lack of corroboration, church officials said.
Father Joe Fenton, a church spokesman, said the diocese has
been as open as it could be regarding the case.
When the suit was first filed in September, he said, announcements
were made at each of the parishes where Murray served and
any alleged victims were encouraged to come forward.
But Fenton said the settlement wasn't announced because of
the wishes of the alleged victim. Bainer, the plaintiff's
attorney, said, "A more accurate statement is that there
was a common agreement that it wouldn't benefit either side
at that time."
The confidentiality is at odds with a pledge in 2002 by Catholic
bishops in the United States that no settlements in sexual
abuse cases would be confidential except for "grave and
substantial reasons" brought forward by the victim.
Costa Mesa attorney John Manly, who represents 30 alleged
victims with suits against the dioceses, said the diocese
should have moved faster and with more openness.
"If they paid that much money, they must have thought
something was wrong," he said. "Why haven't they
told the parishioners? What about the people of Mount Carmel
who still believe in him?"
Manly said he believes the diocese which had promised
transparency in dealing with sexual abuse cases kept
quiet about the settlement in hopes that no other alleged
victims would come forward.
Another leading victims advocate said publicizing the settlements,
especially against highly regarded priests, would give others
the courage to come forward.
"Sadly, the shroud of secrecy seems to prevail in the
Diocese of Orange, and that secrecy makes victims think they
are the only ones, or that they'll not be believed,"
said Mary Grant, a regional director for the Survivors Network
of Those Abused by Priests.
"That's why it's so important that church officials
disclose these settlements."