Hefled a child sex-abuse case involving the Catholic Church inCalifornia. Now he's holed-up in Aurora. What is Msgr. Urell hiding?
Sunday morning at the Southdown Institute, a treatment centre forembattled clergy situated on 40 hectares of rolling farmland in ruralAurora.
Inside the lobby, close by the receptiondesk, the doors to the chapel are wide open. Morning Mass is almostover. A dozen or more men, mostly middle-aged, and many in clericalrobes, are still in their pews, reciting the responses to closingprayers aloud.
"Monsignor John Urell?" the receptionist is asked.
"He is probably attending Mass," she says, nodding towards the chapel.
Then she looks down at her registry book and scans the names.
"Oh, he's new here," she says, abruptly. "You must see someone first before there is any possibility of you seeing him."
I am led to a small but well-kitted nurse's office where I am informed that "Monsignor Urell is not taking any visitors."
The nurse in attendance says her name is Sally, and offers nothingmore, although the only registered nurse on the staff list atSouthdown, and the only person named Sally, is Sally Constantine.
NORTH TO CANADA
"I will call you," she says.
And she does, with the name and phone number for Father Raymond Dlugos, Southdown's chief executive officer.
"But he's not available until Monday," she adds.
On the way out, photographs are taken of Southdown. The receptionist comes out and tells me to put the camera away.
"No pictures," she says. "You're on private property."
The Southdown Institute, according to its own literature, is aregistered, non-profit charitable organization that offers clinicalassessments for Catholic clergy and those committed to Christianministry who are "experiencing significant stress in their lives,whether from personal problems or some difficulty in ministry or inrelationships", as well as neuropsychological evaluations running thegamut from aging and injury to substance abuse.
The residential program, the literatureadds, provides intensive treatment for clergy that addressespsychological conflicts, difficulties in interpersonal functioning,emotional or sexual problems, and addiction-related issues.
Msgr. Urell is in the Southdown residential program, and is all but anonymous here.
Not so, however, in California.
A few weeks ago, he was on the witness stand in a civil courtroom anhour south of Los Angeles, once again as the Diocese of Orange County'spoint man in yet another child sex-abuse complaint -- just as he wasthe church's key go-to man in the notorious scandal that saw the samediocese pay out a record $100 million two years ago to settle threedecades worth of child sex-abuse cases involving 87 files.
In other words, he is no bit player.
Msgr. Urell knows all and sundry about that scandal, capsulated by theLos Angeles Times as one in which the Roman Catholic Church of OrangeCounty "covered up for priests who molested children, and shuffledpredators from parish to parish and diocese to diocese -- protectingthem from prosecution and failing to warn parishioners of the dangers."
And now, here he is once again, the point man in yet another child sex-abuse case.
Halfway through his pretrial testimony, though, a distraught Urellbroke down crying and was given a break from testifying in order tore-group.
But he did not return to the stand the next day as ordered.
Instead, he headed north to Canada, and to Southdown.
According to his lawyer, Patrick Hennessey, Msgr. John Urell enteredSouthdown on Sept. 6, suffering from "an acute anxiety disorder causedby the strain of his prior responsibility for responding to complaintsof sexual abuse by others."
But he did not stop there.
"Msgr. Urell has never sexually abused anyone, and has never beenaccused of sexually abusing anyone," Hennessey added in a writtenstatement. "His treatment at Southdown is specifically related to acuteanxiety. In no way is his stay related to paedophilia, and for anyoneto imply such is being irresponsible and untruthful."
Last week, attorneys for the woman whoalleges sexual abuse by a lay teacher at a Roman Catholic high schoolin Orange County when she was a 15-year-old student filed a motion tohold the diocese's bishop in contempt of court for sanctioning Urell'sflight to Canada.
According to the document filed in theSuperior Court in Santa Ana, the lawyers allege that Bishop Tod Browndeliberately sent Urell out of the country one week after a judgeordered him to complete his sworn deposition in the first publiclytried sexual-abuse case against the diocese since its mammothsettlement payout in 2005.
Bishop Brown's lawyer, Peter Callahan,rebuffed the motion, calling the filing by the plaintiff's attorneys asnothing more than a "bullying tactic" aimed as diminishing Urell'sillness when it is both "serious and legitimate."
A hearing on that motion is slated for Oct. 18.
In a recent Associated Press report, one of the plaintiff's lawyers,Venus Soltan, said she believes the diocese wants to suppress Urell'stestimony because of his extensive current and historical knowledge ofsexual-abuse allegations, including four pending cases that involvealleged sexual molestation at the same school where her client allegesthe sexual abuses against her took place, Orange County's Mater DeiHigh.
'URELL KNOWS TOO MUCH'
"It is just one more in a long line of things where they're trying tohide the facts," Soltan said. "Urell knows too much and they don't wanthim to talk."
Rev. Dlugos was reached yesterday by cellphone.
He was at the Denver airport, awaiting a connecting flight to Boise,Idaho, where he is today conducting a retreat for priests in thatdiocese.
He emphasizes he has not been called to Orange County, Calif., and refuses to speak specifically about Msgr. John Urell.
"Yes, I have read all the coverage (in California)," he says. "But Ihave not been asked to appear in any court, or speak to any courtofficial, about anything."
Dlugos, a Philadelphia-born priest with adoctorate in psychology, has been at the Southdown Institute for thelast eight years of its 40-year history.
"I am bound ethically to say nothing," hesays. "To be honest, I cannot ethically even acknowledge whether (Msgr.Urell) is at Southdown or not.
"Privacy has to be protected."
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