During the 2002 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas — at the height of public outrage over the clergy sex-abuse scandal — San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada projected himself as a reformer on the abuse issue, chastising some fellow bishops for not doing enough to remove miscreant priests from their domains.
In the end, the conference voted to remove from ministry any priest who had sexually abused a minor, even if the abuse occurred far in the past. Afterward, however, the late Pope John Paul II felt the bishops' reforms were too severe and appointed Levada to help reconcile them with Vatican policy. The archbishop, in turn, asked Father Gregory Ingels, a prominent canon lawyer and a longtime Levada favorite, to help write the guidelines for a “zero tolerance” sex-abuse policy that the pope could later sign off on.
In this ironic way, American bishops now follow a program for dealing with sex-abuse complaints that was significantly influenced by two men:
A Catholic priest and lawyer who has had two serious sexual-abuse cases filed against him — one of which the church recently agreed to settle by paying an alleged victim $2.7 million.
And an archbishop who has helped shield the lawyer/priest for nine years — and who has now been appointed to what many consider to be the Roman Catholic Church's second most powerful position.
From the day Pope Benedict XVI named him as the new head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Levada, now San Francisco's archbishop emeritus, has garnered the kind of wide attention one would expect of someone about to assume an office of global influence. His new post, which he will officially take in August, makes him the church's chief doctrinal watchdog. As such, he replaces the man who ascended to the papacy — his longtime friend, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — as the pre-eminent protector of Catholic teaching, entrusted with issuing guidelines and commentaries on the most sensitive aspects of church life. With the new job comes the power to define the boundaries of religious dialogue as well as set the limits of dissent on a host of hot-button moral and social issues. Not least of all, it puts Levada at the helm of overseeing the church's handling of clergy sex-abuse cases worldwide.
The pope's choice of Levada for this role seems highly unusual and, in light of months of investigation by SF Weekly, perhaps inappropriate.
The investigation shows that during more than nine years in San Francisco, Levada and his top aides have worked to keep complaints about priestly sex abusers shrouded in secrecy, particularly two complaints against Father Gregory Ingels, a widely known church legal scholar. After learning in 1996 that Ingels had been accused of sodomizing a 15-year-old boy, Levada allowed Ingels not just to remain in public ministry, but to flourish for years as a force in church legal matters. And Levada continued to support Ingels as a church official — even after learning of a second serious allegation of sexual abuse by the priest.
With Levada's blessing, Ingels served as an adjunct professor at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park and performed parish duties at St. Bartholomew Church in San Mateo without parishioners ever being told that their priest was an accused molester.
Levada appointed Ingels chancellor of the San Francisco Archdiocese, a position reserved for a trusted lieutenant, whose duties typically include overseeing archival records and helping instruct other priests on liturgical matters.
Levada put Ingels in charge of the Permanent Diaconate, entrusting him with the job of supervising church deacons.
After prosecutors learned of sex complaints against Ingels, Levada finally removed him from public ministry — but allowed the canon lawyer to keep his place on a tribunal that decides the outcome of marital annulment cases.
Indeed, during the years after Levada learned of Ingels' alleged misconduct, Ingels solidified a reputation as being among the U.S. church's leading experts on priestly sex abuse. As church documents and newly available court materials reveal, Ingels was used — with Levada's approval — to advise U.S. bishops and their aides on the handling of cases of clergy sex abuse in their dioceses. Ingels served as an expert witness on behalf of the church in cases all over the country, helping defend against legal claims by alleged clergy abuse victims. In addition, court records show, Ingels provided legal advice and spiritual counsel to priests accused of molesting children; published scholarly articles on the abuse issue under the imprimatur of the Canon Law Society of America, a group devoted to the study of church law; and lectured on the topic at clerical gatherings in the United States and abroad.
Incredibly, considering his background as an accused molester, Ingels also served — again with Levada's blessing — as the canonical prosecutor of notorious former Stockton priest and convicted child molester Oliver O'Grady, who is alleged to have engaged in sex with at least 25 children while a cleric. As the so-called “promoter of justice” in the case, Ingels played a key role in the church's frantic efforts to defrock O'Grady and thus avoid unwelcome publicity upon the Stockton priest's release from prison in the year 2000.
“As an emblem of the gross hypocrisy that exists in the Catholic hierarchy, that may have taken the cake,” says John C. Manly, an attorney who has represented numerous alleged victims of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clerics. “Allowing one accused child molester to prosecute another is like putting [former drug lord] Pablo Escobar in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration.”
