Mahony Resources – May 2, 2002
By Ron Russell
On the day after child-molesting Boston priest John Geoghan was sentenced to prison in late February, marking an incremental low in the sex scandal afflicting the Roman Catholic Church, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony launched a remarkable public-relations campaign. It began subtly, with a pastoral letter published in The Tidings, the archdiocese's official newspaper. The 65-year-old cardinal pledged to do "all that is humanly possible" to prevent sexual abuse in the L.A. Archdiocese,the nation's largest. He set forth a zero tolerance policy for priests who abuse children. "Let me state very clearly: 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," Mahony wrote.
A few days later -- even as he abruptly dismissed a few sex-abusing priests who had enjoyed his favor for years despite his knowledge that they were molesters, and then stonewalled law enforcement about who they were -- Mahony quickly sought to establish himself as a leading voice in dealing with the widening scandal. He ordered that a brochure on the problem of sex abuse be distributed to all parishes and schools within the sprawling L.A. Archdiocese, encompassing Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. And he unveiled a new sexual-abuse hotline ostensibly aimed at enabling abuse victims to blow the whistle on errant priests. The cardinal's press spokesman described these efforts in glowing terms. In view of the Boston scandal, Tod Tamberg, his spokesman, said the cardinal thought the time had come to let the faithful know "that we have comprehensive policies on sex abuse, that we follow them carefully and review them regularly." The implicit message: Other Catholic hierarchs might appear flat-footed in the face of the worst scandal to rock the church in centuries, but Los Angeles' Mahony was a leader who was actually doing something.
Yet in his pell-mell rush to be seen as the cardinal with a plan, all the while playing a gullible local mainstream press like a harp in diverting attention from his own dismal record of protecting pedo-priests, Mahony's actions amounted to little more than a public-relations snow job. His image as a reformer took another beating this week with the disclosure that his protecting of accused pedophiles has extended even to the new Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral residential suites, with abuse claims against Father Carl Sutphin, who until recently was associate pastor there. The Sutphin allegations are part of a sweeping anti-racketeering lawsuit in which Mahony and the archdiocese along with all 180 bishops in the United States are accused, among other things, of obstruction of justice, aiding and abetting criminal sexual conduct and otherwise scheming to protect molesting priests from prosecution. The lawsuit was filed the day after Mahony was admitted to a Burbank hospital for treatment of a blood clot in one of his lungs. But among those abused by priests, Mahony's credibility ebbed a long time ago, and his recent pretensions as a friend of victims have done little to change that. In fact, most of his publicly announced ideas for dealing with the sex-abuse crisis, including those he unveiled amid much fanfare before jetting off to Rome along with other American cardinals to meet with the pope this month, weren't Mahony's at all. They had been forced on him, kicking and screaming, as it were, last August as conditions for settling a potentially explosive sex-abuse case involving the former principal of a prominent Catholic high school in Orange County, Monsignor Michael Harris. Barely a month before he would have been forced to testify at the Harris trial, Mahony authorized the Los Angeles Archdiocese to pay victim Ryan DiMaria $5.2 million -- the largest such settlement ever for a single victim in a Catholic sex-abuse case.
Mahony's lawyers had fought vigorously to keep him from having to testify, and had lost. As detailed earlier in New Times, Mahony already had become the highest American Catholic official to take the witness stand in a molestation case at the 1998 Stockton civil trial involving brothers James and Joh Howard, and had fared miserably. Lawyers for the brothers argued that Mahony, who was bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985, must have known that former priest Oliver O'Grady was a pedophile during the years Mahony shuffled him from parish to parish, even promoting him. The jury's record $24 million punitive judgment for the brothers (later reduced by a judge) was a repudiation of Mahony's claims at the trial that he didn't know about O'Grady. But the news media scarcely covered the Stockton story. That probably would not have been the case regarding DiMaria, who was a student at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita in 1991, when the wildly popular and charismatic Harris is alleged to have molested him. Especially since DiMaria's lawyer was prepared to present evidence that a close Mahony protege and one of his top former lieutenants in the L.A. Archdiocese -- disgraced former Santa Rosa bishop G. Patrick Zieman -- had received reports that Harris was a child molester years earlier and had done nothing about them.
In retrospect, DiMaria, now 24 and a recent law school graduate, might have held out for even more. "It was never about the money," says his attorney, Katherine Freberg. "What Ryan wanted more than anything was to make a difference so that other kids might not have to suffer what Michael Harris did to him." On a muggy August morning, when he arrived at the Santa Ana chambers of superior court judge James P. Gray to face a phalanx of diocesan lawyers, DiMaria had tucked under his arm a list of demands that had nothing to do with dollar signs. They included a zero tolerance policy, a toll-free victim hotline and the distribution of materials about sex abuse to parishes and schools. Among others, they also included a commitment to conduct exit interviews to query graduating students about abuses they may have observed at St. John's Seminary College in Camarillo, whose most famous alumnus is Cardinal Mahony. A hotbed of priestly promiscuity, St. John's has stocked the parishes of Los Angeles and beyond with clerics for decades.
Perhaps relieved that DiMaria wasn't insisting on a larger sum (Freberg had been prepared to press for $100 million in damages if the case had gone before a jury) the archdiocese's lawyers agreed to a whopping 11 items on DiMaria's wish list. But amazingly, in the crushing aftermath of Boston and considering that his own track record in harboring pedo-priests was every bit as awful as that of Boston's much-maligned Cardinal Law, Mahony would eagerly ballyhoo the "reforms" as his own. And all the more so after the church leaders in Rome infuriated Catholics and non-Catholics alike by producing feeble recommendations that sounded more like "three strikes" than "zero tolerance," suggesting that perhaps only priests deemed to be "notorious" as "serial" sex offenders should be defrocked. In fact, while agreeing to them, the archdiocese has yet to divulge some of DiMaria's demands, and for understandable reasons. As a result of the settlement, all new priests in the L.A. Archdiocese and the Diocese of Orange must now essentially sign a contract (humiliating, to say the least) promising not to molest children. To address the familiar refrain of Catholic leaders claiming not to have known about a priest's child-molesting past, DiMaria even won a change in the way the archdiocese keeps its internal records. The archdiocese agreed to insert a "green page" in the personnel files of every priest about whom potentially incriminating material has been collected, signaling that such information is on file somewhere else.
