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L.A. Church Sex Abuse Cover-Up

mahony-scandalThe Los Angeles County district attorney’s office plans to review newly released records from the late 1980s that show then-Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top aide worked to conceal pedophile priests from law enforcement.

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LOS ANGELES — In a move unprecedented in the American Catholic Church, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez announced Thursday that he had relieved his predecessor, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, of all public duties over his mishandling of clergy sex abuse of children decades ago.

Gomez also said that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry, who worked with Mahony to conceal abusers from police in the 1980s, had resigned his post as a regional bishop in Santa Barbara.

mahony-2The announcement came as the church posted on its website tens of thousands of pages of previously secret personnel files for 122 priests accused of molesting children.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil,” Gomez wrote in a letter addressed to “My brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The release of the records and the rebuke of the two central figures in L.A.’s molestation scandal signaled a clear desire by Gomez to define the sexual abuse crisis as a problem of a different era — and a different archbishop.

“I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011,” Gomez wrote.

The public censure of Mahony, whose quarter-century at the helm of America’s largest archdiocese made him one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church, was unparalleled, experts said.

“This is very unusual and shows really how seriously they’re taking this. To tell a cardinal he can’t do confirmations, can’t do things in public, that’s extraordinary,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and Georgetown University fellow.

An archdiocese spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said that beyond canceling his confirmation schedule, Mahony’s day-to-day life as a retired priest would be largely unchanged.

He resides at a North Hollywood parish, and Tamberg said he would remain a “priest in good standing.”

He can continue to celebrate Mass and will be eligible to vote for pope until he turns 80 two years from now, Tamberg said.

The move further stained the legacy of Mahony, a tireless advocate for Latinos and undocumented immigrants whose reputation has been marred over the last decade by revelations about his treatment of sex abuse allegations.

Before Gomez’s announcement, Mahony had weathered three grand jury investigations and numerous calls for his resignation. He stayed in office until the Vatican’s mandatory retirement age of 75.

No criminal charges have been filed against Mahony or anyone in the church hierarchy.

Terrence McKiernan, president of bishopaccountability.org, said that in a religious institution that values saving face and protecting its own, Gomez’s decision to publicly criticize an elder statesman of the church and his top aide was striking.

“Even when Cardinal [Bernard] Law was removed in Boston, which was arguably for the same offenses, this kind of gesture was not made,” he said.

Law left office in 2002 amid mounting outrage over his transfer of pedophile priests from parish to parish, but the church presented his departure as of his own accord and he was later given a highly coveted Vatican job.

Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien of Phoenix relinquished some of his authority in a deal with prosecutors to avoid criminal charges for his handling of abuse cases, but he kept his title and many of his duties.

A Kansas City bishop convicted last year of failing to report child abuse retained his position.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and Dominican priest who has testified across the nation as an expert witness in clergy sex abuse cases, said the Vatican would have “absolutely” been consulted on a decision of this magnitude.

“This is momentous, there is no question,” he said. “For something like this to happen to a cardinal…. The way they treat cardinals is as if they’re one step below God.”

Gomez’s decision capped a two-week period in which the publication of 25-year-old files fueled a new round of condemnation of the L.A. archdiocese.

The files of 14 clerics accused of abuse became public in a court case last Monday.

They laid out in Mahony and Curry’s own words how the church hierarchy had plotted to keep law enforcement from learning that children had been molested at the hands of priests.

To stave off investigations, Mahony and Curry gave priests they knew had abused children out-of-state assignments and kept them from seeing therapists who might alert authorities.

Mahony and Curry both issued apologies, with the cardinal saying he had not realized the extent of harm done to children until he met with victims during civil litigation. “I am sorry,” he said.

Victims called for new criminal investigations and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said it was reviewing the newly released files.

At the same time, a five-year battle over the release of confidential church records on abuser priests was drawing to a close.

Under the church’s 2007 settlement with more than 500 victims, the archdiocese was required to hand over the personnel files of every cleric accused of abuse.

The church waged unsuccessful battles to keep much of the material secret and later to ensure that the names of Mahony, Curry and other church employees were blacked out.

On Wednesday, church lawyers abruptly announced they planned to provide victims’ lawyers with unredacted files that included the names of everyone in supervisory roles.

On Thursday afternoon, a judge signed a final order requiring the archdiocese to hand over the files within three weeks.

An hour later, a spokesman for the church released Gomez’s statement and the files were posted on the archdiocese website.

McKiernan of bishopaccountability.org noted that Mahony will keep the title of “archbishop emeritus” and suggested his removal from public life was primarily an effort to blunt the wave of criticism likely to follow the file release.

