Mahony Resources – March 1–18, 2002
By Monsignor Richard A. Loomis
Cardinal Mahony's recent Pastoral Statement, I Will Appoint Over You Shepherds After My Own Heart, presented the ongoing efforts of the Archdiocese to make our parishes and schools safe from the tragedy of sexual abuse. As the Cardinal said, "We have striven, and will continue to strive, that such reprehensible conduct, which is seriously sinful and totally in contradiction to Jesus' example and call, be prevented whenever possible and dealt with promptly and responsibly whenever it emerges."
The purpose of this piece is to outline the steps taken in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to address allegations of abuse if they arise, with a special focus on the policy and process in place if clergy are involved.
Sadly, the abuse of minors is a tragic reality of our times. Though experts in the field agree that it most frequently occurs in families, it attracts greatest public attention when someone in a position of trust is the perpetrator. Teachers, coaches, therapists and others who violate a special relationship with someone in their care attract the greatest public attention and outrage. This is especially true when clergy are involved in abuse.
Whether the perpetrator is an uncle baby-sitting nephews and nieces, a coach with his athletes, or a priest or deacon in pastoral counseling with a troubled young person, it is abuse. Sexual abuse of adults can be more difficult to recognize. We presume that adults act consensually. The key in recognizing abuse involving adults is the position of trust or power that the perpetrator uses to manipulate a victim.
No matter where it happens or who does it, abuse involves the manipulation of a vulnerable human being. The perpetrator's position of authority or trust acts to severely inhibit or to suspend the abused person's effort to say, "No."
"When adults are involved, sexual abuse by clergy occurs when a priest or deacon takes sexual advantage of another person, when he intentionally engages in sexual contact or touching in the context of providing pastoral care, or when he is guilty of sexual harassment, such as unwanted sexual advances or suggestions. Any sexual misconduct on the part of a priest or deacon involving a minor constitutes sexual abuse" (Archdiocesan Policy on Sexual Abuse by Clergy, 1988). Abuse always involves taking advantage of a vulnerable person, using one's position, authority or trust to victimize another.
As the Cardinal outlined in his Pastoral Statement, this reality has led to thorough screening of candidates preparing for ordination in the Archdiocese. A priest who comes to the Archdiocese from another diocese or a religious order must have the pledge of his superior that there is no reason he cannot work with minors.
What happens when abuse is reported?
First and most important to remember, most people who hold positions of trust in Catholic institutions are mandated by California state law to report child abuse. Teachers, teacher's aides and counselors in our schools, therapists and social workers in our counseling agencies, nurses and doctors in hospitals, and clergy in parishes or other ministries all have the obligation to report the reasonable suspicion of child abuse to the local police or to child protective services. When any of these people know of or have reasonable suspicion of abuse, they report it to the appropriate police or protective agency. This is true for those ministering in facilities owned and operated by the Archdiocese, as well as Catholic institutions owned and operated privately by religious communities. The only exception to the obligation to report is the most sacred communications between priest and penitent.
As the Bishops of California said in their document For the Protection of Children (1998), "We believe that our first principle in protecting children is reporting their abuse to proper authorities."
If the suspected perpetrator of abuse is an employee, religious or clergyman in an Archdiocesan institution, we ask that the person who first hears the complaint would also report the suspected abuse to the appropriate supervisory office in the Archdiocese. For example, an allegation against a teacher in a school would be reported to the principal and to the Department of Catholic Schools. If a nurse in a hospital would be accused, the hospital administration would follow the appropriate personnel policies of the hospital.
Complaints against clergy are reported to the Office of Assistance Ministry. The Office of Assistance Ministry has been established recently by the Archbishop to facilitate and coordinate the pastoral response to victims in cases of abuse. A layperson with professional certification in psychology and experience in casework carries out this ministry. However, consulting psychologists assisting the Vicar for Clergy Office previously provided this same service.
If a complaint involves a priest who is a member of a religious order, the assistance minister will help establish contact with the appropriate religious superior who will investigate the claim and take appropriate action. Before a religious priest would be able to return to ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Vicar for Clergy must know the results of the investigation and the action taken by the religious community. The Archdiocese then makes its own assessment as to whether or not a return to ministry here will be allowed.
If the alleged misconduct involves minors, the religious superior would have to remove the priest from his ministry in the archdiocese pending the outcome of the investigations. A priest from a religious order or another diocese who has been determined to have abused minors will not be accepted for ministry in the Archdiocese.
The Archdiocese cannot act on anonymous complaints of misconduct involving adults. Adults have the responsibility to stand behind allegations of misconduct.