However, he didn't get everything he wanted. Mahony had long ago set up an internal volunteer committee of mostly priests ostensibly to deal with sex-abuse allegations leveled at clergy. It is the same committee that in his headline-grabbing push recently the cardinal has promised to expand to include more lay people and perhaps even an abuse victim. But the archdiocese always has been secretive about the group. DiMaria, through Freberg, sought to find out what it does, and if DiMaria could share his experience as an abuse victim with its members. The request went nowhere, with a lawyer for Mahony insisting that the members preferred to remain anonymous. An episode during the recent saga may suggest why. Sources tell New Times that of the two or three lay members of the committee, one is Richard Byrne, a retired presiding Los Angeles superior court judge. In March, some of Mahony's (now infamous) hacked e-mails were leaked to a radio station, which shared them with the L.A. Times. It was Byrne, these sources say, who, at the request of lawyers for the archdiocese, helped facilitate the extraordinary late-night hearing at which Mahony's lawyers argued unsuccessfully to prevent the e-mails from being published. In other words, the archdiocese turned to a church confidante, ostensibly entrusted with helping abuse victims, to keep the embarrassing e-mails -- which, indeed, helped victims by exposing Mahony's duplicity in trying to keep a lid on the scandal -- from getting out to the press.
"Amazing" is how Freberg describes her young client's resoluteness and the obvious eagerness of Mahony -- who declined to be interviewed for this article -- to prevent the Harris case from coming to trial. It is also how she describes her reaction upon reading daily newspaper accounts of Mahony's multi-point plan for dealing with priestly sex abuse. His selling zero tolerance as his own would be crass enough if all he had done was lift it from the DiMaria settlement. But even the disdained Law in Boston had beaten Mahony to the punch, trotting out his version of zero tolerance back in January, a few days before the notorious Geoghan went on trial. During his recent interview-a-minute barnstorming of the circuslike press gallery assembled at the Vatican, Mahony spoke repeatedly of his zero tolerance policy, tooting his horn as a reformer even as he was widely rumored to be the "anonymous cardinal" plotting to force the beleaguered Law to resign. He has continued the horn-tooting since his return from Rome during carefully controlled sessions with selected (and fawning) mainstream media. As she has observed Mahony's self-promotion, Freberg says, she has had to laugh. "The public needs to know that Cardinal Mahony didn't do any of this voluntarily," she says. "The perception that he's doing what he's doing for the sake of victims is a fallacy. If not, what took him so long?"
Mahony's sudden appetite for reform, like his repeated professions of sorrow for clerical abuse, may be a matter of self-preservation considering his past role in covering up for child-molesting priests. Leaving aside the most recent broadsides to his credibility, he had his "Boston scandal" in Stockton, and was lucky that the news media paid little attention. But as dozens of interviews with abuse victims, plaintiffs attorneys and child-protection advocates reveal, the man whose media savvy earned him the nickname "Hollywood" from no less of an observer than Pope John Paul II has engaged in a pattern of harboring pedo-priests since becoming head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese on Labor Day of 1985. Even in cases where the abuses occurred before he arrived here, Mahony has consistently blocked efforts by victims to extract justice from their molesters. He has been slow to cooperate with law enforcement, assigned emissaries to short-circuit scandals from getting into the newspapers and, as a last resort, has authorized spending millions of dollars to quietly settle sex-abuse claims while imposing strict "confidentiality agreements" on victims and their lawyers to buy their silence.In one such case involving a young Carson woman who was sexually abused by seven priests for four years from the time she was 16, and who bore a child by one of them, Mahony approved regular payments to her chief molester, who had fled to the Philippines -- even while archdiocese officials were insisting that they had no knowledge of the priest's whereabouts. "They lied to me and Cardinal Mahony had to know," says Rita Milla, 40, who was a devout young Catholic whose ambition was to become a nun when Father Santiago Tamayo began molesting her at St. Philomena Parish Church in 1978. Tamayo, who was not the baby's father, arranged to have Milla sent to the Philippines to give birth, convincing her parents, who were unaware of the abuse, that she was being sent for nurse's training.
The day her lawsuit against the archdiocese was filed in 1984, "all seven priests seemed to mysteriously disappear from their parish offices," Milla's attorney, Gloria Allred, wrote in a 1991 declaration. "The archdiocese never ever did the right thing by me," Milla says. "They just wanted me out of sight and out of mind." Although her abuse occurred before Mahony arrived in Los Angeles, documents obtained by New Times (some of which were cited as part of the anti-racketeering lawsuit) make it clear that he played a key role in misleading Milla, who never was able to locate the priest she says impregnated her. Not only that, but as letters to Tamayo from one of Mahony's top aides at the time reveal, the archdiocese, with Mahony's blessing, encouraged the priest who was her chief molester to stay in the Philippines as a way of avoiding scandal. And upon learning in 1988 that the priest had returned to Los Angeles unexpectedly, Mahony's point person in dealing with the Milla affair -- concerned with the legal and public-relations ramifications should Tamayo's presence become known -- urged him to flee the country immediately. "We initiated salary payments to assist you while you were pursuing the possibility of permanent settlement in the Philippines," Monsignor Thomas J. Curry, Mahony's vicar for clergy, wrote in August 1988, in a letter that was copied to Mahony's attention. "I cannot emphasize too strongly that there has been no change in the situation [of Tamayo's vulnerability to legal action]. Therefore I am requesting that you return to the Philippines promptly." Milla might never have learned of the archdiocese's duplicity had Tamayo, who is now deceased, not resurfaced unexpectedly in 1991. He approached her to express remorse and detailed the archdiocese's role in ushering him and the other rapacious clerics into seclusion during the years she tried (unsuccessfully) to prosecute her case.
