The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and the Los Angeles Archdiocese said Tuesday they will pay a woman who alleges that she was impregnated by a Catholic priest when she was 16 a $1.2 million settlement.
Lori Haigh, a 37-year-old mother of two living in northern California, told reporters Monday she was sexually abused by Father John Lenihan for more than three years, beginning when she was 14.
Orange Diocese officials said Lenihan has agreed to leave the priesthood and steps are being taken to institute stronger policies and reporting mechanisms for handling future allegations of sexual misconduct by the clergy.
Haigh said that, after she became pregnant, Lenihan told her to have an abortion, which she did. “I have never been able to reconcile the fact that the priest who preached on subjects like ‘abortion is a mortal sin’ was the one who told me to have an abortion,” she said Monday.
Haigh also leveled allegations against a priest who she said ignored her attempts as a teen-ager to report the alleged abuse. Monsignor Lawrence Baird who was then Father Baird inappropriately touched and kissed her when she went to him seeking guidance, she said.
Baird denied the allegation to reporters, saying he had never met Haigh. He added that if the charge is not retracted quickly, he will sue for defamation of character. “I have 100 percent memory that I have never made any inappropriate contact with any person during my 33 years as a priest,” he said.
Haigh, who was present when Baird spoke to reporters at a news conference, said afterward, “I can’t believe it. This whole time, I was really expecting an apology. Up to this moment, I was expecting an apology.”
The diocese said it found no evidence to substantiate the allegation against Baird.
Meanwhile, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy took an official report on the allegations against Lenihan and Baird, giving prosecutors up to a year to file criminal charges.
Calls to Lenihan’s attorney were not returned Monday.