Msgr. John Urell is back in the headlines again, this time featured in the latest document dump by religious orders in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
From Gustavo Arellano at the OC Weekly:
At the end of the 121-page report is the memo, detailing a conversation that a Vicentian Fathers and Brothers investigator had with Urell after a former prospective seminarian had come forward to claim that Ruhl had made him kneel down, naked, then shoved his face into Ruhl’s crotch “for his penance.”
Urell reassured the Vicentian investigator that Ruhl “was on ‘inactive leave’ and that there were no expectations that he would ever return to active ministry.” Reason? Ruhl “had been confronted with another case of similar inappropriate behaviour and that a lie-detector test had indicated that there was reason to suspect that there had possibly been other inappropriate behaviours.”
Did Urell and the Orange diocese ever report Ruhl to the police? Nope. Did Urell ever tell parents at St. Joseph that they lied to them when announcing Ruhl had gone on leave to care for a mythical sick relative? Nope.
And Urell still has a job as the pastor at St. Timothy’s parish. There is even a nifty photo of him on the website.
Which leads me to my point: It’s way past time for John Urell to go. How many more crimes—facilitating child sex abuse and covering up for offenders—does he need to commit?
But I can hear the Urell defenders now … It’s back to the ol’ “Forgiveness vs. Accountability” argument.
“Oh, Joelle,” they say. “Quit being so angry and forgive him. He is such a nice guy and has done so much good for so many people. He was so kind when my mother died/we got married/my child was ill/I needed someone to listen to me.”
Here’s the deal – I HAVE forgiven him. Forgiveness is the gift I give myself. I don’t lay awake at night, harboring anger and resentment towards John Urell. In fact, I am emotionally neutral towards him. I don’t have the time to be angry—I have a child and a family and a life to lead. But I always have time to seek justice. Forgiveness does not mean that Urell is no longer accountable.
Remember: No matter how nice Urell is or how awesome his homilies are, he owes a HUGE debt to victims, their families and Catholics for his crimes of cover-up. Also, since we have never seen any “acts of contrition and reparation” on Urell’s part—or any punishment meted by his supervisors—we cannot be assured that he knows what he did was wrong. We also cannot be assured that he would not do it again. Remember, Msgr. William Lynn went to jail for doing the same things that Urell got away with for years.
“But the people in the parish love him,” they say. “Just let him do his job.”
There are a number of problems with that. First, he is a priest. For those of you who took Catechism (and those of you who didn’t), a priest is the representation of Christ on earth. He has a huge amount of authority over his parish and the people who attend Mass there. He is the moral leader who tells people how to live their lives, holds the exclusive power to forgive their sins, administers sacraments, and does other things that only the truly virtuous and/or the truly contrite can do. He is neither moral nor contrite.
“But he said he was sorry, Joelle.”
Well, that’s great. But apologizing in front of the congregation is a whole lot different than looking the actual victims in the eye, face to face, and saying, “I am sorry.” And even Jesus said that the sinner must atone. Show me the atonement. Show me the accountability.
“He says he didn’t understand at the time how bad abuse was, Joelle.”
You have got to be joking. If someone duct taped your child’s penis to his body, I think you would see the tremendous flaw in that argument. And that’s just one example. Urell has dozens. He knew it was bad and it was wrong and it was criminal.
“Can’t we let bygones be bygones, Joelle?”
No. And here is why: Let’s say that tomorrow, Father X is faced with credible allegations against Fr. Grabby Pants #475. What will he do? He can look at the example of John Urell and say, “Well, he didn’t get in trouble for it, so I’m not going to report to the cops or tell parishioners.” Then, if Father X gets in trouble, Bishop Kevin Vann will have to say, “Since Urell still has a cushy gig, I can’t really punish Father X.”
Again, we are back to accountability. Forgive Urell all you want, but if you don’t hold him accountable, other people are going to commit the same crimes … and get away with them. Accountability is wrong-doing’s greatest deterrent.
“So what is Urell supposed to do, Joelle?”
Remember, child sex abuse happens everywhere—the scandal in the Catholic church is the decades-long concerted cover-up. If you don’t punish the wrong-doers for allowing child predators to frolic in fields of children, how can we believe bishops (*ahem* Bishop Kevin Vann) when they say that things have changed? There are lots of crappy church jobs with no power and no authority. Urell can do any of them. He can work in prisons; be a janitor at all of the facilities; move to a humble home; be forced to use the bus system. Or he can be sent to a monastery; he can be an orderly at a hospital; he can work in a mission in Mexico. He can be de-frocked. The list goes on and on.
But there is one punishment he will never have, and that is walking in the shoes of the victims of men like Eleutario Ramos, Michael Harris, John Ruhl, John Lenihan, Denis Lyons and a dozen other priests. So no matter his punishment, he’s getting off easy.
Bishop Vann: It’s time to get rid of John Urell. Can you be man enough and bishop enough to do it?