However, for the safety of children, anonymous complaints involving minors are investigated. Anonymous complaints of abuse of minors by Archdiocesan clergy or employees can be made in writing, or by telephone to the Archdiocesan sexual abuse hotline. Yet, it must be understood right from the start that anonymous complaints are most often very difficult to verify. It is not possible to take corrective action when misconduct cannot be demonstrated. In case of an anonymous complaint, it is also not possible to offer appropriate help to someone harmed by abuse.
Complaints of sexual misconduct are taken seriously. If at all possible, they are heard in person but written complaints are also received, acknowledged and investigated. A person delegated by the Archbishop to look into the matter works with the assistance minister to hear the complaint. From the start, the focus of the Archdiocese is on reaching out to the person who feels victimized by a clergyman. As is only fair, the clergyman is also given a full hearing. Corroborating information to establish the truth of the situation is sought out whenever possible.
In a situation involving minors, the clergyman must leave pastoral ministry pending the outcome of the investigations. If a priest or deacon is determined to have abused a minor, he will not be returned to ministry.
In cases involving adults, when it is ascertained that the complaint is valid and that abuse did indeed take place, the priest is removed from his assignment in order to be offered appropriate assessment and treatment. In situations involving adults, each case must be evaluated on an individual basis as to whether or not a priest or deacon may eventually return to some sort of ministry after appropriate treatment.
In either situation, the assistance minister also takes action to facilitate appropriate help and therapy for the victim on behalf of the Archdiocese.
If a priest must be removed from his parish, assistance is also offered to the parish staff to help in working through the trauma of having a fellow staff member removed, as well as offering training so that they will be better equipped to support and minister to parishioners.
Inform the people
When a priest is removed from a parish, the parishioners receive an explanation from an appropriate representative of the Archdiocese. Through an announcement, parishioners receive accurate information provided in a timely fashion about what has happened in a particular case of alleged sexual misconduct. This announcement is most often given at Sunday Mass. While trying to respect the good name, privacy and civil rights of all involved, the announcement outlines why the priest is not ministering with his people, as well as the help and support that will be offered to parishioners.
Though a painful experience for a parish family, the overwhelming response to these announcements has been positive, recognizing that the Church is being honest with her people. However, it must be acknowledged that some people have expressed that such announcements should not take place. Nevertheless, the Archdiocese believes that accurate, respectful information prevents rumors and helps a parish community to move toward healing. Such announcements also open the door for any other victims to come forward and ask for help. The Archdiocese seeks to provide assistance or support to those involved, working toward healing the wounds caused by a tragic violation of trust.
Pastoral ministry to all God's people
In his ministry to the people of God, the Archbishop is called to be a shepherd to all his people and clergy. In situations involving accusations of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon, he must strive to be the shepherd of all parties. He is called by the Gospel to seek the good of all, providing a fair hearing and pastoral help to all involved. He is also called to strive to make parishes and schools safe. No human endeavor is perfect, but the policies and procedures of the Archdiocese to address cases of abuse have been developed, and will continue to be reviewed and improved, as a concrete attempt to respond to the call of the Good Shepherd in the life of the Church.
Monsignor Richard A. Loomis is Secretariat Director for Administrative
Services for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is also the former Archdiocesan
Vicar for Clergy.
Mahony Ousts Priests in Sex Abuse Cases
By Larry B. Stammer and William Lobdell
As many as a dozen Southern California priests who were involved in past sexual abuse cases have been directed by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony to retire or otherwise leave their ministries.
The forced retirements, which church sources said ranged from at least half a dozen to 12 priests, were the latest repercussions in the growing scandal of priestly sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.
The church's Los Angeles Archdiocese made no public announcement of the dismissals, which occurred during the last two weeks. Numerous efforts seeking comment from officials were unsuccessful.
In a separate case, a popular Orange County priest who admitted molesting a teenage boy 19 years ago bid farewell to his parish Sunday. Father Michael Pecharich was asked to leave last week by the Bishop of Orange, the Most Rev. Tod D. Brown. Pecharich's case had been known to the church since 1996.
None of the priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese are believed to be involved in any recent cases of sexually abusing minors. Their cases occurred as long as a decade ago, and all had undergone psychological counseling, according to one of the sources.
Nonetheless, since the scandal over the sexual abuse of minors erupted anew in the Boston archdiocese last month, dioceses across the country, including the Diocese of Orange and Diocese of San Bernardino, have been under increasing pressure to rid themselves of any priests with a history of sexual misconduct.
"Boston sent a red alert," said one church source, who asked not to be named because it would aggravate his relations with superiors.
The Catholic Church has been dogged for decades by sporadic complaints of child molestation. But the magnitude of the Boston case and several high-profile settlements of civil suits by the church have drawn unusual attention. In Boston, the archdiocese was found to have known for years about, but failed to act against, a priest who had been accused of molesting 130 children.