A fourth-generation Californian, William Joseph Levada was born in Long Beach in 1936 and grew up, along with his sister and only sibling, in suburban Los Angeles (minus a brief stint in Texas when his father took a job at a chemical plant while Levada was in elementary school). Levada attended a “junior seminary” for high school boys in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley and went on to obtain a bachelor of arts degree at St. John's Seminary and College in Camarillo. There, his classmates included the future archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger M. Mahony, and G. Patrick Ziemann, who would later become bishop of Santa Rosa before resigning in disgrace after being accused of extorting a subordinate priest for sex. [page]
Much of Levada's early clerical career was spent hurtling between Los Angeles and Rome.
After going to Rome to complete his seminary training, Levada was ordained as a priest in St. Peter's Basilica in 1961. Afterward, he spent five years in parish work in L.A., including a part-time teaching post at a Catholic high school. He returned to Rome in 1967 to pursue graduate studies, earning a doctorate in theology in 1971 from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He then came back to St. John's to teach theology while serving as the first director of continuing education for clergy in the sprawling L.A. Archdiocese.
But it was Levada's assignment to the Vatican in 1976, where he ultimately worked for and became friends with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now the new pope, that undoubtedly laid the groundwork for being tapped as the church's new chief doctrinal prefect. By the time Levada once again returned to Los Angeles in 1982 he was clearly on the fast track for greater church responsibility. Upon his return, he was named an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and appointed executive director of the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops' Sacramento-based political arm.
After his friend Mahony became L.A.'s archbishop in 1985, Levada was given new duties, including that of chancellor of the archdiocese. The following July, Pope John Paul II appointed Levada Portland's archbishop, a post he held for nine years before coming to San Francisco in 1995.
As someone known for conservative to moderate theological leanings, Levada was considered a surprise choice for the San Francisco post, where former Archbishop John R. Quinn had for 18 years burnished a reputation as a liberal theologian. Levada inherited an archdiocese riven by Quinn's unpopular decision to close several historic parish churches and his failure to deal forcefully with the priestly subjects of sex-abuse allegations that had crept into the press.
Ingels, however, was not among those subjects; his alleged misdeeds were buried in the church's secret files.
Ingels, too, was Los Angeles born and bred, and he, too, had shuttled between California and Rome. Records show that Ingels finished his theological training at St. John's Seminary in 1970, barely a year before Levada returned there to teach. Ingels was in Rome studying canon law at least part of the time when Levada was at the Vatican. Whether they knew each other before Levada's arrival in San Francisco, however, isn't clear.
In the spring of 2002, then-District Attorney Terence Hallinan dropped a bombshell, demanding that the San Francisco Archdiocese turn over records related to possible sex abuse by its priests going back 75 years. Prosecutors in the other counties served by the San Francisco Archdiocese — San Mateo and Marin — soon joined in the demand.
Among the church documents that came into the hands of the Marin County DA were materials about Gregory Ingels and a 1972 incident allegedly involving a 15-year-old male and an outing at Muir Beach. At the time of the reported incident, Ingels, though not yet ordained as a priest, was a young deacon on the faculty at a high school in suburban Kentfield, where he was chairman of the theology department. The boy was one of his students.
Subsequently, police obtained the cooperation of the alleged victim, by then in his early 40s, who helped in the tape-recording of phone conversations, during which Ingels appeared to incriminate himself. In May 2003, Ingels was charged with engaging in “substantial sexual conduct” with a minor. According to the criminal complaint against him, Ingels acknowledged having had sex with the boy and could be heard, on tape, saying, “What I did to you was terrible.”
The alleged victim has never presented himself publicly in connection with the matter. Several plaintiff's attorneys whose clients are among the 50 or more alleged abuse victims who've sued the archdiocese (to date, the archdiocese has spent $21 million to settle 15 of the cases) say he is not among them. Neither the alleged victim — now married and living in Sonoma County — nor the archdiocese has ever revealed whether Ingels' former student sued the church, or, if he did, how the case may have been settled.
In a court deposition in February, Levada said he learned of the incident in 1996, shortly after becoming archbishop, upon reviewing Ingels' personnel file and interviewing him about it.
During that deposition, conducted in a downtown law office, Levada was pressed for information about more than a dozen accused clerics whom plaintiff's lawyers and attorneys for the church had agreed to discuss. Ingels' name apparently wasn't on the list, and when plaintiff's attorney Jeff Anderson of Minnesota asked about him, a lawyer for the archdiocese, John Christian, tried to head him off. “I'm going to allow him [Levada] to answer that question, but we're not going into Father Ingels,” Christian said.