Similarly, Mahony also inherited the case of former Long Beach priest Ted Llanos, who allegedly molested more than two dozen young altar boys from at least 1973 to 1990 and whom Mahony removed as pastor of St. Lucy Parish, after a victim came forward in 1994, and hustled off to Maryland for sex-abuse treatment without informing police. But as interviews with several of Llanos' victims and a letter from one of the cardinal's top aides at the time reveal, Mahony's emissaries aggressively sought to keep the allegations away from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and out of the hands of the news media. Archdiocese officials even concocted a phony story to tell St. Lucy parishioners to explain the priest's abrupt departure.
In a key respect, the Llanos case is eerily similar to that of Father Oliver O'Grady, the priest whom Mahony shuffled around while in Stockton, despite clear evidence on file in the chancery office there of his having engaged in the sexual abuse of children. Mahony claimed that he never bothered to look at O'Grady's file, and also never bothered to interview a counselor to whom O'Grady admitted having committed acts of pedophilia (and who reported the admissions to the diocese) only weeks before Mahony promoted O'Grady. This, after a Mahony underling persuaded Stockton police to drop a child-abuse investigation of O'Grady amid assurances (which proved to be false) that the priest would be reassigned to duties that would keep him away from children. However, with Llanos the chain of knowledge is even more damning. Not only was the archdiocese made aware of molestation allegations against Llanos in 1973 -- more than two decades before Mahony ultimately removed him from the parish -- but the initial informant, Jim Dunlap Sr., a Catholic deacon, took the information directly to Cardinal Timothy Manning, Mahony's predecessor. It was Dunlap's son, Jim Jr., who was first molested by Llanos in 1973 at the age of 12. "Do I think Roger Mahony didn't know he had a pedophile working for him all those years? No way!" the senior Dunlap says.
But if such episodes call into question the cardinal's credibility, he hasn't helped himself by the way he has dealt with more recent cases that have cropped up as part of the unfolding L.A pedo-priest scandal. He has said that each of the undetermined number of recently dismissed priests, whose names he says law enforcement authorities possess, committed their offenses long ago. But he has steadfastly refused to name them or even confirm how many there are (although the purloined e-mails suggest there are eight). Neither does his math add up. After dancing around for weeks about the number of priests he is purported to have dismissed, he switched gears and confided as how there were only about 15 "cases" of sex abuse that had occurred on his watch, not counting a "few" other cases involving priests now deceased. Yet the Los Angeles Police Department tells New Times that there are at least 70 cases under investigation within the archdiocese. And that may turn out to be only the tip of the iceberg. Plaintiffs attorneys say their phones are ringing off the hook. Freberg, whose offices are in Irvine, says she's received calls from 134 prospective sex-abuse clients in the last three weeks alone, and that 80 percent pertain to the L.A. Archdiocese. For someone who has suggested that he couldn't "walk down the aisle of a church" if he had committed "gross negligence" of the sort that Cardinal Law is accused of, Mahony's verbal gymnastics are breathtaking with respect to at least one key question. If the priests that he recently dismissed were all long-ago offenders, why is it only now that he has seen fit to give them their walking papers after harboring them for years?
In the case of Father Michael Wempe, one of the purged priests, Mahony thought highly enough of him to be the star guest at a luncheon in his honor as recently as two years ago. Mahony, as it turns out, had sent Wempe away for several months of pedophile treatment after the priest was alleged to have molested two young boys in 1988 and then quietly welcomed him back into the ecclesiastical fold. Until shortly before Mahony dumped him, he was assigned to chaplain duty at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. But when a reporter called the hospital to fish around for information about Wempe, Mahony treated the matter as if it were an aberration. He apologized for never having told hospital officials that he had sent them a pedophile. And after insisting that he would have drummed Wempe out of the priesthood years ago if he had it to do over, the cardinal made the breathless claim that he didn't know a renowned hospital like Cedars-Sinai even had a pediatric unit.
Shortly after the Wempe mea culpa, a 34-year-old West Hollywood man walked into an L.A. County sheriff's substation to file a complaint against former priest Michael Baker, about whom there remains much secrecy. The man claims that Baker molested him at a church in La Mirada between 1976 and 1986. Typically, Mahony has refused to discuss Baker, except to castigate him as someone who couldn't be trusted to tell the truth and who didn't cooperate with sex-abuse treatment extended to him after he was alleged to have molested one or more children in the mid-1980s. But Mahony has yet to come clean about Baker. Sources tell New Times that Baker, 54, and the cardinal were close friends and that Mahony kept tabs on his progress after shipping him to a now-defunct pedophile-treatment facility at a church retreat in Jemez Springs, New Mexico -- not so affectionately known among victims-rights advocates as Camp Ped.
As he had done for Wempe, Mahony rolled out the red carpet for Baker upon his return from Camp Ped. For more than a decade after his scrape with pedophilia and the treatment, Baker was assigned to a variety of posts as a priest in the archdiocese. He served in a department that assists retired priests, filled in for other priests in conducting mass and ultimately, according to church sources, ended up as a chaplain assigned to UCLA Medical Center. But there's another reason why Mahony preferred to remain mum about Baker. In 1999, the cardinal dumped Baker for good. That's when his former friend was accused in another molestation case involving at least one other priest and several young victims, the sources say. The case was settled, with standard confidentiality agreements imposed, in January of this year for a sum in excess of $1 million. "I've never heard of one of these [settlements] wrapped up as quickly or as quietly as that one was," says one source familiar with the matter.
