March 21, 2002
'80s claims against S.D. bishop resurface
Sexual misconduct allegations cited in unrelated legal dispute
By Joe Cantlupe
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
and David Hasemyer
A legal dispute between the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and a photographer for a newspaper on Catholic issues has raised sexual misconduct allegations first made more than a decade ago against San Diego's Catholic bishop.
The allegations accused Bishop Robert H. Brom of making sexual
advances toward seminary students when he oversaw the
archdiocese in Duluth, Minn.
In a statement released yesterday, Brom acknowledged he was
accused of sexual misconduct by a former seminarian in the mid-to late 1980s, but Brom labeled the claims false and denied he paid money to settle them.
The allegations come as the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is reeling from accusations its leaders have long covered up claims of sexual misconduct against its clergy.
The statements about Brom surfaced in documents filed in San Diego Superior Court as part of a request by the diocese to keep a San Diego News Notes photographer away from a church worker. The diocese accused Robert W. Kumpel of harassing the worker while Kumpel worked on an unrelated story.
Kumpel's response to the diocese's request included a sworn
statement by a former San Diego seminarian who said he was aware of sexual misconduct allegations and of settlement payments made by Brom in Duluth. It also included a letter from a defrocked priest that accused Brom of sexual misconduct.
Both the seminarian and the priest are longtime critics of the church and of Brom. San Diego News Notes is an independent Catholic newspaper that is often at odds with the local diocese. It is edited by Jim Holman, who also publishes and edits the San Diego Weekly Reader.
The affidavit from former San Diego seminary student Mark Brooks said that a Minnesota seminarian "confirmed that Bishop Brom, while the Bishop of Duluth, Minnesota, had sexually abused young seminarians." (A seminarian is a student who prepares for the priesthood.)
Brooks said the Minnesota seminarian reached a confidential
financial settlement with Brom. As part of the agreement, Brom
demanded a "retraction letter," Brooks said. Brooks said the
seminarian told him the retraction was false but he agreed to it
because he needed the money.
Brooks, in his mid-40s, was expelled from the San Diego diocesan seminary for undisclosed reasons in 1984. A year later, he filed a lawsuit claiming he was sexually assaulted and harassed while at the seminary. The church settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
A letter written by former priest Michael Higgins to the pope was
also filed with Kumpel's response. Higgins wrote to Pope John Paul II in 1999 to appeal his dismissal from the San Diego Diocese over what he says were unfounded accusations of sexual misconduct levied against him by the diocese.
In that letter, Higgins talked about claims against Brom in Duluth. He wrote, "One seminarian told me how Bishop Brom would seek him out . . . and make sexual advances."
That seminarian, not the same one cited by Brooks, said in an
interview yesterday Brom did not inappropriately approach him,
but he said other seminarians may have made such allegations.
After leaving Duluth, Brom spent a year working with San Diego
Bishop Leo T. Maher before becoming spiritual leader of the Catholic Church in San Diego and Imperial counties in 1990.
In his written statement, Brom, 62, said: "Facts revealed through a thorough investigation proved all allegations made by the former seminarian to be false. Consequently, the former seminarian himself retracted his allegations. . .
"None of the falsely accused clergy were willing to pay money for a settlement that would be misinterpreted as a payoff.
"To the best of our knowledge, efforts were made – out of compassion for the former seminarian – to secure some minimal insurance to be administered by his attorney to help him in getting on with his life."
The statement concluded: "Unfortunately, there are those who
continue the false allegations as if they had merit, sometimes even with the knowledge that they were factually disproved and have been retracted."
In the request for the restraining order against the News Notes
photographer, the church worker claimed Kumpel would not let her pass as he took her picture, and that he stepped on her ankle. Kumpel denied her claims, and a judge refused last week to issue the order.