But Levada did offer some information after Anderson asked him when he had first restricted Ingels' clerical privileges.
“Well, Father Ingels was serving at that time, after the time I interviewed him and reviewed his file, which had been dealt with by Archbishop [Joseph] McGucken. [McGucken retired in 1977.] And he was serving in a capacity which assignment did not involve contact with or supervision of minors,” Levada said. “And I determined that, given the long history without any incident, his own assurance to me and the therapy that he had done, that the assignment he was in was — was sufficiently restricted from contact with young people that it would be prudent for him to remain in it.” [page]
The archbishop's assertion that Ingels' contact with young people was “sufficiently restricted” appears open to interpretation. Ingels' curriculum vitae, produced at the request of plaintiff's lawyers in a 1998 civil case, shows that he was associate pastor at St. Charles Church in San Carlos from 1982 to 1984. He was assigned to St. Bartholomew Church during Levada's watch, taking over pastoral duties whenever the regular priest was absent. Each parish has a school serving students from kindergarten to the eighth grade.
Levada did not respond to interview requests for this article. (Similarly, a Vatican press office spokeswoman declined to comment regarding Levada.) Asked why the archbishop had left Ingels in public ministry and appointed him to prominent posts long after knowing about his alleged sex abuse, Levada's spokesman, Maurice Healy, issued a brief statement saying that, before the conference of bishops adopted its 2002 policy on sex abuse, “there was no requirement for bishops to remove clergy who had been cleared by therapists for ministry.”
In the spring of 2003 a former police officer and bit TV and movie actress named Jane Parkhurst decided to reveal a painful secret. She told authorities that Gregory Ingels had sexually abused her for four years starting in 1973, when she was a freshman at Marin Catholic High School. Parkhurst describes herself as a mixed-up teenager whose biological parents had died in a car wreck; she says Ingels began to “cultivate” her at age 15. On numerous occasions — at the school, in a church rectory, and once while taking her for a ride in his Mustang convertible — he insisted that she masturbate him and fellate him, Parkhurst says. As SF Weekly disclosed earlier this year (“Fast Times at Marin Catholic High,” Jan. 19), Parkhurst kept nearly three dozen love letters Ingels had written to her starting in 1974, letters he continued to write even after he went to Rome in 1977 to study canon law.
In June 2003, then-Marin County DA Paula Kamena was preparing a second criminal case against Ingels, this one based on Parkhurst's allegations, when those plans were abruptly halted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Stogner v. California overturned the 1994 California law that had extended the statute of limitation for sex crimes and made it possible for accused offenders — many of them Catholic clerics — to be charged long after the alleged crimes had occurred. The charge already filed against Ingels was dropped and the Parkhurst criminal case abandoned.
Like scores of other California priests caught up in the clergy abuse scandal, Ingels escaped the criminal process. And in an indirect way, so did Levada. Aside from the unsavory headlines it would have generated, a criminal trial of Ingels could have shed light on what Levada knew and when he knew it with respect to the priest whose career he had helped flourish.
In the two years since the Stogner decision, Levada has sought to keep from the public eye information about Ingels' alleged misdeeds and the archbishop's efforts to harbor him. Last year, SF Weekly sought documents related specifically to Ingels and other accused priestly abusers, and then-Marin County DA Kamena agreed in writing to provide some of them. Lawyers for the San Francisco Archdiocese took the extraordinary step of going to court to prevent the Marin County DA's Office from fulfilling a public records request.
Kamena abruptly retired in January, citing health and family reasons. Her appointed successor, Ed Berberian, reversed her decision to provide the documents — part of the trove the church was forced to turn over after the Hallinan edict — shortly before a judge was to rule on whether they should be made public. In fact, in a February agreement with the archdiocese, Berberian agreed to notify the archdiocese in writing whenever his office so much as receives an inquiry about the Ingels records. Berberian has repeatedly declined requests by the Weekly to explain his actions.
To help keep the Marin documents under wraps, Levada used a legal team headed by Joseph Russoniello, a former U.S. attorney who — to the chagrin of victims' rights advocates — sits on a 13-member national review panel appointed by Levada and other U.S. bishops, ostensibly to oversee the church's handling of the abuse scandal. “The archbishop makes a mockery of the idea that he favors openness,” says David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “It's outrageous that someone [Russoniello] who occupies such a position should be doing Levada's bidding to keep information about clergy sex abuse secret.”