“They are trying to gain control of what is truly a devastating time for them,” he said.

The files released Thursday contained additional evidence of attempts by Curry and Mahony to stymie police investigations.

In a 1988 memo about Father Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera, a Mexican priest accused of molesting more than 20 boys during a nine-month stay in Los Angeles, Curry expressed a desire to keep a list of parish altar boys from investigators.

“The whole issue of our records is a very sensitive one, and I am reluctant to give any list to the police,” Curry wrote.

At the bottom of the memo, Mahony replied: “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever.”

The police charged Aguilar-Rivera, but after receiving a warning from Curry, he went to Mexico. He remains a fugitive.

In some memos, archdiocesan officials appeared concerned only with the church’s reputation and displayed little sympathy for the victims of abuse.

In a 1990 note about Father George Neville Rucker, who authorities believe molested 30 children, an unidentified church official wrote that three women had contacted the archdiocese alleging that the priest molested them decades earlier when they were children.

“One of these days, they may happen to meet and all hell will break loose,” the official wrote.

-Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — In a move unprecedented in the American Catholic Church, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez announced Thursday that he had relieved his predecessor, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, of all public duties over his mishandling of clergy sex abuse of children decades ago.

Gomez also said that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry, who worked with Mahony to conceal abusers from police in the 1980s, had resigned his post as a regional bishop in Santa Barbara.

mahony-2

The announcement came as the church posted on its website tens of thousands of pages of previously secret personnel files for 122 priests accused of molesting children.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil,” Gomez wrote in a letter addressed to “My brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The release of the records and the rebuke of the two central figures in L.A.’s molestation scandal signaled a clear desire by Gomez to define the sexual abuse crisis as a problem of a different era — and a different archbishop.

priest-sentencedLONG BEACH (KTLA) — A priest who worked at a Roman Catholic church in Long Beach pleaded no contest Wednesday to sexually groping a 14-year-old girl and two young women.

Father Luis Jose Cuevas, 67, was working at St. Athanasus Church when the alleged attacks happened.

Both women, in their 20s, reported the February 2012 incidents to the archdiocese before filing police reports.

The teen later came forward, saying that in July 2010 Cuevas inappropriately touched “an intimate part” of her body for his sexual arousal.

As part of a plea deal, Cuevas was sentenced to five years felony probation.

The judge also ordered Cuevas to complete a 40-hour community service program and to register as a sex offender.

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said Tuesday it plans to review newly released records from the late 1980s that show then-Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top aide worked to conceal pedophile priests from law enforcement.

The office “will review and evaluate all documents as they become available to us,” a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said.

Internal Catholic church records released Monday show that 15 years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Mahony and a top advisor discussed ways to conceal the molestation of children from law enforcement.

The records offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation’s largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders’ own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

The records contain memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese’s chief advisor on sex abuse cases. In the confidential letters, Curry proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they had abused young boys.

Curry suggested to Mahony that they prevent the priests from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that they give the priests out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators. Mahony, who retired in 2011, has apologized repeatedly for errors in handling abuse allegations.]

On Tuesday, Lacey’s predecessor cast doubt on the possibility of charges for Mahony and other top church officials.

Former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who oversaw a five-year investigation of clergy sex abuse in the Los Angeles archdiocese, said a three-year statute of limitations for most felonies made it unlikely prosecutors would bring criminal cases based on memos written by the church leaders in 1986 and 1987.

“It would be great to prosecute them,” said Cooley, who stepped down last year. “But you cannot ethically prosecute someone … when the statute has run.”

Cooley put his investigation on hold in 2007, saying he was awaiting the release of more personnel files by the church. He said he did not believe that the prosecutors who handled that investigation ever saw the documents released Monday.

In those records, Mahony and his chief aide for sex abuse cases, Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, discuss ways to keep police from discovering that three priests had molested young boys.

“Whatever they did back then was horrendous, unethical and immoral to the point of biblical proportions,” Cooley said, but because of the statute of limitations “it may not be criminal.”

Read more: Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said Tuesday it plans to review newly released records from the late 1980s that show then-Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top aide worked to conceal pedophile priests from law enforcement.

The office “will review and evaluate all documents as they become available to us,” a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said.

Internal Catholic church records released Monday show that 15 years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Mahony and a top advisor discussed ways to conceal the molestation of children from law enforcement.

The records offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation’s largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders’ own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

Read more: Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Fifteen years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top adviser discussed ways to conceal the molestation of children from law enforcement, according to internal Catholic church records released Monday.