As that scandal mushroomed, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston reluctantly turned over to law enforcement officials the names of 80 priests who had been accused of abusing children during the last 40 years. Boston's action was soon followed by similar disclosures in Philadelphia.
In San Bernardino on Sunday, the controversy prompted Bishop Gerald R. Barnes to write an open letter to his parishes seeking to reassure parishioners of his diocese's long-standing policy of removing errant priests. Barnes also spoke on behalf of "good" priests whom he said have been unfairly tarnished by the scandal.
Legal Outlook Is Uncertain
It was unclear Sunday whether the names of any of the priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese--which includes Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties--would be given to law enforcement authorities, or whether any of the priests planned to appeal their dismissals.
A knowledgeable law enforcement official said it did not appear any of the cases had been previously referred for criminal prosecution by the archdiocese. This official could recall only one referral of a priest for criminal prosecution for molestation in the last several years. He said that case resulted in a conviction.
The archdiocese in past statements has promised to cooperate fully with civil authorities and the legal system. Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, was a member of a national bishops conference committee that recommended such steps.
Nor was it clear why the Los Angeles priests were being asked to leave only now, since the archdiocese has had a stated policy since 1988 to "never deal with a problem of sexual abuse on the part of a priest or deacon by simply moving him to another ministerial assignment."
Sources familiar with Mahony's actions suggested they were prompted not only by the Boston scandal but by a 2001 court settlement in which the Los Angeles archdiocese promised to rid itself of anyone who had been found guilty of sexual abuse in the past, either by an admission or in civil or church proceedings.
That case involved a victim, Ryan DiMaria, who claimed he had been sexually abused as a teenager by a priest at a church high school. The $5.2-million settlement, approved by the dioceses of Los Angeles and Orange, required the church to remove any other employee found to be guilty of sexual abuse.
DiMaria's attorney, Katherine K. Freberg of Irvine, said she was elated by the dismissals.
"This was our very vision: that both Los Angeles and Orange would literally go through their files and determine if they had any priests that have molested someone, and that they get ousted," Freberg said. "I cannot tell you how happy this makes me--and the way it's been played out. I see this as the culmination of all the victims across the country banding together and saying we will no longer live in the secrecy or tolerate the cover-up."
Of the targeted priests in the Los Angeles archdiocese, those who are 62 or older have been asked to retire. Younger priests were told that their status as priests was now "inactive." Those who resided in a parish rectory or other church facility were asked to move out.
In one case, a priest was said to have been given 72 hours to pack his belongings and leave.
In face-to-face meetings with Mahony, the priests were also reportedly asked to consider leaving the priesthood entirely through a process called laicization, a step rarely taken upon retirement, a knowledgeable church source said. They were also offered what one churchman called a "generous" severance package.
Word of the dismissals came a week after Mahony issued a strongly worded pastoral statement published in the archdiocesan weekly newspaper in which he reiterated a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to sexual abuse of a minor.
Mahony promised that the archdiocese "will not knowingly assign or retain a priest, deacon, religious or layperson to serve in its parishes, schools, pastoral ministries, or any other assignment when such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor."
The problem of child sexual abuse by priests threatens not only the church's credibility but its finances. Various estimates by legal experts have suggested the church had paid out hundreds of millions in settlements over the years. The $5.2-million settlement in DiMaria's case last year in Orange County is believed to be the largest sum involving a single individual.
One church source noted that if Mahony were accused of failing to abide by the terms of the DiMaria settlement, his diocese would be liable.
"If he were accused of anything, his pockets are the deepest. He owns everything," the source said. "Now the archbishop is able to answer unequivocally when asked 'are you keeping any sexually abusing priests in your archdiocese?' that the answer is an unequivocal no."
Mahony Voiced Concern to Peers
Mahony became archbishop in 1986, two years before the archdiocese said it adopted a sexual abuse policy. In 1992, Mahony publicly expressed concern about clergy sexual abuse during a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, then known as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Meeting in Washington, the bishops conference hotel was picketed by individuals who said they had been sexually abused as minors by priests. The issue was not on the bishops' agenda, but they quickly consented to a private meeting led by Mahony.
"These were good people who have been deeply wounded by the misconduct of some of our priests," Mahony said in reporting back to the bishops in unscheduled public remarks. "These were people whose faith has been shattered and in some cases lost."
The bishops then voted unanimously to step up efforts to remain vigilant against sexual abuse, but victims complained then that the pledge was inadequate.
As recently as last month, the president of the bishops conference, the Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., renewed the pledge by U.S. bishops to "continue to take all the steps necessary to protect our youth from this kind of abuse in society and in the church."
Gregory said the church was confident that "few" of the nation's 47,000 priests were involved in such conduct. "The damage, however, has been immeasurable. The toll this phenomenon has taken on our people and our ministry is tremendous. This is a time for Catholic people--bishops, clergy, religious and laity--to resolve to work together to assure the safety of our children," Gregory said.
