California Diocese's Documents Show Abuse Cover-Up
By NICK MADIGAN - The New York Times
May 19, 2005
LOS ANGELES, May 18 - Thousands of pages of confidential church
documents detailing sexual abuses by priests in Orange County, Calif.,
were released this week, exposing the extent to which clergy members,
one of them now a bishop elsewhere, concealed accusations of abuse.
In the documents, unveiled Tuesday under a court order after a
$100 million settlement of charges involving 90 accusers, senior
officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County were shown
to have routinely moved priests and church employees accused of
sexual misconduct from parish to parish, usually without warning
anyone of the extent of the accusations against them and often providing
glowing reports of their abilities. At the same time, the documents
show, families that complained of certain priests' behavior toward
their children were often ignored or told lies.
In one case, the Rev. Eleuterio Ramos, who admitted to the police
in 2003 that he had molested at least 25 boys, including involvement
in the gang-rape of a boy in a San Diego hotel room in 1984, was
transferred in 1985 to a parish in Tijuana, Mexico, where the Orange
County Diocese continued to send him a monthly paycheck and pay
his car expenses. The Tijuana Diocese was not informed of the full
extent of the priest's abuses, according to the documents. Father
Ramos died last year.
Against objections from church officials, Judge Peter D. Lichtman
of Los Angeles Superior Court ordered the Orange County Diocese,
which has more than a million parishioners, to release personnel
files, letters between church leaders and psychological reports
of priests, although the diocese, citing privacy concerns, succeeded
in withholding parts of some priests' files. Lawyers for some plaintiffs
said they would appeal.
The release of some 10,000 pages of documents pleased many of the
plaintiffs in the Orange County cases, although they objected to
the fact that other documents remained under wraps.
"There were not only horrible crimes committed against children,
but the extent of the cover-up is unbelievable," said Joelle
Casteix, 34, who said she was abused for two years as a teenager
by a lay teacher whose files the judge did not release. "Many
men who are still in ministry today, and some who are bishops, conspired
to conceal the crimes and keep molesters in positions where they
could still molest children."
The Orange County cases, spanning 1936 to 1996, included claims
against 31 priests, 10 lay personnel, two nuns and one religious
brother. Two former Orange County bishops, Norman F. McFarland and
William R. Johnson, and a former auxiliary bishop, Michael P. Driscoll,
now bishop of Boise, Idaho, are shown in the documents to have participated
in the cover-ups. Several other top church officials were also involved,
the documents say. Bishop Johnson is dead, and Bishop McFarland,
who retired in 1998, could not be reached for comment.
From Boise, Bishop Driscoll issued a statement on May 5 in which
he apologized for his role in the way accused priests were dispatched
while he served in Orange County in the late 1970's and 1980's.
"It is now painfully clear to me that the way we handled those
abuse cases was terribly wrong," the bishop said. Reached by
telephone on Wednesday, his spokeswoman, Colette Cowman, said Bishop
Driscoll would not address the matter further.
"He feels like he doesn't want to go into the details of the
documents," Ms. Cowman said. "What he feels is that no
matter what he says, there will be people who will still be upset.
He made a heartfelt apology, and he stands by that."
The current bishop of Orange County, Tod D. Brown, who assumed
his post in September 1998, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday
that it was Judge Lichtman, and not diocese officials, who decided
which files to release and which to withhold. He acknowledged, however,
that the diocese "did attempt to exercise some privacy rights
as to some of the contents."
"We've made it clear that our focus is on healing and reconciliation,"
Bishop Brown said. "These people were very egregiously injured."
Bishop Brown said the diocese had established safeguards to prevent
a recurrence of acts of molesting, particularly, he said, "in
terms of trying to educate children and youth to be aware of any
dangers they might come across." Asked about what was being
done about priests and church employees, he replied that they, too,
were receiving "regular education sessions."
The vast number of pedophile-priest cases around the country, while
"appalling," he said, amounts to "only a minuscule
number" of active clergy members.
The $100 million settlement, announced in January, was the highest
paid by a diocese in the United States to settle sexual abuse cases.
It surpassed the Archdiocese of Boston's agreement in 2002 to pay
$85 million to 552 plaintiffs, and may have the effect of increasing
the amount of money in play as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles struggles
to settle 544 abuse claims against it. The Los Angeles Archdiocese,
under Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, has fought vigorously to keep its
John Manly, a lawyer who represents 30 of the plaintiffs in Orange
County and 100 elsewhere, said the documents show that the diocese
was aware of the scope of the abuse and did little to stop it. "They
were certain these people were going to molest again, and they did,"
Mr. Manly said.
The documents released under the Orange County settlement show
that several church officials either actively concealed the actions
of abusive priests or sought lesser punishment for them.
In the late 1980's, the Rev. George Niederauer, now the bishop
of Salt Lake City and a former spiritual director of St. John's
Seminary in Camarillo, Calif., asked for leniency from a judge for
the Rev. Andrew Christian Andersen, an Orange County priest who
had been convicted of 26 counts of child abuse. Bishop Niederauer
wrote in a letter that the boys might have interpreted "horse
play" as molesting.
Bishop Niederauer did not return a call to his office on Wednesday.
A priest from Milwaukee, the Rev. Siegfried Widera, who was convicted
in 1973 of molesting boys and banned from appointments to parishes
in Wisconsin, was allowed to work in Orange County beginning in
1977 after the Archbishop of Milwaukee at the time, William E. Cousins,
called Bishop Johnson and suggested that "there would seem
to be no great risk" in allowing Father Widera to return to
pastoral work. The documents show that Father Widera began abusing
Orange County boys almost immediately, but he was not removed from
duty until 1985.
Just after his removal, Father Widera was sent to a Catholic rehabilitation
facility in New Mexico but did not complete the treatment. In 2002,
after being charged with 42 counts of molesting, Father Widera became
a fugitive, and he jumped to his death the next year from a hotel
room in Mazatlán, Mexico, while being questioned by the police.