A similar pattern applies to Sutphin, who is accused of molesting four boys in the 1960s and 1970s while variously serving parishes in Maywood and Oxnard. One victim informed archdiocese officials of Sutphin's alleged misconduct as long ago as 1989 and wrote to Mahony about it in 1991. Similarly, the mother of two of the victims informed Mahony of her sons' allegations against Sutphin in 1994. In each case, the victims say the archdiocese led them to believe that Sutphin would be removed from the priesthood. But after sending Sutphin for pedophile treatment, Mahony placed him in a coveted position at the former St. Vibiana Cathedral and promoted him to associate pastor at the new Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in March 2001. Although the new $193 million cathedral will not officially open until Labor Day, Mahony and a handful of priests -- including Sutphin -- moved into the residential suites there last year. Yet Mahony only saw fit to force Sutphin to move out of the cathedral residence and into retirement earlier this year after finally getting around to purging a few priests as the result of the DiMaria settlement agreement.
Interestingly, the lawyer who filed the recketeering lawsuit this week is Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minnesota, who helped discredit Mahony on the witness stand in Stockton while representing James and Joh Howard. He is also the lawyer for Baker's West Hollywood accuser. Even as this article was going to press, Anderson was preparing to serve Mahony in connection with another lawsuit on behalf of eight abuse victims in Ventura County, who say the archdiocese allowed a priest who abused them there to flee to Mexico recently without turning him over to police. "Roger Mahony has continued a policy of duplicity and deception and, in my opinion, what he has done makes what [Cardinal] Law in Boston is accused of doing pale by comparison," he maintains. "Until Mahony resigns, there won't be any accountability in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, and there won't be any change."
The need for Mahony's abrupt and expensive settlement of the Harris case -- which kept his unflattering association with Zieman from the glare of a civil trial -- might never have arisen if not for the deathbed wishes of a former Catholic youth camp volunteer. As he lay dying of AIDS on Thanksgiving of 1993, Vince Colice of Stanton, California, gave his mother permission to go public with a secret he had told her two years earlier: that Monsignor Harris had sexually assaulted him in the late 1970s while he was a student and Harris a teacher at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. After burying her son, Lenora Colice wrote to Harris, by then the principal at Santa Margarita, to accuse him. A week later, he wrote back: "Through counseling and other resources I have endeavored to work through many things...It may not be any consolation, but I am very sorry." The letter later became part of the court record in Ryan DiMaria's lawsuit.Harris resigned as Santa Margarita's principal in February 1994, citing "stress." Two days later, the Diocese of Orange flew him to St. Luke Institute in Maryland, one of the few places in North America where Catholic priests are treated for sexual disorders, for psychosexual treatment. Not long afterward, the insurance carrier for the diocese informed church officials that it would not cover legal costs related to Harris' conduct retroactive to December 1993, when the diocese had told the insurer about Lenora Colice's letter. The diocese then placed Harris on "inactive leave" as a priest. In the wake of Vince Colice's accusations from the grave, three men came forward to publicly accuse Harris of molesting them. But little came of the allegations. In each case, the alleged offenses occurred so long ago that statutes of limitation had expired. Only one of the men, David Price, bothered to file a lawsuit, and it was quickly dismissed.
But DiMaria's case was different, and for a reason that would come to plague Mahony. It was in 1997 that DiMaria, then 20, worked up the nerve to go public with his allegations against Harris. In 1991, while a sophomore at Santa Margarita, DiMaria had been depressed over a friend's suicide, and his parents asked Harris to counsel their son to help him deal with his grief. Harris took him out for dinner and a performance of The Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles, and then brought him back to the priest's house to spend the night. DiMaria says Harris invited him to share his bed, but he refused, choosing to sleep on a sofa in another room. The next morning, DiMaria says, Harris repeatedly assaulted him. DiMaria spent the next six years battling depression and thoughts of suicide until he finally confided to his parents what had happened. By then, the Orange County district attorney's office had declined to prosecute, citing the time that had elapsed. DiMaria then turned to Freberg, the attorney, who filed the lawsuit on his behalf.
The Diocese of Orange had the chance to settle the DiMaria case early for $1 million, but declined. It was a costly mistake. While engaged in a protracted (and ultimately successful) struggle to force the diocese to turn over Harris' highly damaging medical records from St. Luke, Freberg made an unexpected discovery that pointed to a coverup of Harris' abusive behavior -- not only within the Diocese of Orange, but within the L.A. Archdiocese. In fact, there was a smoking gun pointed directly at Zieman, the longtime Mahony protege and a member of the cardinal's inner circle of clerics.
Zieman and Mahony might have seemed unlikely friends. Zieman was from an old-money Pasadena family, the grandson of lawyer-writer-orator Joseph Scott, a prominent Republican and one of the most influential Catholic laymen in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. (A statue of Scott adorns the grounds of the L.A. County Court House downtown.) Mahony is the adopted son of a San Fernando Valley electrician turned chicken rancher. But they were both bright, gregarious and, says one veteran priest who knows them, "they both were going places." In Zieman's case, Mahony would see to that. Zieman had served as pastor in a string of parishes before Mahony assumed control of the archdiocese. Mahony appointed him as vice rector and dean of students at Our Lady Queen of Angels Seminary in the San Fernando Valley and ultimately as an auxiliary bishop. When the bishop's position became vacant at Santa Rosa in 1992, Mahony was instrumental in persuading the Vatican to appoint Zieman to the post. The move turned out badly. Financial mismanagement during his tenure at Santa Rosa plunged the diocese to near bankruptcy.
