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The Region

O.C. Priest Accused of Molestation

Msgr. Daniel Murray of Newport Beach is accused of abusing a boy in the 1970s. Murray, suspended with pay, denies the allegations.

September 07, 2003|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

A Roman Catholic priest in Newport Beach has been placed on administrative leave after he and the Diocese of Orange were sued by a Riverside County man who alleges he was molested by the priest over a six-year period during the 1970s.

Msgr. Daniel Murray, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, is alleged to have met the then-8-year-old boy in Garden Grove at a time when the boy's parents were divorcing.

The suit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, alleges Murray touched, fondled and kissed the boy when he sought support during his parents' breakup. Murray kept in touch with the boy's family until the boy was 14, frequently visiting his home and asking him to walk out to his car afterward.

Murray "would then have plaintiff enter defendant's car and in the darkness ... would kiss, fondle, caress, hold and touch plaintiff in a sexual manner," although the boy resisted, the suit alleges.

The suit also says Murray took the boy at least twice on overnight trips, during which he molested him. At 14, the boy ran away from home to live with his father in part, the suit contends, to get away from Murray.

The Times does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse without their consent.

Murray, 55, couldn't be reached for comment. Orange Diocese Bishop Tod D. Brown said Friday that Murray denies the charges.

Brown placed Murray on paid leave Tuesday, five days after the diocese was notified of the suit. He said the charges will be investigated by the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board, instituted because of the Roman Catholic Church's sex scandal.

"He is very highly regarded," Brown said of Murray. "Very competent. A very good pastor ... he categorically denies these charges and is very sensitive as to how this will affect his reputation. We're all concerned. This is very difficult to deal with."

At the end of Mass on Saturday evening, diocese chancellor Shirl Giacomi read a letter from Brown telling parishioners of the accusation against Murray -- a letter that also will be read at services today.

"This is a very sad time," Giacomi added. "It has been a horrible, horrible year for us as Catholics ... our hearts have been broken. Maybe by praying ... we can figure out what we are supposed to learn about this."

Later outside, church members expressed bewilderment.

"I felt like somebody stabbed me. I'm just sick," said Maria Mead, 60, who has been coming to Mount Carmel for 27 years. "I can't believe it -- and I don't. We all love him."

Added Sharon Fairborn, whose first child was baptized at Mount Carmel 34 years ago: "I'm very surprised. The monsignor is a trustworthy individual. I've seen priests come and go. He's been a rock here, and has made a big difference."

Murray came to the parish on the Balboa peninsula in 1999, after serving at churches in Anaheim, Seal Beach, Orange, Placentia, Garden Grove and Yorba Linda.

This is not the first time Murray has been accused of sexual misconduct. An allegation brought to the diocese in 1991 was investigated by the church and found to be of "no substance; it couldn't be corroborated in any way," Brown said.

The lawsuit seeks damages related to depression, insomnia and "sexual identity questions" that the plaintiff says he continues to struggle with.

The Diocese of Orange, he alleges, was negligent in allowing Murray to be a priest and "knew of, or reasonably should have known" of Murray's "propensity to sexually abuse individuals."

Corona Atty. Roland Bainer said the man first came to him a couple of years ago with his molestation allegations. Bainer advised him that the statute of limitations for a lawsuit had expired.

However, a California law that went into effect Jan. 1 allows for a one-year grace period for such old claims to be filed.

A recent Supreme Court decision invalidated a law allowing criminal prosecution after the statute of limitations had expired.

Bainer declined to provide any details about his client.

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