A political blogger and the former head of the county DemocraticParty have formed an informal Catholic group to support a priestcriticized for his handling of past sex-abuse cases and whose medicalcondition has become the center of a legal battle to hold Bishop TodBrown in contempt of court.
Msgr. John Urell broke downduring a July deposition in a Mater Dei High School sex-abuse case, andwas sent by Brown to Southdown Institute, a psychological treatmentcenter for clergy in Canada. That move caused attorneys for the formerstudent to ask a judge to levy a fine against the bishop or put him injail.
Despite settling that sex-abuse claim and three othersfor approximately $6.7 million last week, diocese attorneys want theDec. 3 contempt hearing to go forward, saying it would clear thebishop's name.
On Wednesday, the group, called "Friends ofMonsignor John Urell" ran a full-page ad in the Register, called "OpenLetter in Support of Msgr. John Urell," who reportedly is sufferingfrom acute anxiety.
The group's organizers – John Hanna, acivil lawyer who is the former county Democratic chair and politicalblogger Matt Cunningham who attends St. Norbert's Catholic Church,where Urell is a pastor -- allege Urell's reputation has been malignedin the media.
"We feel Msgr. Urell is being used as a piñataand had been dragged into these cases," said Hanna, a longtime friendof Urell who also serves on the Rancho Santiago Community CollegeDistrict board.
"He has clearly made errors in judgment,'' hesaid. "But we know this man who has been maligned is a good man and wewant to show him our support."
Hanna said the group has noinvolvement with current or past sex-abuse litigation against theDiocese. John Manly, who deposed Urell and represents the fourplaintiffs in the recent settlement, said Urell's testimony was key touncovering how the diocese handled sex-abuse complaints.
"JohnUrell was the diocese point man and had the most knowledge regardingmolestation in the diocese,'' Manly said. "What he presided over wasevil incarnate. No great homily, no wonderful funeral changes thatfact."
During his approximately four-hour deposition, Urelltestified he was responsible for clergy-abuse complaints as thediocese's chancellor, but also was involved in taking accusationsagainst laypeople. He said he met with 20-25 victims or families whoalleged abuse by a priest or layperson.
When questioned abouthis investigation of Msgr. Michael Harris, a former Mater Dei and SantaMargarita High School principal accused of abusing several boys, Urellsaid he didn't recall if he told the family of one victim to callpolice.
The diocese ended up paying victims $17.6 million for alleged abuse by Harris, who was removed from the priesthood in 1995.
"I try to forget them,'' Urell. "I don't forget the people, but a horrible chapter in their lives and mine."
"Idon't know … until about two months ago (I) thought this whole kind ofthing was over for me. It's never over for people who get victimized. Iknow that … I mean, I can't hold my head up at the moment …." Urellsaid.
To find out more about the group, visit its website: www.friendsofmonsignorjohn.com
Contact the writer: (714) 834-3773 or firstname.lastname@example.org