VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles staunchly defended his record on dealing with sexual abuse in the church in an interview published by an Italian newspaper Tuesday.
Mahony, who has been criticized for moving predator priests from posting to posting, told Corriere della Sera that “after 20 years, people are talking about abuse as if we had not done anything. However, since 2002, we have had our program Protecting the Children, in which we illustrate procedures and the guidelines of our zero-tolerance policy that allows no possibility, for example, of anyone found guilty of abuse of minors working for the diocese.”
Mahony, who in recent months has refused requests for interviews with the Los Angeles Times, was publicly rebuked in February by current Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez in connection with his handling of sexual abuse cases.
The cardinal, who is in Rome ahead of the conclave to elect the successor to former Pope Benedict XVI, described to the Italian paper his approach to abuse in earlier years, saying: “I had not understood the real nature of the problem, that people who commit abuse — not only in the church — continue to commit their crimes. These things were not so well understood then as they are now.
“Anyone who looks at the psychiatric and psychological literature then will see that I applied the professional approach suggested for all institutions. We tried to follow the best practices of the period.”
Mahony said he subsequently set about building a network of safeguards against abuse, including the hiring in 1994 of a retired judge to head a Sexual Abuse Advisory Board for the Los Angeles archdiocese.
“My rather painful mistake was to not apply the work of that committee to previous cases. I was more focused on new cases. However, that was an error I completely rectified in 2002,” Mahony said.
Mahony said that after a meeting of bishops in Dallas that year, he hired ex-FBI agents to investigate abuse accusations, and instituted background checks on applicants to work with children in church institutions. Fingerprinting had been undertaken for a decade, he added.
He said he would be seeking to share his experience of tackling abuse with fellow cardinals attending the conclave.
—Los Angeles Times