Healing Signs in O.C. Abuse Ordeal

Times Staff Writer

At a midday Mass on Sunday, Bishop Tod D. Brown emphasized his relief over a settlement in the Diocese of Orange’s clergy sex abuse scandal and welcomed victims back to the church.

“We will continue to work toward this important goal of forgiveness and reconciliation with these victims, who, through no fault of their own, became tragic figures in the history of our church,” Brown said during the service at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange.

The Roman Catholic bishop spoke without notes in a brief speech just before Mass ended, saying it had been an unexpected but welcome pleasure Thursday night, after the settlement was announced at a Los Angeles courthouse, when some alleged molestation victims embraced him and said they wanted to rejoin the church.


“It was a tremendous blessing to hear that,” he said.

For Olivia Maher, 56, a parish volunteer, hearing about the plaintiffs’ desire was a sign that healing had begun.

“That some of them want to come back shows they feel they were believed,” she said. “They know that the church didn’t turn their back on them.”

The bishop’s remarks Sunday were delivered in the parish where, almost a year ago, he nailed to the church doors a document proclaiming a seven-point pledge by the diocese to rebuild trust in the wake of the scandal.

On Sunday, he urged parishioners who have donned the blue “VII” pins distributed since then, bearing the Roman numeral for the pledge’s seven provisions, to continue wearing them.

“We must do everything possible to protect children and young people from future abuse,” he said. “There will be no end to that.”

During the five-minute address, Brown referred only indirectly to the landmark $100-million settlement, a record payment by a U.S. Catholic Diocese. Parties in the Vatican-approved deal are bound by a gag order that they not discuss terms of the payouts for the 87 plaintiffs.


“I believe that the victims will be fairly compensated, and, at the same time, that our diocese will be able to continue its service,” Brown said. “But this settlement involved many millions of dollars, and it will be very painful for us to deal with.”

Since the announcement of the settlement late Thursday, Catholics throughout Orange County echoed the bishop’s request for forgiveness and said they hoped the church could move on, encouraging the faithful and running its ministries.

“I hope that the settlement will really start the healing,” said Jaymes Curran, 40, Holy Family’s high school youth minister, after the Sunday service. “It’s just so unfortunate that so few have caused so much pain.”

Some Catholics said they expected a backlash from those who believe the settlement was too much.

“There will be a negative reaction by many donors, large and small, a frustration that their hard-earned dollars was for something that they had nothing to do with,” said Tim Busch, co-founder of two Roman Catholic schools in south Orange County.

“It was important that the diocese avoid bankruptcy,” added the Irvine tax attorney. “But, over time, we need to dedicate those resources to the ministry of the church.”


Diocesan officials have said they would draw from a combination of insurance, cash reserves, loans on property and investments, and the possible sale of their 17-acre headquarters to fund the settlement. A finance council for the diocese is expected to give the bishop recommendations this week.

Some Catholics interviewed in recent days said they bore no resentment toward the plaintiffs for the large price the diocese must pay.

Bob Zimmer, a Santa Ana dentist, called the settlement only “a partial repayment” to the plaintiffs and said it would serve as “penance” for the diocese.

“I don’t think we can ever give back to those people what we took from them,” said Zimmer, 50, of Temecula, who attends St. Martha’s Church in Murrieta. “The settlement hurts the church financially, but it’s something that’s necessary. Even if it does bankrupt us, so be it.”

Holy Family parishioner Dana Atkin, leaving Sunday’s service, said she hoped a monetary settlement would emphasize to victims that the fault was not theirs.

“The shame is not on the victims,” said Atkin, 50, a teacher who lives in Anaheim. “The shame is in what individuals in the church did.”


During most of Sunday’s Mass, the bishop sat silently, leading the church in prayer but letting Deacon Joe Esparza deliver the sermon. Esparza spoke mainly about the current season of Advent, referring only once to abuse by priests.

“The year of 2004 has been a difficult one for the church,” he said, “especially for clergy ... victims and believers. Hopefully, a new day has begun now.”

But later in the service, as the deacon finished the last of the prayer requests, which included no mention of the abuse claims, Brown stood and leaned over a microphone near his chair.

“And for the victims of sexual abuse, especially those in Orange County, that they may find peace and reconciliation,” Brown said, “we pray to the Lord.”

“Lord,” the congregation responded, “hear our prayer.”


Times staff writer Dave McKibben contributed to this report.