Levada has also acted to forestall possibly unpleasant revelations about Ingels — and therefore himself — as the result of a civil lawsuit filed by Parkhurst. A lawyer for Ingels in January told the Weekly that his client denied ever abusing Parkhurst, but it seems unlikely that the matter will be explored in a public forum. In June, the archdiocese laid the Parkhurst case — along with any unflattering material that a trial might have dredged up — to rest.
With Levada's blessing, the church paid Parkhurst nearly $2.7 million.
By his own admission, former priest Oliver O'Grady abused up to 25 children in the Stockton Diocese between 1971, when he arrived from his native Ireland, until his arrest and incarceration in 1993. (His youngest alleged victim was 9 months old.)
The sordid details of O'Grady's misdeeds were a publicity nightmare for the Catholic Church. It didn't help that two former Stockton bishops failed to take action when they learned of O'Grady's predatory behavior. As became abundantly clear during civil proceedings, after O'Grady in 1976 admitted to molesting a young girl, Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle, who is now deceased, did nothing about it.
In 1984, after O'Grady admitted molesting a young boy, underlings of then-Bishop Roger M. Mahony helped squelch a police investigation, and Mahony — now a cardinal and the archbishop of Los Angeles — shuffled O'Grady from parish to parish, even promoting him to pastor. O'Grady went on to molest 20 more children. A civil jury in 1998 awarded $30 million to two of his victims, brothers Jon and Joh Howard. Although a judge later reduced the amount to less than $7 million, the judgment stands as the largest ever rendered in a case involving individual abuse victims. [page]
In 1993, O'Grady pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with the Howard boys and was ordered to serve a 14-year prison sentence. He was paroled from prison in 2000 after serving seven years.
The church clearly wanted to defrock the abusive priest before he was released — and chose Ingels, another abuser, to lead the effort to laicize O'Grady. Documents obtained by SF Weekly, including some made public in connection with a lawsuit that involved O'Grady and was only recently settled, show that Ingels was first loaned out to become the so-called “promoter of justice” in the case in 1994, while John R. Quinn was still San Francisco's archbishop.
Under church law, it is exceedingly difficult, not to mention rare, to remove a priest from service involuntarily. Experts say that if a priest is intent, as O'Grady was, on resisting defrocking, such cases may drag on for 10 or 15 years before reaching the pope, who is the final arbiter. Considering O'Grady's notoriety, church officials weren't interested in waiting that long.
In March 1995, Ingels suggested to a canon law judge a finding of “psychic infirmity.” In canon law parlance, such a determination — seldom reached — implies a psychological condition that might have rightfully precluded a priest from having been ordained in the first place.
Shortly after Ingels suggested it, however, church officials halted efforts to defrock O'Grady. Recently disclosed church documents suggest the officials were concerned that information Ingels was developing as part of the canon law case might, if discovered, be used by the Howards in their civil suit against the church. Such a finding would have been explosive, plaintiff's lawyers say, because it would have given victims ammunition to argue that the church was derelict for having ordained O'Grady.
In 1998, after the Howard verdict was returned in civil court, Ingels was once again pressed into service to help remove O'Grady. This time it was with the permission of Levada, even though the archbishop had known for two years that the cleric he was allowing to serve as the chief accuser of one of California's most infamous priestly predators was himself an accused child molester.
In the end, the Stockton Diocese cut a deal to get O'Grady out of the priesthood shortly before he was released from Mule Creek State Prison in 2000. In return for O'Grady “voluntarily” asking to be removed — making it possible under canon law to expedite his being stripped of clerical rank — the diocese promised to provide him with an annuity worth nearly $100,000 once he turns 65. His defrocking became official a few days before his release. O'Grady walked from prison into the waiting arms of U.S. immigration agents who drove him to San Francisco and put him on a plane to be deported to Ireland.
Just how it came about that an accused priestly child molester became the prosecutor of a fellow molester in such a sensitive case — despite then-Archbishop Levada's knowledge of Ingels' past — is a subject about which neither Levada nor Ingels has apparently spoken in public.
But O'Grady, at least, appears to have found humor in it. Asked during a videotaped deposition in March conducted in Ireland by a lawyer for one of his alleged victims if he was aware that his former canonical prosecutor was also accused of molesting children, O'Grady grinned and said, “I had heard that, yes.”
