Central Valley

Church pays abusive ex-priest

Oliver O'Grady has been called the Hannibal Lecter of pedophile Catholic priests. He has been gone from the Stockton Diocese for 17 years, but the civil lawsuits keep coming — 22 to date, resulting in $18.7 million paid to victims.

And Saturday, when O'Grady turns 65 in his native Ireland, an annuity purchased by the diocese seven years ago will pay him about $788 a month for 10 years, totaling $94,560. There is nothing the diocese, its parishioners or his outraged victims can do about it.

"He gets rewarded. I get very frustrated," said Nancy Sloan, 45, who was sexually abused by O'Grady when she was 11. "The church has certainly gone back on its word countless times. I don't know why it wouldn't even cross their minds to go back on the annuity — give it back to a victims fund."

O'Grady has admitted abusing many children of various ages, boys and girls, and said he slept with two mothers to get access to their children. He was convicted of child sexual abuse in 1993 and spent seven years in prison.

Some blogs and news reports have called the payments "hush money," part of a deal to keep O'Grady from testifying against former Bishop Roger Mahony and other diocesan officials accused of knowing about his abuse but moving him from parish to parish.

"That's not true at all," said Bishop Stephen Blaire, who said he was the one who arranged the annuity after he took over leadership of the diocese in 1999.

The truth, Blaire said, is that he fervently wanted O'Grady to be stripped of his priesthood. His faculties, or authority to exercise his priesthood, already had been taken away. But defrocking a priest was a

"long and cumbersome process," one with "no guarantees," especially a decade ago, Blaire said.

The only sure way to make that happen was for O'Grady to request a change in status.

"He was going to be paroled in November 2000," Blaire said. "I was determined that he not leave prison as a priest. His lawyer told me O'Grady would consider seeking laicization if a pension annuity would be made available to him.

"I found it distasteful to provide an annuity as part of the arrangement. But I wanted to provide some measure of justice or peace of mind for his victims that he could never again use his priesthood to damage families. I didn't see any other way of guaranteeing that he would be out of the priesthood."

Blaire knows the annuity payments are "going to be perceived badly. But there was a reason."

'Rare, but not unheard of'

The annuity cost the diocese nearly $11,000 annually over a seven-year period and was paid for in 2009. The payments will be made to O'Grady from the insurance company.

Buying an annuity is "rare, but not unheard of," said Mary Jane Doerr, associate director of the office of Child and Youth Protection for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

The more common thing is for a defrocked priest to retain any pension he earned from the diocese, she said. O'Grady doesn't receive a pension.

"Yes, he did a terrible thing," Doerr said, but a bishop has a responsibility to take care of priests in any case — he can't just kick them to the curb.

The lack of safety around O'Grady was highlighted when the ex-priest made international news in April.

He'd been living in the Netherlands for about 18 months and going by the name "Brother Francis," his middle name. He worked as a deacon in a small Rotterdam church, volunteered at a shelter for women and children, and worked at McDonald's as a children's party coordinator.

People there recognized him after a promotional piece for a 2006 documentary about O'Grady, "Deliver Us From Evil," ran on TV. He was questioned by police and fled back to Ireland.

Ireland accusations emerge

O'Grady arrived in the Stockton Diocese at age 25 from his native Ireland in 1971 and was assigned to St. Anne's Parish in Lodi.

He recently has been accused of sexually abusing children in Ireland before he came to this country.

The first recorded abuse complaint to the Stockton Diocese against O'Grady came in 1976, when Sloan told her parents the cleric had sexually abused her at a Catholic summer camp and at the St. Anne's rectory. O'Grady was serving as an assistant priest there.

Although O'Grady, when confronted by St. Anne's pastor, wrote a letter of apology to Sloan and her parents acknowledging the abuse, then-Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle kept him in ministry, moving O'Grady to Sacred Heart Parish in Turlock.

No one knew for more than 20 years that O'Grady also had abused Ann Jyono from the time she was 5 in 1973 until she was in junior high school. Jyono's mom, also a native of Ireland, and her father often invited O'Grady into their Lodi home. They have said they felt blessed by seeing the Irish priest saying his morning prayers, never suspecting he forced sex on their daughter during the night.

In published reports in 2005 and 2006, Jyono said she never told of the abuse because her father often had said he loved her so much and he would kill anyone who hurt her. She asked a childhood friend, "What happens when a man kills someone else?" She was told the man would go to prison forever. So she thought she was protecting her father by keeping quiet.

The truth came out in 1993 after O'Grady called the Jyonos to tell them he had been arrested. Ann Jyono's parents believed in O'Grady's innocence and were going to help raise his bail with a second mortgage and by dipping into their retirement funds. Then the truth came out — their daughter told them their charming Irish priest friend had abused her for years.