But it was a sex scandal that did Zieman in. After a young priest from Costa Rica whom Zieman rapidly promoted to pastor was accused of financial irregularities at a church in Ukiah, Zieman began extorting the priest for sex, all the while pretending to help him out of his difficulties. According to police records, Father Jorge Hume Salas complained that the bishop forced him to wear a beeper and would beckon him for sex at all hours. After Zieman attempted to send him back to Costa Rica against his wishes, while continuing to exploit him sexually, Salas resorted to wearing a hidden microphone and captured several lurid conversations in which Zieman is heard apologizing for forcing the priest to have sex with him. Although the priest turned the tapes over to police, the district attorney's office declined to prosecute. But when Salas filed a lawsuit against Zieman in 1999 containing the allegations of the bishop's sexual extortion, Zieman hastily stepped down at Santa Rosa. To diminish the fallout, and keep the worst aspects of the seedy affair from coming out during a trial, the diocese settled the suit for a rumored $700,000. But as with pedophile priests with whom punishment seems relative, Zieman remains a bishop. He is assigned to the Holy Trinity Monastery outside Tucson, Arizona, where he works with young prospective seminarians and presides over mass occasionally. Just how a disgraced church leader can skate from a humiliating departure from his post in Northern California and, without being censured, land a plum assignment in the quietude of the Arizona desert speaks volumes about the Catholic clergy's ability to police itself. Says one veteran Los Angeles priest, "I could never prove it, but you can bet Roger [Mahony] had something to do with that."
Had Mahony not settled the DiMaria case, one thing was certain: A lot of unpleasant questions related to his friend in the Arizona desert were going to come up at trial. In a written declaration given in support of Price, whose allegations against Monsignor Harris had been thrown out of court because they were too old to prosecute, a former student at St. John's Seminary had provided a startling piece of information. The student, Richard Nason, had been friends with Vince Colice. In 1979, Nason became alarmed after one of his instructors at St. John's, a priest, persisted in making sexual advances toward him. After Nason confided the information to Colice, who was a senior at Mater Dei at the time, Colice had his own abuse story to tell, revealing that he was being molested by Harris. In May 1980, Nason made an appointment with his spiritual adviser -- who happened to be G. Patrick Zieman -- intent on telling all.
Nason didn't confine his discussion with Zieman to his own problem. He told Zieman all about the abuse suffered by Colice at the hands of Harris. Nason says Zieman appeared "deeply troubled" and assured him that he would take action to stop it. Disillusioned with the prospect of becoming a priest, Nason left the seminary a short time later. As he would learn years later, Zieman did nothing with respect to Harris' alleged abuse of his friend. Although Nason had no way of knowing it, Zieman and Harris were longtime buddies, having attended St. John's together years earlier. Zieman had taught religion at Mater Dei while Harris was there. And as court records show, they continued to socialize long after Nason turned to Zieman hoping to blow the whistle on Harris. An Orange County priest says Harris even invited Zieman to be the guest speaker at a special parents' night program at Santa Margarita in the early 1990s.
After learning of Nason's 1980 revelations to Zieman about Harris' alleged molestation of Colice, Freberg embarked on a novel approach in pursuing client DiMaria's interests. The Diocese of Orange was carved out of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1976 as a separate entity. But under canon law (the broad body of policies promulgated by the Vatican) the L.A. archdiocese, as a "metropolitan see," retains ecclesiastical superiority over the "suffragan" Diocese of Orange. It also remains financially susceptible for liabilities emanating from Orange in any matter in which the archdiocese may be substantively linked. In negligently failing to act on the allegations presented to him about Harris' conduct, Zieman provided just such a link. Sensing the gravity of the situation, lawyers for the archdiocese argued (unsuccessfully) that canon law shouldn't be applied in the DiMaria case. In March of last year, Freberg flew to Arizona to depose Zieman.
If the specter of putting Zieman on the witness stand in a trial that was bound to attract headlines seemed unsavory to Mahony and the archdiocese, Freberg had an even more unpleasant prospect in store. In early July, she served notice that she also wanted to depose the cardinal. Mahony's lawyers responded immediately that they had no intention of producing him without a fight. It was a fight the archdiocese lost. In late July, a superior court judge ordered Mahony to make himself available to be deposed. With a deposition looming, not to mention the trial scheduled for early that September, the cardinal seemed headed for a courtroom experience every bit as bruising as his 1998 testimony in the Stockton trial. Only this time, the media would be paying attention.
After four years of hard-nosed litigation, Mahony threw in the towel. A settlement conference was scheduled for August 1, giving the two sides a last formal pretrial chance to come to terms. Freberg arrived in Judge Gray's chambers that day "without an inkling" that the session would be anything but perfunctory. To her amazement, within a few hours Mahony's legal eagles agreed to fork over $5.2 million to her client. And as part of the settlement, which was formalized that December, they also acquiesced to the litany of reforms advanced personally by young Ryan DiMaria and mediated by the judge. From a sex-abuse victim's mouth to the pope's ear, the settlement terms would be heard around the world, even if Mahony filched them as his own.
Mahony's less-than-straightforward dealings with the victims of child-molesting priests is perhaps no better illustrated than by the tragic case of the late Ted Llanos. Similar to O'Grady in Stockton, Llanos was a well-entrenched child molester long before Mahony arrived in L.A. as archbishop. He began molesting altar boys at least as far back as 1973 while a church deacon, a year before his ordination as a priest. And he might still be molesting them had family therapist Sue Griffith not found a sexually suggestive note, accompanied by a poem, written by Llanos to her son, Scott, while cleaning a kitchen shelf in 1994. At the time, Llanos was pastor of St. Lucy Parish in Long Beach. Griffith kept her discovery to herself at first, but a few weeks later, while her husband was away on business, she approached her son. "We were driving in the car and I told him what I had found and asked if anything of a sexual nature had ever happened between him and Father Ted," she recalls. "To my shock, he very calmly answered, "Yes.'"His mother's inquiry helped relieve Scott Griffith, now 29, of a terrible burden. Llanos had secretly abused him for four years, starting at age 13. Although no one knew it at the time, the popular priest had molested at least 25 other young men in five parishes scattered across greater Los Angeles during more than two decades. The Griffiths were doubly betrayed. Not only was Llanos their priest, but he was a trusted family friend and confidante, and a regular guest at their home in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach. Barely five-feet five-inches, goateed and with a thinning hairline, Father Ted "drew young people to him like bees to honey. Young people thought the world of him," says Jim Falls, who, along with his younger brother, Michael, was abused by Llanos as a teenager during the priest's stint in a Covina parish. In fact, Scott Griffith's staunchly Catholic paternal grandmother thought so highly of Llanos that she gave him a cherished family heirloom -- the chalice, used to hold sacramental wine, that had belonged to her deceased brother, also a priest.
