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2 in scandal still hold church posts

Files indicate pair knew of California abuse accusations

LOS ANGELES -- Two Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange officials who covered up for priests accused of molestation years ago remain in church positions -- one of them as a bishop, according to personnel files released as part of a clergy abuse settlement.

The files, released Tuesday, show that then-Auxiliary Bishop Michael P. Driscoll and Monsignor John Urell knew of repeated allegations of sexual misconduct against Orange County priests yet did little to protect parishioners or prevent future abuse.

Driscoll is now bishop of the Diocese of Boise, Idaho. Urell, who was a top diocesan official at the time, is now pastor of St. Norbert Church in Orange.

Neither man returned calls from the Associated Press seeking comment, but Driscoll, 65, posted a lengthy apology on the Boise Diocese's website this month in anticipation of the files' release.

''At this time I once again want to apologize to the victims who were harmed by priests in the Diocese of Orange and for my role in these cases," Driscoll wrote. ''I am ashamed that this happened."

Nearly 90 plaintiffs reached a record-breaking, $100 million settlement with the Orange County diocese last December. As part of that settlement, the diocese agreed it would not block the release of the personnel files of accused priests.

On Tuesday, a judge ordered the release of the files of 14 priests and one lay person. The documents of five priests and three lay workers were withheld because they objected.

The files contain tens of thousands of pages of handwritten notes; letters between church officials, psychologists, and treatment centers; and letters written by the accused priests to their superiors in which at least one refers to his problems ''with the boys."

They reveal a world in which bishops and other diocesan officials responded to molestation accusations by shuffling priests from parish to parish -- sometimes out of the country -- and by lying to parishioners and failing to report cases to police and child protective services.

As auxiliary bishop, Driscoll dealt with two of the priests whose actions have brought the church some of its worst grief: Siegfried Widera and Eleuterio Ramos.

Widera's accusers expressed shock and anger upon learning that Driscoll was still in a position of power and that he had been promoted.

''After everything that we've gone through, everything they said they would do, it's nothing but a crock of lies," said Max Fisher, 41, of Anaheim, who says Widera abused him.

''Where was all this concern when all this crap was going on? It's a bitter pill to swallow right now."

Driscoll accepted Widera, a convicted child molester, into the Diocese of Orange in 1977 despite a letter from the archbishop of Milwaukee that said Widera had a ''moral problem having to do with a boy in school."

The letter also said Widera had sought treatment but had relapsed and could no longer minister in Wisconsin under state law.

Widera, barred from performing priestly duties after more complaints in 1985, jumped to his death from a hotel balcony in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 2003 as authorities were about to arrest him. He was facing molestation charges in Orange County and Milwaukee.

According to the files, Driscoll also arranged the transfer of Ramos to the Diocese of Tijuana, Mexico, in 1985 despite multiple reports of sexual misconduct.

In a letter to Tijuana Bishop Emilio Berlie, Driscoll acknowledged Ramos showed children ''inappropriate movies" and ''girlie magazines."

Once Driscoll secured Ramos' transfer to Mexico, he paid him $332 a month and paid for a car and car insurance, according to the files.

Ramos died in 2004 at age 64, but not before telling police he had abused at least 25 boys.

Driscoll also received reports in 1983 about allegations that the Rev. Christian Anderson had molested a 12-year-old boy. The diocese sent Anderson to counseling, but the church-paid therapist never reported the case to child protective services as required by law.

In 1986, police interviewed Driscoll about the earlier case while they investigated another abuse claim against Anderson. Driscoll told police the woman's 1983 letter detailing the alleged molestation was no longer in the priest's file because the mother had asked church officials to destroy it. The mother told police that wasn't true.

Anderson, 53, has been dismissed from the priesthood. He could not be located.

The Rev. Michael Pecharich was removed from ministry in 2002 after admitting he had abused a boy years before. The files made public Tuesday show that Urell fielded several complaints in the 1990s about Pecharich, including in 1993, 1995, and 1996. Pecharich, 59, remains a priest. He could not be located.

Michael P. Driscoll, formerly of the Orange, Calif., diocese, is now bishop of the Boise, Idaho, diocese.
Michael P. Driscoll, formerly of the Orange, Calif., diocese, is now bishop of the Boise, Idaho, diocese.
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