As part of Gregory's statement, the bishops conference announced an Internet site that details church policies and actions taken to fight sexual abuse. That site is www.usccb.org/comm/restore trust.htm.
How that will play out, however, is a difficult question as individual bishops work to address the injury to and needs of victims and their families, and to care for accused priests.
In Los Angeles, one church source said the ousters suggested the archdiocese had stopped dealing with priest molestation as a treatable mental health problem.
"The mental health model is being set aside and the criminal-justice model is being inserted. So all you have for these priests is a retribution model," the source said. "My fear is the church is going from being careless in treating abused children to being careless in treating abusing priests," the churchman said.
Times staff writers Rosemary McClure and Greg Krikorian contributed to
Cardinal Mahony Won't Say if Police Got Priests' Names
By Larry B. Stammer and Richard Winton
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's office refused to say Monday whether he has given authorities the names of as many as a dozen priests alleged to have sexually abused children.
Mahony dismissed the priests in private meetings in the last two weeks over allegations of abuse from as long as a decade ago, church sources said. The dismissals come as the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is again reeling from disclosures of sexual abuse by priests in Dallas, Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
Mahony's spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said the cardinal stands by his Feb. 21 pastoral statement, agreeing to abide by a California law mandating that priests, counselors, nurses and teachers report sexual abuse of minors to police. "He's a mandated reporter as well," Tamberg said of Mahony, archbishop of the nation's largest Roman Catholic diocese.
But as of Monday, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, as well as sheriff's departments in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, said they had received no such referrals from the Los Angeles archdiocese, which covers the three counties.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Monday that the reporting law is clear.
"Under the penal code there is a duty to report within 36 hours of a specific incident of molestation. Among the reporters are clergy, except in the case of penitential communications [confidential confessions]," he said. "Priests are definitely mandated reporters unless it is a confessional."
Failure to report such crimes is a misdemeanor.
"There is no clergy exception," Cooley said. "If and when police agencies do a thorough and appropriate investigation, those cases will be prosecuted like any other."
The head of Cooley's sex crimes unit said it has no open cases stemming from church referrals.
The law took effect in 1987 in the wake of the McMartin preschool scandal. Its reporting requirements apply to any cases of abuse that church officials became aware of after the law took effect. It is unclear, however, whether the alleged incidents of abuse involving the priests occurred before or after that time.
Tamberg would not say whether the names of the recently dismissed priests had been given to local police. "I've been told what I can say," he said. "I have no information on priest personnel matters."
Attorneys for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles have previously acknowledged that church officials received six child molestation complaints in the last five years, including four involving adults complaining of past misconduct.
Overall, there were about 50 cases of sexual misbehavior reported to the archdiocese in the last five years, diocesan attorney John P. McNicholas of Los Angeles wrote in a letter to an expert witness in a case late last year. Not all of the cases were believed to involve children.
Church sources said the priests recently dismissed by Mahony for allegations of sexual abuse of minors had received psychological counseling and were believed to have been rehabilitated. The archdiocese declined Monday to confirm or deny the dismissals.
One church source, however, said generous severance pay was offered to the departing priests. Any of the priests living in parish rectories or other church facilities were asked to move out, the source said.
Left unanswered was why Mahony was taking action now. The archdiocese's sexual abuse policy dates to 1988. It says the church will "never deal with a problem of sexual abuse on the part of a priest or deacon by simply moving him to another ministerial assignment."
Tamberg said Mahony was committed to obeying the law and protecting the children of the nation's largest Catholic archdiocese. In view of renewed reports of child sexual abuse across the nation, Tamberg said, Mahony felt compelled last month to issue a pastoral message.
"[The pastoral letter] was motivated by the cardinal's pastoral concern for Catholic faithful in the archdiocese, that they know we have comprehensive policies and procedures, that we review them regularly and that they are protecting their kids from sexual misconduct from anyone that ministers in the archdiocese, either clergy or laity," Tamberg said.
Mahony's full message is on the archdiocese's Web site: www.la-archdiocese.org/english/
Catholic bishops in the United States have been dealing with these controversies for years. But the magnitude of new disclosures has sent a tremor through the national church, prompting bishops across the country to dismiss sexual predators while seeking to reassure the faithful.
Recently, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston disclosed to police the names of 80 priests who had been accused of abusing children over the last 40 years. The revelation followed a child molestation trial in which a defrocked priest, John J. Geoghan, was convicted. He is also awaiting trial in at least two other cases.
Last year the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses paid $5.2 million to settle molestation allegations by a former high school student against a priest. The court settlement requires the dioceses to fire priests known to be molesters.
