The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled a sex-abuse and cover-up lawsuit Monday night with an accuser of former Monsignor Michael Harris, agreeing to pay an unusually high amount of $2 million to end a case that alleged a single incident of abuse.
The settlement in Orange County Superior Court came at around 9:30 p.m. after hours of negotiations on a day when jury selection was set to begin before Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Bauer.
Maria Schinderle, general counsel of the Diocese of Orange, said Tuesday the diocese settled for the church entities only and not for Harris, who technically remains a defendant in the lawsuit. Vince Finaldi, an attorney for accuser John Doe, said the lawsuit will be dropped against Harris because he is insolvent.
I have experienced the "settlement on the court house steps" - it is a real motivation to do so when faced with witness testimony and the thought of sitting at counsel table, revisiting everything you wish would just go away.
Of course, the fact that John Doe dropped the case against Michael Harris due to the latter's insolvency will fuel accusations that he brought suit "just for the money." I am not sure that is true. Maybe. But $2 million settlement by the Diocese for a single case suggests to me that either there was significant substance to the accusations, and/or the Diocese is afraid that going forward would uncover other malfeasance, specifically reveal that certain diocesan staff, including clergy, are motivated more to cover their own asses than to bring a wrongdoer to justice.
That is voiced in the comments of Joelle Casteix, the western regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP):
"Unfortunately, Michael Harris is still a free man who has complete access to kids. The Diocese of Orange cut him loose onto society with full knowledge that he is a monster. And yet, the people who covered up for Harris have remained unpunished and many have been promoted."
I have had some insights into the politics of the Diocese and frankly, that is a legitimate concern. I will be frank: while I respect his office of bishop, I have little to no respect for Tod Brown. I have met him and I have heard stories about him and he strikes me as a cold, paranoid little martinet of a man. And one who turns a blind eye to what goes on so long as it means no loss of face to him. I still remember watching him during the late Bishop Norman McFarland's funeral look out over the people gathered and thinking that he had a look on his face that said, damn, I bet if I dropped dead I wouldn't even get half this many at my funeral.
|Bishop Tod Brown|
The good news is that there are some very fine and good and holy priests in the Diocese of Orange, and I get mad when I think of the suspicion they face by virtue of the collar they wear, caused by their brother priests. It is grossly unfair to them. My prayer is that Orange soon receives a bishop who is orthodox in the faith and unafraid to clean house. I have a friend who is a priest with whom I joke that I am petitioning the Blessed Virgin Mary to elevate him to bishop and appoint him to Orange - that would be a hoot. But all kidding aside, just as in corporate America, poor management at the top means the rank and file can get away with murder, figuratively.
And, literally and sadly enough, abuse of children.