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Accuser of O.C. bishop speaks out

September 15, 2007|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

The man who accused Bishop of Orange Tod Brown of sexually abusing him in the 1960s spoke publicly for the first time about his allegations Friday, saying he was molested three times when he was a boy living in Bakersfield.

Scott Hicks, 54, said he decided to go public with his identity to lend credibility to his allegations.

Brown has adamantly denied the accusation, and church leaders dismissed Hicks' allegations as baseless.

"I have never abused any person sexually or any other way," Brown said in a recently released court deposition stemming from an unrelated molestation case in Orange County. Brown added that he was "shocked by the accusation" when church officials first brought it to his attention in July 1997.

Kern County Dist. Atty. Edward R. Jagels said Thursday that he vaguely remembered his office reviewing the case and determining that it amounted to a "completely uncorroborated allegation."

Hicks said he had no desire to take legal action against Brown or the church but believed the public should be aware of his story.

"I just want to cause him some trouble. Maybe they'll take him out and send him away," Hicks said during a phone interview.

"It would be nice if [this helps] someone else who was affected to be brave enough to come forward."

Brown could not be reached for comment.

Ryan Lilyengren, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, said the allegations had been thoroughly investigated and were found not credible by church officials and law enforcement, and that Brown had been thoroughly questioned about the allegation under oath.

According to a statement released by the diocese Friday, "Bishop Brown was cross-examined extensively regarding this issue by an adversarial lawyer in the presence of a judge with a certified court reporter and fully answered all appropriate questions. The transcript has been made available to the public."

The development is the latest fallout from an ongoing civil lawsuit filed against the diocese by a woman who alleges that she was molested by an assistant basketball coach while she was a student at Mater Dei High School.

Also Friday, an attorney representing a monsignor ordered to testify in the lawsuit said the client was unable to complete his deposition because he suffered from "acute anxiety disorder" caused by "the strain of his prior responsibility" of investigating allegations of child molestation against the diocese.

Msgr. John Urell, pastor at St. Norbert's Catholic Church in Orange, first sat for the deposition in July but left after breaking down in tears. Last week he was admitted to Southdown Institute in Canada, a facility that treats and provides spiritual guidance for Catholic priests.

John Manly, the lead attorney in the Mater Dei case, said he would fly to Canada to question Urell, allowing a therapist to be present.

Manly's law firm arranged a phone interview with Hicks and provided copies of correspondence between Hicks and church officials during the period 10 years ago when he first lodged his allegation. The letters were attached as exhibits to Brown's deposition and are part of the court file.

Hicks now lives in Fresno, where he works as an agricultural scientist researching pesticides. He is married to a lawyer, and they have two grown daughters.

He said he was 12 or 13 when he was allegedly molested by Brown, who at the time was a priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Church Health in Bakersfield.

Hicks alleged that Brown molested him twice on church grounds, and that on one occasion he was taken to a separate location where other children and priests were present and photographs were taken.

During his recent deposition, Brown was not questioned about the specific details of Hicks' allegations.

Brown said he had never been questioned by criminal investigators or church officials about the accusations.

Hicks said he began discussing the episodes with a therapist about 1990 and decided eight years later to notify the Diocese of Fresno because he was angry and wanted someone to know about it. Before he started his correspondence with Bishop John T. Steinbock, he said, he shared his allegations with his family.

"Maybe I was naive," he said.

Hicks said the diocese sent him to its psychologist. He said he was also interviewed by the director of human resources, who according to Hicks "asked me specifically not to pursue what I was doing because there was a shortage of priests."

"I had no intention of suing. . . . I just wanted to stop him. There was a point when the HR director asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted him out, and not to be around kids," Hicks said.

Steinbock could not be reached Friday for comment, and a woman who answered the phone at the diocese said he was not in.

The Diocese of Fresno previously released a written statement saying the allegations had been fully investigated and found to be unsupported. The diocese also noted that the case file was turned over to the Kern County district attorney's office.

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