In Dallas in 1997, a jury awarded $119 million to 11 men who were allegedly molested when they were altar boys. The case later was settled out of court for $23 million.
Bishops and other church officials have said their primary concern is for their parishioners. Money is also at stake. Cases of child sexual abuse have cost the church hundreds of millions of dollars.
While their first concern has been to prevent sexual abuse, bishops have also sought ways of helping fallen priests, including therapy. Despite some successes, bishops are reluctant to return priests to any work involving children. More recently, they are asking priests to leave the priesthood. Still, some sexual abuse survivors say the church has not done enough.
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said
police, prosecutors and judges are beginning to treat the church with
less deference than in the past.
A Pastoral Letter
By Cardinal Roger Mahony
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Several weeks ago, I published in The Tidings, in Vida Nueva, and on our Archdiocesan website, a Pastoral Statement entitled I Will Appoint Over You Shepherds After My Own Heart. Given the press and media in the last few weeks concerning the scandalous evil of child abuse, I feel that there is need to speak with you once again. I want to repeat that we have striven, and will continue to strive to take measures to prevent child abuse within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Child abuse is not only criminal but is seriously sinful and totally in contradiction to Jesus' example and call. Please know that child abuse will be dealt with promptly and responsibly whenever it emerges.
Some press reports have implied that the Archdiocese has not passed along information on suspicions of child abuse to the proper authorities. The child abuse reporting laws of the State of California require that each lay and ordained worker in pastoral, health and educational fields is required to follow these mandating reporting laws in order to protect our children.
The thousands of good, dedicated people who are the teachers, teacher's aides, administrators and counselors in our schools, the employees in religious education and youth ministry programs, the therapists and social workers in our counseling agencies, the nurses, doctors and other professionals in Catholic hospitals, and the clergy in parishes and other ministries throughout the Archdiocese – each of them has the obligation to report the reasonable suspicion of child abuse to the local police or to child protective services. These people know their duty and will continue to abide by the mandated reporting laws. And for the protection of our children, I, as Archbishop, continue to support our people in carrying out their responsibility faithfully no matter who the alleged perpetrator might be.
Let me also state very clearly once again: the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will not knowingly assign or retain a priest, deacon, religious, or lay person to serve in its parishes, schools, pastoral ministries, or any other assignment when such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor.
I invite you to take the time to read the three part series in The Tidings and Vida Nueva that describes in greater detail our efforts to combat the evil of abuse. Beginning with my Pastoral Statement, this series also includes information on our policies and procedures, as well as an educational brochure on professional boundaries in ministry that will soon be available in our parishes and schools. If you do not have access to the paper editions of the newspapers, you can find the same series on our Archdiocesan website at < www.la-archdiocese.org >.
Finally, in this holy season of repentance and reconciliation, I encourage you to pray for the healing of victims of abuse, for their families, for communities torn by the evil of abuse, and even for perpetrators, as well. May the grace of God turn the hearts of each of us to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Healer.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Message on Sex Abuse Is Heard Across Diocese
By Kurt Streeter, Massie Ritsch, and Tina Dirmann
For many Southland Catholics, Sunday Masses were far from typical.
Priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese were told to read a statement during Masses from Cardinal Roger M. Mahony denouncing the "scandalous evil of child abuse" by priests that has shaken the U.S. Catholic Church from Boston to Southern California.
The short statement sparked a range of reactions, everything from applause to indignation.
Some asked why Mahony has taken so long to deal with the issue.
"I don't necessarily like that the church has been so silent," Heidi Galutera said as she walked out of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish near Griffith Park. "It's about time they deal with this."
Others, however, were relieved to hear from Mahony. "It makes me feel better that the church is making a public statement," said Jesus Oliva, 36, as he left St. Vincent's Parish near downtown Los Angeles. "They are sending a message that the church won't tolerate this kind of abuse."
After a sermon on the importance of bringing sin into the open, Father Christopher Drennen of Our Mother of Good Counsel read Mahony's statement.
Mahony called child abuse criminal and "seriously sinful." He said the church won't knowingly hire or employ priests, deacons or teachers when "such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor."
Mahony said church leaders have an "obligation to report the reasonable suspicion of child abuse" to police or child protective services.
A little more than one week ago, sources revealed that Mahony had recently forced the retirement or dismissal of up to a dozen priests alleged to have been involved in past sexual abuse. The action has not been acknowledged by Mahony, and church officials have not said whether they have given authorities the names of priests accused of wrongdoing.
After the Mass at Our Mother of Good Counsel, Drennen said parishioners seemed more somber and reflective than usual. They appeared to be taking in the seriousness of the issue, he said. Many said they didn't want to talk, not even to their priest.
Yet some voiced frustration with how the church has handled the scandal.