The archdiocese’s failure to purge pedophile clergy and reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement has previously been known. But the memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese’s chief advisor on sex abuse cases, offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation’s largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police.

The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leadermahonys’ own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

In the confidential letters, filed this month as evidence in a civil court case, Curry proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they abused young boys. Curry suggested to Mahony that they prevent them from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that they give the priests out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators.

One such case that has previously received little attention is that of Msgr. Peter Garcia, who admitted preying for decades on undocumented children in predominantly Spanish-speaking parishes.

After Garcia’s discharge from a New Mexico treatment center for pedophile clergy, Mahony ordered him to stay away from California “for the foreseeable future” in order to avoid legal accountability, the files show.

“I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors,” the archbishop wrote to the treatment center’s director in July 1986.

The following year, in a letter to Mahony about bringing Garcia back to work in the archdiocese, Curry said he was worried that victims in Los Angeles might see the priest and call police.

“[T]here are numerous — maybe twenty — adolescents or young adults that Peter was involved with in a first degree felony manner. The possibility of one of these seeing him is simply too great,” Curry wrote in May 1987.

Garcia returned to the Los Angeles area later that year; the archdiocese did not give him a ministerial assignment because he refused to take medication to suppress his sexual urges. He left the priesthood in 1989, according to the church.

Garcia was never prosecuted and died in 2009. The files show he admitted to a therapist that he had sexually abused boys “on and off” since his 1966 ordination. He assured church officials his victims were unlikely to come forward because of their immigration status. In at least one case, according to a church memo, he threatened to have a boy he had raped deported if he went to police.

The memos are from personnel files for 14 priests submitted to a judge on behalf of a man who claims he was abused by one of the priests, Father Nicholas Aguilar Rivera.

The man’s attorney, Anthony De Marco, wrote in court papers the files show “a practice of thwarting law enforcement investigations” by the archdiocese. It’s not always clear from the records whether the church followed through on all its discussions about eluding police, but in some cases, such as Garcia’s, it did.

Mahony, who retired in 2011, has apologized repeatedly for errors in handling abuse allegations. In a statement Monday, he apologized once again and recounted meetings he’s had with about 90 victims of abuse.

“I have a 3 x 5 card for every victim I met with on the altar of my small chapel. I pray for them every single day,” he wrote. “As I thumb through those cards I often pause as I am reminded of each personal story and the anguish that accompanies that life story.”

“It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life-journey continues forward with ever greater healing,” he added. “I am sorry.”

Curry did not return calls seeking comment. He currently serves as the archdiocese’s auxiliary bishop for Santa Barbara.

The confidential files of at least 75 more accused abusers are slated to become public in coming weeks under the terms of a 2007 civil settlement with more than 500 victims. A private mediator had ordered the names of the church hierarchy redacted from those documents, but after objections from The Times and the Associated Press, a Superior Court judge ruled that the names of Mahony, Curry and others in supervisory roles should not be blacked out.

Garcia’s was one of three cases in 1987 in which top church officials discussed ways they could stymie law enforcement. In a letter about Father Michael Wempe, who had acknowledged using a 12-year-old parishioner as what a church official called his “sex partner,” Curry recounted extensive conversations with the priest about potential criminal prosecution.

“He is afraid … records will be sought by the courts at some time and that they could convict him,” Curry wrote to Mahony. “He is very aware that what he did comes within the scope of criminal law.”

Curry proposed Wempe could go to an out-of-state diocese “if need be.” He called it “surprising” that a church-paid counselor hadn’t reported Wempe to police and wrote that he and Wempe “agreed it would be better if Mike did not return to him.”

Perhaps, Curry added, the priest could be sent to “a lawyer who is also a psychiatrist” thereby putting “the reports under the protection of privilege.”

Curry expressed similar concerns to Mahony about Father Michael Baker, who had admitted his abuse of young boys during a private 1986 meeting with the archbishop.

In a memo about Baker’s return to ministry, Curry wrote, “I see a difficulty here, in that if he were to mention his problem with child abuse it would put the therapist in the position of having to report him … he cannot mention his past problem.”

Mahony’s response to the memo was handwritten across the bottom of the page: “Sounds good —please proceed!!” Two decades would pass before authorities gathered enough information to convict Baker and Wempe of abusing boys.

Federal and state prosecutors have investigated possible conspiracy cases against the archdiocese hierarchy. Former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in 2007 that his probe into the conduct of high-ranking church officials was on hold until his prosecutors could access the personnel files of all the abusers. The U.S. attorney’s office convened a grand jury in 2009, but no charges resulted.

