Orange Diocese Settles Molestation Suit; Priest Still in Post
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 said.
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 their consent.
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 new priests.
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.”