The Griffiths left it to their son to decide what to do after his startling revelation. "After thinking carefully about it, he came to me in the kitchen one morning and said, "Mom, for the sake of other kids out there, we have to do something about this,'" Sue Griffith says. On September 16, 1994 -- a Friday afternoon -- while his unsuspecting grandparents were entertaining Father Ted over lunch, Scott Griffith drove to the chancery office near downtown L.A. alone. There, he met with two of Mahony's most trusted aides, Monsignor Timothy J. Dyer, then vicar of clergy, and Father Terrence Richey, revealing to them what Llanos had done to him. The next day, Llanos was summoned to the chancery office. He not only confessed to abusing Griffith, but gave chancery officials a list of 10 of his victims.
Mahony moved swiftly to relieve Llanos of his parish duties (what else could he do under the circumstances?), but the Griffiths and the families of other Llanos victims would soon be disillusioned. The following Monday, Dyer and Richey went to Paul Griffith's office in Century City to discuss the matter involving his son. "Right away, I could see that it was all about damage control on their part," recalls the glass-company executive, referring to the visit. He says the Mahony emissaries told him that Llanos would be removed from the parish before the next Sunday's mass and sent away for psychological treatment, and that the archdiocese was willing to provide therapy for his son and other family members.
But beyond that, how the archdiocese proposed to handle the matter disturbed Griffith. Although Dyer, acting on Mahony's behalf, was clearly committing the archdiocese to pay for therapy, Griffith says the vicar explained that the funds would technically come from Llanos. The archdiocese wanted to create a degree of separation for itself in assuming financial responsibility emanating from the priest's misconduct. Engaging in the charade of letting the priest pay for counseling would afford the archdiocese deniability, allowing Mahony and others to say, should the need arise, that the archdiocese had not paid damages as a consequence of Scott Griffith's allegations. That was no small consideration in the event (as, indeed, later happened) more of Llanos' victims came forward. (Child-protection advocates and plaintiffs attorneys say that such squishy financial maneuvers are commonly used by dioceses across the country in secretly settling cases to avoid trials.) In explaining how the arrangement was to work, Griffith says Dyer told him that the archdiocese would extend a "loan" to Llanos, the proceeds from which would be used to pay for the Griffiths' counseling, and that the archdiocese would then forgive the "loan." In essence, it was pure farce.
More disturbing, the cardinal's representatives insisted on covering up what had happened, he says. "They stressed that they didn't want the district attorney involved. And the last thing in the world they wanted was for the press to get hold of the story." Griffith, who had already accepted his son's decision to step forward for the sake of helping other possible victims, and who was proud of him for doing so, says the vicar's suggestions left him both amazed and saddened. Although clergy were not at the time required by law to report sex-abuse cases to the authorities (the law would be changed in 1996 mandating that they do so), Griffith felt that, of all people, the cardinal's representatives should have felt morally and ethically bound to turn over Llanos to the police. The clincher was in how the archdiocese proposed to explain Llanos' departure to St. Lucy parishioners. "They wanted to announce to the parish that he had resigned due to administrative stress," Griffith says. "I told them that would be a lie. It would leave a lot of families, whose sons could have also been victimized by Llanos, hanging. I mean how could they do that? It was unconscionable. Scott didn't want that. The whole reason for his coming forward was to help others. I told them it would never fly; that we would never go along with it."
To reinforce the point, Griffith wrote a letter to Dyer three days after the face-to-face meeting to formalize what the men had talked about. The next day, Dyer responded with a letter of his own. In that letter, a copy of which was obtained by New Times, Dyer reiterated that the archdiocese would, indeed, provide therapy for Scott Griffith and other family members "in the name of Father Llanos." He instructed them to send the bills "directly to me, or if the therapist wishes to send the bills directly to me, that, too, is acceptable." Faced with Griffith's stated desire to report Llanos' abuse to the authorities, the vicar acknowledged that he was free to do as he wished, but made it clear that the archdiocese had no intention of doing so: "At this point, I do not feel it is the role of the archdiocese to present Father Llanos to the District Attorney...My own thinking is based on my experience that incarceration of the priest neither rehabilitates him, nor enhances the treatment which would be offered your son and your family." Dyer, who now presides over a South Los Angeles parish, declined to be interviewed for this article, saying "it would be inappropriate" for him to discuss the matter "since I'm no longer down there [at the chancery office]." Richey, now a monsignor who heads the archdiocese's alcohol- and substance-abuse department, did not return telephone calls.
As for how to explain Llanos' sudden departure to the faithful at St. Lucy, Mahony's vicar suggested a compromise to the Griffiths. "I believe that the parish announcement should read: "Father Llanos has resigned the pastorate of St. Lucy Parish. He has serious issues and problems in his life with which he must deal, and the Archdiocese is affording him the opportunity to do that.'"
Instead of making an announcement in church about Llanos' misconduct -- as the Griffiths insisted -- to encourage other potential victims to come forward, the archdiocese wanted to soft-peddle Llanos' departure. With an eye on preventing the scandal from becoming public, Mahony's men suggested that the archdiocese merely conduct private interviews with anyone suspected of having knowledge of his misdeeds. Dyer's rationale, which the Griffiths quickly concluded was bunk, was two-fold. "First, the story given us by your son does not point to any other victims," Dyer wrote. "Second, no evidence has ever been presented to this [chancery] office. No persons have ever come forward to make allegations in Father Llanos' 22 years in the priesthood prior to those of your son on September 16."That, too, was bunk.
