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Orange County

Abuse Protesters Anger Many

A group opposing honors for Msgr. Lawrence J. Baird draws opposition. He is 'one of the good guys,' says a supporter.

October 11, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A Roman Catholic group representing victims molested by priests prompted anger and a counter-protest Friday while picketing a dinner honoring a priest they say is tainted by the church's sex abuse scandal.

Msgr. Lawrence J. Baird, former spokesman for the Diocese of Orange and now its director of development, was honored as a "Defender of the Faith" at the Mission San Juan Capistrano event hosted by St. Michael's Abbey on behalf of its parochial school, St. Michael's Preparatory School.

The eight protesters -- many of whom say they are molestation victims -- believe the honor was misplaced.

"We're worried about protecting kids and helping victims come forward," said protest organizer Mary Grant, southwest regional director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "This event tonight is part of a pattern of holding up priests rather than protecting kids."

Baird, who hasn't been charged with a crime, first angered the group in 1994 by defending a priest known by church officials to be a molestation risk. Baird has said he defended the accused priest before becoming aware of information pointing to his guilt.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 18, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Survivors network -- An Oct. 11 article in the California section of the Orange County edition incorrectly described Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests as a Roman Catholic group. SNAP has no affiliation with the Catholic Church and represents people abused by religious authority figures of all faiths.

More recently, Baird was accused of sexual impropriety by a woman who asked him for counseling. He denied the allegation and responded by unsuccessfully suing her for slander. Answering those angered by his action, he explained last week, "Everyone possesses the right [to sue]."

On Friday, many Catholics attending the dinner in his honor seemed to agree.

"It's really unfortunate, because they're picking on one of the good guys," said Dr. Rudolf Brutoco, a San Juan Capistrano physician who said he brought 14 family members to the dinner in a show of support. "We know [Baird] personally to be a good and righteous man"

Karen Kelley and her 12-year-old daughter, Mary, who wore a Catholic school uniform, picketed the protesters with a sign of their own: "Even Christ was Falsely Accused."

"Msgr. Baird is the most respectful, honorable priest in the diocese," Kelley said. "This protest is a disgrace."

And Father Justin Ramos, a St. Michael's priest and chairman of the event, expressed sympathy for the abuse victims but supported Baird. "It's an unfortunate thing," he said of priestly abuse. "Msgr. Baird has been very supportive of education and ... he's an innocent man."

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