Labeled most dangerous

Patrick Wall, an attorney with a Southern California law firm that has filed many of the priest sex abuse lawsuits in the state, said O'Grady "is the Hannibal Lecter of the clerical world ... one of the top three most dangerous pedophile priests in the world."

But the knowledge of his abuse evolved slowly.

A criminal investigation was begun against O'Grady by Stockton police in 1984 after he told his therapist he had fondled a boy. He served at the city's Church of the Presentation at the time. The police closed the case for lack of evidence, and Mahony moved the priest that same year to a parish in San Andreas. Although there was no school attached to the parish, O'Grady later said he continued to have plenty of interaction with children.

Mahony promoted O'Grady to pastor the next year — a couple of months before Mahony became archbishop of the Los Angeles Diocese. Bishop Donald Montrose followed Mahony in Stockton in 1986. Six years later, he sent O'Grady to St. Anthony's Parish in Hughson. One year later, in the summer of 1993, O'Grady was arrested.

Criminal case from brothers

That criminal case arose out of O'Grady's longtime sexual abuse of James and Joh (pronounced Joe) Howard. Although they, like Sloan, lived outside the diocese — the Howards grew up in Merced — O'Grady visited them often.

James Howard, in a 1998 San Francisco Chronicle story, called O'Grady "the family priest" who also molested four of his seven brothers and sisters. But because of the statute of limitations, legal action could be taken only for the sexual abuse against James and his younger brother, Joh.

O'Grady was convicted in the criminal case. He was sentenced to prison for 14 years, but — in accordance with common practice at that time — was released in seven. He was still in prison in 1998 when civil lawsuits filed on behalf of the brothers reached the trial stage.

Jeff Anderson, an attorney from St. Paul, Minn., represented the Howard brothers, along with Larry Drivon of Stockton. Those lawsuits ended with the jury awarding the brothers $6 million in compensatory damages and $24 million in punitive damages. That $30 million was reduced during the appeal process to $7.6 million, plus a "second phase" that brought in about $4 million more from the diocese's insurance company last year, Anderson said.

Anderson, reached by phone in Los Angeles on Wednesday, called O'Grady's pending annuity payments "outrageous."

"Why would they pay him after he's been deported, after he's been convicted?" Anderson asked. "He's deserving of no money, certainly from them."

Ire aimed at Mahony

Mahony, in particular, remains a target of victims and their attorneys, possibly because the other two bishops in office when O'Grady served in the diocese have died.

"I was almost as upset by Guilfoyle as I am with Mahony, but (Mahony) had several occasions to remove (O'Grady) and didn't," Johnson said. "He holds a very high office and to this day has the same deceitful attitude ... by his failure to acknowledge his omissions and admit the crimes of O'Grady in the 1980s. He is a fugitive from the truth, either because he cannot see or he will not see."

"That's not right. It's not supported by facts," said Mahony's spokesman, Tod Tamberg.

Mahony, now a cardinal, has testified in depositions that he didn't know about O'Grady's sexual abuse.

"He was unaware of a secret file from the tenure of the previous bishop dealing with a complaint about O'Grady," Tamberg said. "After a diocesan investigation turned up no confirmation of misconduct, O'Grady was moved to a new parish (in San Andreas) because two retired priests who could help with his maturation lived there. Only after Bishop Mahony had left for Los Angeles did O'Grady's horrible actions and lies begin to see the light of day."

And the lawsuits continue

Anthony DeMarco is a Beverly Hills attorney who represents a "John Doe" client. The man, now 31, claims he was 6 when he was molested by O'Grady in the Stockton parish. That lawsuit will go to trial in November.

DeMarco also represents the man's older sister in another lawsuit. That one is on appeal to the state Supreme Court over a statute of limitations issue.

"They're struggling to get by," he said of his clients. "They have massive emotional problems that require medication and therapy. It's like putting a bomb in their lives. It has dramatically affected every relationship they've ever had."

The statute of limitations says claimants must be younger than 26 in child abuse cases, but there are exceptions because of a state law passed in 2002.

That means more O'Grady lawsuits could be filed for several years, further upsetting area Catholics who are tired of hearing his name. The most recent lawsuit was filed just last year, said Paul Balastracci, the longtime diocesan attorney.

The ultimate healing of victims — not lawsuits or annuity payments — is the most important thing, he said.

"None of it changes the fact that (O'Grady) did what he did," said Balastracci. "The diocese is doing the best they can to help the survivors of this."

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at snowicki@modbee.com or 578-2012.

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