In fact, the archdiocese had learned that Llanos was a child-molester as early as 1973 -- from one of its own deacons. Jim Dunlap Sr. recalls being in the family room of his Santa Ana home with his wife one night that year when their son, Jim Jr., who was 12 at the time, came in troubled. "I finally said, "Son, what seems to be your problem?'" to which he answered, "Oh, that stupid Deacon Ted tried to kiss me.'" His wife hoped she hadn't heard correctly. But there was no such luck. "He tried to kiss me on the mouth," the boy confided. Dunlap determined right away to report Llanos to the archdiocese (the Diocese of Orange had not yet been created). And he did so at the highest possible level. Not only was Dunlap a church deacon, but he was a friend of Cardinal Timothy Manning, Mahony's predecessor, and was part of a group of priests and others who regularly played poker with the cardinal on Friday nights at a rectory in Orange County. The next week, he pulled Manning aside in the rectory's kitchen and told him personally what had happened. "The cardinal listened very carefully, said how sorry he was and then, without hesitation, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, "Jim, we can't have this going on here. You can be guaranteed that I will take care of the situation and that you will never hear about a problem with this person again.'"
Within days, Llanos was gone. Dunlap presumed that Manning had shipped him to a treatment facility serving pedo-priests. A year later, in 1974, without the knowledge of Dunlap and his wife, Llanos was ordained as a priest in the L.A. Archdiocese and given his first assignment at a parish in Long Beach. Incredibly, not long after settling into that assignment, Llanos secretly reestablished contact with Jim Dunlap Jr., and molested him for two years. The elder Dunlap and his wife didn't learn of the abuse until after Scott Griffith came forward in 1994. If it had been left up to Mahony and the archdiocese, they would not have learned about it even then. The archdiocese went ahead with a fuzzy announcement regarding Llanos' departure from St. Lucy. But the Griffiths, deeply offended, refused to let the matter die. They almost single-handedly helped get the word out about Llanos within Catholic circles. They say they took the story to an L.A. Times reporter, who declined to write about it. They then turned to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, which did. Within weeks, more than two dozen men came forward to say that Llanos had also abused them as teenagers.
Meanwhile, Mahony shipped Llanos to St. Luke Institute, and the archdiocese went into damage-control mode. The Griffiths and others had gone to the Long Beach Police Department, but the police complained that the archdiocese wasn't cooperating with its investigation, withholding files and refusing to make available individuals whom detectives wanted to interview. In fact, the archdiocese even resisted turning over the (partial) list of 10 victims whom Llanos had confessed to molesting after being hauled into the chancery office. In a familiar tactic that has resurfaced during the current sex scandal involving the church, the archdiocese back then claimed to be protecting the privacy of the victims. Yet, some of those same victims who had already contacted the Griffiths were agitating for the archdiocese to turn over what it knew to the police. As they did for Scott Griffith, archdiocese officials offered to pay for counseling for other victims. Eventually nine men would go public and -- after months of foot-dragging by Mahony and his subordinates -- file a lawsuit detailing Llanos' abuses. "As soon as we did that, they yanked our counseling out from under us immediately," says Jim Falls. "That, to me, spoke volumes about Roger Mahony. Forget his pastoral role. He just wanted to sweep us under the rug."
Llanos was brought back from Maryland in November 1995 to face criminal charges, even as the plaintiffs pressed ahead with their suit against the archdiocese. But there was trouble on both fronts. Judges threw out both the criminal and the civil cases because the alleged abuses had occurred so long ago that statutes of limitation had expired. Llanos returned to St. Luke in late 1995. The victims pressed appeals, both on the criminal and civil fronts. And they turned to the California Legislature to extend the statute limits in child-molestation cases, even as their lawyers held talks with attorneys for the archdiocese. "It was amazing," recalls Mark Roseman, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys. "These victims never even wanted to sue the archdiocese. They just wanted acknowledgment and healing. They wanted Mahony to do right by them. But it became increasingly obvious that the archdiocese saw them as little more than a nuisance."
Paul and Sue Griffith concluded as much upon sitting down for an hourlong meeting with Mahony in his L.A. chancery office in the spring of 1995. "He struck me as arrogant," says Paul Griffith, referring to Mahony. "It was as if he was doing us a favor to even talk to us." By then, they had been informed by a sympathetic (and well-placed) source within the archdiocese about a meeting the cardinal had attended with several of his underlings to discuss the Llanos affair. At that meeting, they were told, Mahony had acknowledged Llanos' troubled history and declared that he would never turn over the priest's secret personnel file to the plaintiffs, as they were demanding. The Griffiths say they confronted Mahony with his alleged words about the file and that the cardinal acknowledged having made such a statement, but insisted that it was meant in the context of protecting victims' privacy. "He then held up what he purported was Father Ted's file in front of us and said, "See, there's nothing in it,' as if we would be impressed," Sue Griffith recalls. "It really was quite a disappointing performance."
But the victims would get a glimmer of hope -- however brief. In 1996, the legislature changed the law, extending the time limit for prosecuting child-molesters. The law took effect January 1, 1997. On Christmas Eve of 1996, one of the plaintiffs lawyers called the Griffiths with news that the archdiocese apparently had decided to cut the financial cord to Llanos, leaving the cleric to defend himself against the criminal charges that would almost certainly be brought in the coming year. Llanos, still a priest on inactive leave, had finished his treatment at St. Luke and had moved to the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., sharing a rented house with two other men, and working at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, on the same floor as the children's department. A couple of days after Christmas, he quit his job, telling co-workers that he was moving back to Los Angeles. He never made it. Mahony and the archdiocese would no longer have to worry about a scandal that had seemed finally on the verge of bursting into the open. On December 30, two days before the law took effect exposing him to the criminal justice system, Llanos made sure of that. He swallowed a few cold tablets, placed a plastic bag over his head and stretched out on his bed to die. His suicide note, scribbled inside a blank greeting card, said simply, "Life is too painful. I'm sorry for all the hurt I caused. I hope a better life awaits me."