"I think it's too little, too late," Erwin David said. "The church has been too silent. Why are we only hearing about this now, when it clearly has been going on for some time?"
Added Andrew Fontaine Jr., a retired mechanic from Silver Lake: "There's been rumors of this stuff. It seems like it happens all over. The people who have done this kind of thing, a lot of people feel [the priests] were protected too much."
But Linda Yeaman of Northridge, a fourth-grade teacher active at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Canoga Park, praised Mahony for being very "proactive."
"He's ahead of the game," Yeaman said.
While the Catholic Church has been dogged by rumors of abuse for years, the issue developed into a scandal after cases across the nation were made public and received widespread media attention.
Last week the bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., resigned after admitting he had abused a teenage boy 25 years ago. In Boston and Philadelphia, the church has turned over to law enforcement information implicating more than 80 priests in abuse.
A well-liked Orange County priest, Father Michael Pecharich, was asked to step down last week after he admitted molesting a teenage boy 19 years ago.
Pecharich's dismissal follows a 2001 sexual abuse lawsuit involving a teenage parishioner in Orange County. That case ended with a $5.2-million settlement, approved by the Los Angeles and Orange County dioceses, requiring the church to remove any other employee found guilty of abuse.
Mahony's statement was delivered in varying ways by the clergy.
At the noon service at St. Vincent's Parish, Father Emmanuel Osuji made no reference to Mahony's comments until after his sermon. He simply made an announcement that the cardinal had a few words for the congregation.
Osuji read the statement, then, without additional comment, moved on to announce the week's events calendar.
Msgr. James C. Gehl took a different approach at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church.
After a gospel reading in which Jesus gave sight to a blind man, Gehl addressed an issue "where the church has been blind as well."
Gehl urged his parishioners to pray for victims of sexual abuse, their families and the abusers. But prayer is not punishment, and "this is a crime and it is wrong, and it cannot be tolerated," he said.
In his remarks, delivered without notes, Gehl criticized church leaders for too long tolerating sexual misconduct by priests, singling out Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law for not firing a priest repeatedly accused of abusing boys.
"The leaders of our church in positions of great authority have
let us down," he said.
Simple Suggestions for Mahony
By Steve Lopez
Across the land, the Catholic Church is being forced to come clean about the sins of the fathers, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles appears to be falling into line. But the million-dollar word there is "appears."
As reported in The Times, Cardinal Roger Mahony recently dismissed as many as a dozen priests for allegations of sexual abuse. But local authorities said they hadn't gotten any calls from church officials regarding those allegations.
A reasonable person might ask, What gives? Does the church consider itself to be above the law?
On Sunday, the archdiocese sent priests into pulpits to read a statement from Mahony. My hat is off to the author, whether it was Mahony himself, a team of lawyers or a high-priced flack, because it was a beautiful piece of work.
"Some press reports have implied that the archdiocese has not passed along information on suspicions of child abuse to the proper authorities," said the statement, which went on and on about Mahony's knowledge of the legal requirements to report sexual abuse.
But despite assurances that the archdiocese will not tolerate abuse, the statement brilliantly steered clear of saying whether anyone actually did call the police. We have the appearance of the diocese coming clean, but it was such a quick dunk, I'm not sure we can call it a baptism.
The question remains: Did they call police? And if not, why not?
I'd like to give you the church's answers, which would be the fair thing to do, if not the Christian thing. But no answers are forthcoming. Archdiocesan officials did not return my calls. It's possible they were busy siccing the cops on someone, but if so, why not admit that they're finally playing hardball?
You'd think they'd have learned the cost of silence and denial by now, given the horrific pedophilia scandal in Boston, the humiliating resignation of a bishop in Florida and a payout to victims nationwide in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Look, the new cathedral is set to open in Los Angeles this September. Wouldn't it be smart to clean out the closet now? I know that if I'd donated hard-earned cash to the $200- million Rog Mahal, I'd like to be certain it was spent on kneelers and prayer books rather than molestation settlements.
While holding out faith that the archdiocese would return my calls, I talked to prosecutors George Palmer and Irene Wakabayashi in the L.A. County district attorney's office, and here's the way I figure it:
There are so many loopholes in child abuse laws, it wouldn't be hard for the Catholic Church or another institution to hide behind a technicality and legally avoid calling the police in most cases.
If a claim of sex abuse is made during confession, for instance, the priest can keep it quiet because of clergy privilege. If the alleged crime occurred before 1987 but was reported afterward, the church doesn't have to call the police because clergy, for reasons only the devil knows, essentially got a waiver prior to 1987.
If an adult walks into a church today and tells a priest he was molested as a boy, the priest doesn't have to call the police, even if the abusive priest is still on the job. The law presumes the adult can call the police himself.
