Yesterday afternoon witnessed the first time that a judge began criminal contempt-of-court proceedings against a U.S. Catholic bishop. The hearing against Bishop Tod Brown of the Diocese of Orange County could result in a sentence ranging from a verbal warning to jail time.
On Tuesday, Bishop Brown waived his arraignment for violating a court order, which is the equivalent of him entering a plea of not guilty.
The bishop caused Judge Gail Andler to open a contempt of court hearing by sending Monsignor John Urell out of the country to receive medical treatment, before he had finished completing his testimony in a sexual abuse lawsuit.
The attorneys of the plaintiff in the sexual abuse case asserted that Bishop Brown sent Msgr. Urell, who was responsible for handling diocesan sexual abuse allegations, to Canada for psychological treatment before he could conclude his deposition.
The bishop stated that while he knew Msgr. Urell would be called back for further deposition, the treatment center in Canada, which focuses on care of the clergy, could admit Urell immediately.
Bishop Brown decided to send Urell because he broke down during a deposition with the plaintiff’s attorneys.
"When Msgr. Urell was there for half a day, he couldn't take it because he was too upset about having to testify about hiding all these allegations," Venus Soltan, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys said in court. "This is plain and simply hiding the facts."
Callahan disagreed emphasizing there was not a court order in effect when Urell went to Canada, and that he also did not know anything about the current sexual abuse case in question.
Superior Court Judge Gail Andler listened to the opening statements in Bishop Brown’s contempt of court case before postponing the hearing until December 3 and ordering a subpoena on Urell until the same date.
Also being heard that day is a motion filed by Callahan to dismiss the contempt matter altogether.
"I was disappointed that the judge didn't rule. We were hoping that the bishop would have the opportunity to exonerate himself by telling the truth but he didn't get the opportunity," Callahan said.
John Manly, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said outside court that he was pleased the judge had allowed the contempt hearing to go forward and that he intends to call Urell in to complete his testimony on Dec. 3.