Ingels did give an assessment of O'Grady's misconduct and how it was handled by his superiors in a 1998 court deposition. In retrospect, it seems to reflect, at least indirectly, on Ingels' own circumstances. “I still cannot separate myself from the fact that in 1976 the church did not, and really none of us understood this type of pedophilia as a pathological situation, that this man [O'Grady] was sick,” Ingels testified. “As a priest who's heard confessions, I know some of the horrible things people can do, and they seek forgiveness for it.”
It is a triumphant time for Levada, 69, as he prepares to assume the highest-ranking church role ever entrusted to an American. Plans are well along for a farewell liturgy on Aug. 7 at a cathedral Mass to be celebrated by the archbishop. A $150-a-plate farewell dinner send-off is in the works for Aug. 13 at the Marriott Hotel downtown. According to Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocese's official newspaper, political power broker Clint Reilly, the dinner chairman, sees Levada's Vatican appointment as bringing “great honor [to] San Francisco, the Bay Area, California, and the United States.”
With its mostly local-boy-makes-good take on the archbishop's advancement, the secular press has been only slightly less effusive. “Levada goes to Rome with a keen understanding of Vatican politics, but also with decades of experience dealing with such explosive American issues as gay rights, the role of women in the church, and the ongoing fallout from the sexual abuse crisis in the church,” the San Francisco Chronicle observed.
Others are less sanguine.
“His experience is in denial, cover-up, and secrecy,” says Terrie Light, Northern California regional director of SNAP, the sex-abuse victims' advocate group. She and others fault Levada for dragging his feet in response to pleas for help and working to keep complaints about priestly sex abuse secret, even while preaching openness on the issue.
James Jenkins tells SF Weekly he began to lose confidence in Levada in the summer of 2003 — and the reason involved Ingels. As chairman of the so-called Independent Review Board that Levada appointed in late 2001, ostensibly to investigate claims of priestly sex abuse in the San Francisco Archdiocese, Jenkins learned that Ingels was among at least nine priests whose clerical privileges had been restricted in keeping with the new sex-abuse policy adopted by American bishops. [page]
The review board's mandate was to investigate any and all priests accused of child sex abuse — some 40 names had wound up on its agenda — and Jenkins saw Ingels as no exception. But the board didn't get far with Ingels. Jenkins recalls Ingels as being “derisive, condescending, and uncooperative” after being invited to appear before the panel to explain his version of events, something Jenkins says the priest/ lawyer never did.
At about the time Ingels was arraigned on criminal charges, Jenkins and other members of the review panel learned that he was living with former San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn at Quinn's residence on the campus of St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park. Quinn moved to the century-old mansion on the seminary grounds after his unexpected retirement as archbishop in 1995. Ingels has been living with him in the elegant mission-style home, built as a summer residence for the late Archbishop Patrick William Riordan, since then, say persons who know the men. Neither Ingels nor Quinn responded to requests for comment for this article.
Jenkins says that he and others of the six-member panel were especially disturbed by reports that a “support group” for priests accused of sex abuse had held meetings at the residence. (The founder of one such group, Detroit-based Opus Bono Sacerdotii, confirmed recently that Ingels is an “adviser” to it. “Father Ingels may be the best canon lawyer in the United States, and we're grateful to have him,” said Joe Maher. “He's an excellent priest, a very holy man, and he's a great help to us.”)
Jenkins says he and other panel members “didn't believe that a former archbishop had any business keeping house with someone who had acknowledged on a wiretap that he had sodomized a 15-year-old boy,” and he and his colleagues saw the living arrangement as a source of scandal should it become publicly known. He says panel members conveyed those sentiments to Levada face to face, recommending that the archbishop order Ingels be moved elsewhere. “We looked at the archbishop and told him in no uncertain terms that there needed to be daylight between Ingels and Quinn,” Jenkins says.
Levada responded that he would consult with Quinn, Jenkins says. A week or so later, Jenkins says, Levada reported back that he had spoken with Quinn, and the former archbishop “had seen no reason” for Ingels to move out.
Jenkins says his experience left him with “the clear impression that, for whatever reason, Ingels was being protected.” Frustrated that Levada had blocked the public release of the review panel's findings on sex-abuse allegations involving dozens of priests, including Ingels, Jenkins resigned last October, faulting Levada for “deception, manipulation, and control” of the panel. He says he made one last effort to broach the subject of Ingels with Levada during a phone conversation last fall in which, Jenkins says, he sought to explain why he'd decided to announce his resignation.
But, Jenkins says, Levada did not respond. “There was dead silence on the phone, and I remember asking if he was still there,” Jenkins recalls. “He just said, 'Yes, I'm taking notes.'”