A member of the clergy only has to call the police, prosecutors told me, if a minor makes a complaint. But is there anyone out there who thinks a sexually abused child is going to march into the rectory or the principal's office and file a complaint?
It's as if the pope himself wrote these laws.
But let's forget about legal requirements for a moment and talk about a higher authority. Isn't there a moral obligation for the church to report anything and everything that might root out molesters before they abuse again?
"Of course there is, but they don't do anything unless they're made to do it," says Mary Grant, who, as a teenager, was abused by an Orange County priest in the 1970s.
The priest was not canned despite a diocesan cash settlement with Grant. Only last year, after the priest confessed to me that he had had several relationships with consenting women, was he dumped as pastor of his church. He has since been sued for another alleged molestation that goes back to the 1970s.
In 1988, Mahony established a policy designed, in his words, "to do all that is humanly possible to prevent sexual abuse... "
In his Sunday statement, he invoked that policy and vowed that his church "will not knowingly assign or retain a priest, deacon, religious, or layperson ... when such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor."
Well, given that the policy goes back 14 years, how is it that as many as a dozen accused molesters were still on the payroll? Did Mahony just now hear about them? And by the way, what exactly did these priests do?
The church has acknowledged six molestation complaints in the past five years alone, but it's anyone's guess what, if anything, became of those priests.
Are they still hearing confessions?
Some people in the church argue that Mahony has done more to crack down on bad priests than his predecessors.
I'm not sure how flattering a distinction that is, but there's a simple way to restore some of the faith the church has burned.
First, he can level with parishioners and the public about what he knows and what he's doing about it. Second, he can invite the police in and let them root through the files.
In my Catholic school days, I was taught there are no secrets on Judgment
L.A. Police Investigate Church Sex Dismissals
By Richard Winton
The Los Angeles Police Department is reviewing whether any cases of child sexual abuse in the Los Angeles Archdiocese require criminal investigation.
The probe was begun in response to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's recent dismissal of as many as a dozen priests alleged to have sexually abused minors.
Mahony has declined to publicly discuss the dismissals, and the archdiocese has been unwilling to comment on whether it reported those abuse cases to law enforcement authorities. Church authorities also have declined to say whether the priests were moved to other parts of the archdiocese after the cases came to their attention. Sources familiar with the dismissals have said the priests had received psychological counseling and were believed to have been rehabilitated.
LAPD Lt. Daniel Mulrenin said the department's Sexually Exploited Child Unit is conducting "general inquiries" into those dismissals. The archdiocese is "cooperating ... there is an open dialogue," he said.
Mulrenin said the inquiries were initiated in response to a March 4 Times story that quoted church sources as saying that between six and 12 priests accused of sexual abuse had been ousted from the archdiocese in the preceding two weeks.
State law requires teachers, clergy and members of other professions to report suspicions of child abuse to authorities in most cases.
The priests' dismissals stem from incidents that occurred as long as a decade ago, according to church sources. But since a scandal over the sexual abuse of minors erupted in the Boston Archdiocese in January, dioceses nationwide have come under increasing pressure to address sexual misconduct.
Mulrenin said the police probe is in its "very early stages." So far, he said, the archdiocese has not handed over any documents because that issue is "still being discussed." There are no named suspects, he said, and he did not know if any allegations had been previously reported to law enforcement. Under the law, prosecutors have a year to file charges after such crimes are reported to authorities.
A spokesman for Mahony, Tod Tamberg, said the archdiocese would not comment on reports of discussions with police.
Earlier this month, a popular Orange County priest accused of sexual molestation was forced to resign by the bishop of Orange, the Most Rev. Tod D. Brown.
In the wake of the publicity involving the dismissals, priests last Sunday across the Los Angeles archdiocese read a statement from Mahony that denounced the "scandalous evil of child abuse."
The church, the cardinal said, will not hire or employ priests when an individual has been shown to have engaged in sexual abuse. The state law classifies clergy as "mandated reporters" required to report to police or a child protective services agency suspicions of child abuse. If, however, the claim of sexual abuse is made during a confession, a priest does not have to disclose it.
Under the law, prosecutors said, there is an exception for adults who tell a mandated reporter that they suffered abuse as a child. Prosecutors said the law presumes the adult victim can call police. This exception does not apply, however, when the adult is reporting on behalf of another victim.
Mahony last week ordered that an informational brochure on clergy sex abuse be sent to all parishes and schools in the archdiocese. The brochure, "Respecting the Boundaries: Keeping Ministerial Relationships Healthy and Holy," was first posted on the archdiocese's Web site in August.
The brochure and the sex abuse hotline telephone number listed within it were required of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the Diocese of Orange as part of a $5.2-million settlement. The agreement stemmed from a lawsuit involving sexual molestation allegations against an Orange County priest.