Rita Milla also contemplated suicide, but under much different circumstances. The eldest of three daughters in a devoutly Catholic family, her dream from the time she was little was to devote herself to God. She never could have imagined that she would become a sex object for men purporting to do God's work. Her abuse, first at the hands of Father Santiago Tamayo, and later with six other clerics, began at St. Philomena Church in Carson, on a Saturday afternoon following a wedding held there in 1978. A perpetual volunteer at the church, she was helping put away utensils after the ceremony, presided over by Tamayo, when the priest approached her in a storage room professing to have a secret. He then kissed her on the lips, she says. The "secret" was his divulging that "priests get lonely too. He said, "We're human and have needs like everyone else.'"She was 16. It was her first real kiss.
Over the weeks and months to follow, there would be many more hugs and kisses, accompanied by fondling and groping, always, she says, with his urging her never to tell anyone because they wouldn't understand. Still she managed to confide in someone, telling her catechism teacher some of what had happened. But the teacher went straight to the priest. "The next time he saw me, he said, "What are you trying to do? Ruin my life? You broke your promise!'" says Milla. She says she apologized and promised never to do it again. For their part, her parents never had a clue. They were delighted that their priest seemed to take such personal interest in their daughter. Neither did her sisters suspect anything. "They just assumed I was a saint. I wanted to be a nun. And they knew I didn't date."
Conflicted, confused and in the throes of postadolescent depression, Milla says, she sank further under Tamayo's spell. In 1980, after he was transferred to become pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Wilmington, at about the same time she graduated from high school, he arranged for her to come to work there as a receptionist. Shortly afterward, he not only began having sex with her, but invited other priests to do the same.
Even the first time, she says, there were two of them. Tamayo and Father Angel Cruces picked her up on a weekend in the summer of 1980 and took her to the home of Tamayo's brother in Carson. Once in the living room, Cruces began fiddling with a package and took out a condom. Having never seen one, she didn't even know what it was. Tamayo instructed her to go into a bedroom and get undressed. But she was too embarrassed. He pulled her pants down, had sex with her and then watched television in the living room while Cruces took his turn, she says.
There would be more such priestly gang-bangs. On one occasion in June 1980, Tamayo showed up at the family home with three other priests, including Cruces, ostensiby to take Milla with them to visit the elderly. Instead, they drove to near Venice Beach. At a restaurant just off the 405 Freeway, she says, they had a mid-afternoon lunch. The restaurant was crowded, she says, and one of the clerics implored her to "stop calling me Father." After eating, they took her to a cheesy motel a few blocks from the water. Tamayo got two rooms -- one for sex, and one to use as a waiting room. The four men took turns with her. The next morning at church, when Milla went into confession, the padre on the other side of the curtain was Cruces, who had sexually assaulted her the day before, she says. In the amoral upside-down world of priestly sex abuse, what followed must have seemed surreal -- a young victim, plagued by a guilty conscience, confessing to her perpetrator. "I remember saying, "Father, I want to kill myself, and I know that I shouldn't,'" she recalls. "He told me I shouldn't be thinking that way and to say some Hail Marys."
After becoming pregnant in 1982 by one of the seven priests who had abused her during a four-year period, she was packed off to the Philippines by arrangement with Tamayo to have her baby. Even the day they took her to the airport, her parents had no idea she was pregnant. They thought the benevolent priest had offered her an opportunity of a lifetime -- to go live with one of his relatives while attending nursing college. It would be several months later, after she almost died in childbirth, that her mother and one of her sisters would come to the Philippines to rescue her. Two years later, Milla filed her lawsuit against the archdiocese, at which time all seven of the priests had conveniently vanished.
The archdiocese proclaimed repeatedly that it didn't know where they were. In one letter, in June 1984, John McNicholas, an attorney for the archdiocese, sent a lawyer representing Tamayo a memo acknowledging the priest's address in Laoag City in the Philippines, noting, "I have not disclosed this information to [Milla's attorney] or anyone else." As other documents obtained by New Times show, the archdiocese had been paying Tamayo a monthly stipend, beginning at $375, to keep him at arm's length from Los Angeles and presumably ensure his silence. The documents leave little doubt that Mahony was a knowing participant in the coverup. For instance, in 1987, Tamayo, apparently growing tired of life in the Philippines, wrote to the archdiocese expressing interest in returning to Los Angeles, and got this reply from Monsignor Curry, the vicar for clergy. "Thank you for your letters to me and to Archbishop Mahony. I understand from your letter that you would like to return to this Archdiocese. However, given all that has taken place, that does not seem advisable, and all the advisors to the Archdiocese counsel against it for the foreseeable future." Curry went on to tell Tamayo that "our lawyers also inform us that you are liable to personal suits arising out of your past actions. Therefore, it is not advisable that you return at all to the United States. Such suits can only open old wounds and further hurt anyone concerned, including the Archdiocese."
With the culprits at bay, and the clock winding down on the filing statutes, Mahony and the archdiocese succeeded in relieving themselves of the Rita Milla burden. Ultimately, the archdiocese would place $20,000 into a trust fund for her daughter, who is now 19, but not out of charity and certainly not as a consequence for having accepted responsibility for crimes committed by its priests. Rather, it did so to get rid of another lawsuit brought by Milla, after one of Mahony's auxiliary bishops slandered her in an interview with a Spanish-language television station. Amazingly, after all that had happened, Mahony's own press secretary in 1991, Father Gregory Coiro, dismissed Milla's horrific experience as if it were of little consequence. In an Orwellian outburst eerily descriptive of the current scandal, he made it clear that Mahony was more interested in protecting the institution and himself than in doing right by sex-abuse victims. "When people see their priest being accused of some sort of misconduct, there's a great deal of hurt among many, many people," he opined. "We're not in the business of hurting people. We're in the business of healing them."
Original material copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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