During those investigations, the church was forced by judges to turn over some but not all of the records to prosecutors. The district attorney’s office has said its prosecutors plan to review priest personnel files as they are released.

Mahony was appointed archbishop in 1985 after five years leading the Stockton diocese. While there, he had dealt with three allegations of clergy abuse, including one case in which he personally reported the priest to police.

In Los Angeles, he tapped Curry, an Irish-born priest, as vicar of clergy. The records show that sex abuse allegations were handled almost exclusively by the archbishop and his vicar. Memos that crossed their desks included graphic details, such as one letter from another priest accusing Garcia of tying up and raping a young boy in Lancaster.

Mahony personally phoned the priests’ therapists about their progress, wrote the priests encouraging letters and dispatched Curry to visit them at a New Mexico facility, Servants of the Paraclete, that treated pedophile priests.

“Each of you there at Jemez Springs is very much in my prayers and I call you to mind each day during my celebration of the Eucharist,” Mahony wrote to Wempe.

The month after he was named archbishop, Mahony met with Garcia to discuss his molestation of boys, according to a letter the priest wrote while in therapy. Mahony instructed him to be “very low key” and assured him “no one was looking at him for any criminal action,” Garcia recalled in a letter to an official at Servants of the Paraclete.

In a statement Monday on behalf of the archdiocese, a lawyer for the church said its policy in the late 1980s was to let victims and their families decide whether to go to the police.

“Not surprisingly, the families of victims frequently did not wish to report to police and have their child become the center of a public prosecution,” lawyer J. Michael Hennigan wrote.

He acknowledged memos written in those years “sometimes focused more on the needs of the perpetrator than on the serious harm that had been done to the victims.”

“That is part of the past,” Hennigan wrote. “We are embarrassed and at times ashamed by parts of the past. But we are proud of our progress, which is continuing.”

Hennigan said that the years in which Mahony dealt with Garcia were “a period of deepening understanding of the nature of the problem of sex abuse both here and in our society in general” and that the archdiocese subsequently changed completely its approach to reports of abuse.

“We now have retired FBI agents who thoroughly investigate every allegation, even anonymous calls. We aggressively assist in the criminal prosecution of offenders,” Hennigan wrote.

Mahony and Curry have been questioned under oath in depositions numerous times about their handling of molestation cases. The men, however, have never been asked about attempts to stymie law enforcement, because the personnel files documenting those discussions were only provided to civil attorneys in recent months. De Marco, the lawyer who filed the records in civil court this month, asked a judge last week to order Curry and Mahony to submit to new depositions “regarding their actions, knowledge and intent as referenced in these files.” A hearing on that request is set for February.

In a 2010 deposition, Mahony acknowledged the archdiocese had never called police to report sexual abuse by a priest before 2000. He said church officials were unable to do so because they didn’t know the names of the children harmed.

“In my experience, you can only call the police when you’ve got victims you can talk to,” Mahony said.

When an attorney for an alleged victim suggested “the right thing to do” would have been to summon police immediately, Mahony replied, “Well, today it would. But back then that isn’t the way those matters were approached.”

Since clergy weren’t legally required to report suspected child abuse until 1997, Mahony said, the people who should have alerted police about pedophiles like Baker and Wempe were victims’ therapists or other “mandatory reporters” of child abuse.

“Psychologists, counselors … they were also the first ones to learn [of abuse] so they were normally the ones who made the reports,” he said.

In Garcia’s 451-page personnel file, one voice decried the church’s failures to protect the victims and condemned the priest as someone who deserved to be behind bars. Father Arturo Gomez, an associate pastor at a predominantly Spanish-speaking church near Olvera Street, wrote to a regional bishop in 1989, saying he was “angry” and “disappointed” at the church’s failure to help Garcia’s victims. He expressed shock that the bishop, Juan A. Arzube, had told the family of two of the boys that Garcia had thought of taking his own life.

“You seemed to be at that moment more concern[ed] for the criminal rather than the victum! (sic)” Gomez wrote to Arzube in 1989.

Gomez urged church leaders to identify others who may have been harmed by Garcia and to get them help, but was told they didn’t know how.

“If I was the father … Peter Garcia would be in prison now; and I would probably have begun a lawsuit against the archdiocese,” the priest wrote in the letter. “The parents … of the two boys are more forgiving and compassionate than I would be.”

-Los Angeles Times

Newly released records show Cardinal Roger Mahony hid priest abuse. Mary Beth McDade spoke to a victim of abuse who help bring the information to light.

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