That settlement also required the church to remove any employee found guilty of sexual abuse. That position was reflected in a Feb. 22 pastoral statement by Mahony vowing that any priest or deacon found to have abused a minor "will never return to active ministry."
An earlier policy, adopted by the archdiocese in 1988, allowed the possibility of treating the guilty party and eventually returning him to ministry.
The archdiocese with 292 parishes in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara
counties has received six child molestation complaints in the last five
years, said its attorney, John P. McNicholas.
Esteemed Priest Calls for Accountability
By Teresa Watanabe
In a searingly blunt sermon that led to a standing ovation, one of the Southland's most prominent priests exhorted the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday to summon the "raw courage" to openly address the problem of clergy sex abuse.
That painful process would lead to the church's purification, said Msgr. Clement J. Connolly, who served as secretary to Cardinals Francis McIntyre and Timothy Manning before taking the reins at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena.
Connolly, a priest for 38 years, told his congregations at all six Masses that church leaders had failed the people in neglecting the problem, which he said had caused irreparable wounds to victims, damage to the priesthood and feelings of betrayal, anger and shame among many Catholics. He said once-unquestioned church leaders must now be accountable to the people, and he asked parishioners to accept his remarks Sunday as "part of me being accountable as a pastor."
"We have let this malignancy grow and allowed it to reach the awesome proportions it has today," Connolly said of the sex-abuse problems. "Not to speak about it now would be to compound and continue the malfeasance."
Roman Catholic leaders in Southern California have yet to give a public accounting of their handling of priestly abuse cases. Church sources maintain that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in recent weeks dismissed or forced the resignations of a number of priests who were involved in molestation incidents but continued to work for the archdiocese. However, the archdiocese has declined to confirm those actions. It has issued two general statements on the problem of abuse, apologizing to victims and explaining church policies.
While leaders of the Los Angeles archdiocese and the Diocese of Orange settled a major priest-molestation lawsuit last year, a case earlier this year in Boston focused unprecedented national attention on the practice in some dioceses of moving priests in sexual-abuse cases to other churches rather than firing them. In many cities, scores of new victims have come forward, and dioceses have begun reexamining their policies.
Mahony's Efforts Called 'Honest'
In remarks after Mass, Connolly declined to dwell on the failures of church leaders and said that Mahony, who presides over 5 million Catholics in 292 churches in the region, was making a "sincerely honest" effort to deal with the issue. The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating whether any of the departed priests had committed a crime, and officers have said the archdiocese has promised to cooperate.
The publicity has also led to what may be an unprecedented conversation between priests and their parishioners on the sensitive issue of clergy sexual abuse. Los Angeles archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said priests throughout the Southland are reporting that they have begun to speak about the issue regularly to parishioners. Some churches have reportedly started small discussion groups to share their emotions over the crisis. A recent letter to the faithful from Mahony on the issue, in which he called child abuse criminal and "seriously sinful," has inspired some priests, such as Connolly, to preach homilies on the issue.
Tamberg said Connolly's call to hope amid despair was starting to reverberate throughout the archdiocese. He said there was an emerging conviction that "somehow we'll get through this and be a stronger church."
In his sermon, Connolly put the message this way: "What's happening is good for the church," he told parishioners. "Bad for its image, maybe, but good for the church. In some miraculous way . . . through the growing of the Holy Spirit in the church, we will find our way to a new day in which there is more honesty, courage, faith and accountability."
According to new archdiocesan policies, any priest found guilty of sexual misconduct with minors will be dismissed and encouraged to leave the priesthood. Mahony also ordered all priests in public ministry last week and this week to attend workshops to review archdiocesan sexual-abuse policies, receive advice on how to maintain "healthy boundaries" and learn the legal requirements of reporting suspected child abuse.
In his public remarks, Connolly, 62, said the current crisis presented perhaps the greatest challenges he has ever faced. He traced the evolution of the priest as the once "uncontested oracle of the moral order" to a figure whose iconic standing today has been "badly damaged, perhaps even destroyed" by the scandals.
"It's a new age when the servant-priest stands before people and asks for their blessings," said Connolly, who was ordained in Ireland in 1964 and has built Holy Family into a 4,000-family congregation with a $4-million annual budget that includes more than 80 ministries, a school, pastoral center and youth center.
Then the monsignor appealed to his flock: "Pray. Pray for your priests."
His remarks drew tears and sustained applause. Although one parishioner described it as "spin control," others hailed what Claudia Fosselman called Connolly's "courage and tenderness" in urging open debate and an embrace of victims as a "precious part of the church."
Diana Casares Bell, a South Pasadena attorney, said her faith has been strengthened by the scandals rather than shaken.
"I see the church doing the right thing," she said. "I
think these corrective and healing steps will unify the church."
Bishop Accountability © 2003