Mahony Resources – July 2002
By Ron Russell
If Cardinal Roger M. Mahony had hoped that the priestly sex-abuse scandal afflicting the Los Angeles Archdiocese might have blown over by now, he's bound to be disappointed with the latest pronouncements of L.A. County district attorney Steve Cooley.
In his first detailed interview on the subject since the scandal broke in early March, Cooley tells New Times that his office intends to go beyond merely prosecuting a few priests accused of abusing children to pursue criminal misconduct within the nation's largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese "wherever it leads." Asked if that means Mahony himself may conceivably become the target of a criminal probe, the district attorney pointedly replies, "No one is above the law."
Calling the burgeoning investigation of L.A. pedo-priests "unprecedented" and "uniquely challenging," Cooley -- who has been criticized for moving too slowly to force Mahony to cooperate with law enforcement -- has set up a special team of prosecutors devoted exclusively to the scandal.
It is headed by veteran deputy district attorney William Hodgman, who oversees the D.A.'s sex crimes unit.
Although Cooley declined to speculate about how many current and former priests within the sprawling archdiocese -- which includes Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties -- may ultimately be caught up in the scandal, he pledged to bring guilty clerics and those who criminally protect them to justice "whether the number turns out to be in the single digits, double digits or triple digits."
And to underscore his point, he suggested that his own prosecution of a San Fernando Valley priest for child molestation in the early 1990s be viewed as "the model" for his determination to let the chips fall where they may in dealing with the current crisis. As a deputy to former D.A. Gil Garcetti, Cooley rejected a plea arrangement that would have let Father Richard Allen Henry off the hook lightly after he was accused of molesting four boys from the same family. Henry was convicted and sent to prison, becoming the first and only Roman Catholic cleric in Los Angeles to serve time behind bars for molesting children. "If people want an indication of how I will respond when the evidence is there, they should look at [the Henry] case," Cooley says.
"We intend to be thorough and cautious. We want to make sure the evidence we gather is not suppressed [in court]," he says. And in a rebuttal to critics -- cops among them -- he says his office has coordinated information not only with the dozens of law enforcement agencies within the boundaries of the archdiocese, but "has for some time shared information with other agencies throughout California. We've been out front on this. I'm proud of what we've done. But we're only at the beginning of a very long and detailed investigatory process."
A New Times survey of dozens of law enforcement agencies within the three counties that make up the archdiocese reveals that at least 72 -- and likely more than 100 -- current or former priests are under suspicion in at least 142 cases of suspected abuse, and the number of cases is increasing almost daily. Such statistics already place L.A. on a plane with the Boston Archdiocese, where authorities are investigating about 200 abuse cases involving nearly 100 priests.
Yet even as the number of cases being reported to law enforcement via telephone hot lines has mushroomed in recent weeks, Mahony has stonewalled authorities while claiming to cooperate with them. It wasn't until June 18 -- three and a half months after Cooley first ordered Mahony to turn over documents pertaining to accused pedo-priests -- that the archdiocese finally surrendered its first scrap of paper to law enforcement. And that was only after the D.A. made good on his threats to have the L.A. County grand jury force the cardinal's hand with a subpoena. The documents released so far relate to only three of the dozens of priests under investigation.
Whether the documents are of any use to investigators -- or for that matter whether the cops are allowed to examine them -- remains unresolved. That's because Donald Steier, a lawyer for the three priests, has gone to court to keep the records under seal. A judge's decision on the matter, which could come any day, looms large. It is widely expected that lawyers for many if not all of the accused priests may similarly fight to keep the clerics' files out of investigators' hands.
The three priests whose records were turned over are all under investigation by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. Once the issue of whether their personnel files and other records may be used by investigators is resolved, authorities are expected to move swiftly to seek the records of other clerics being investigated.
Two of the priests are longtime close friends of Mahony whom the cardinal shuffled to new assignments long after he knew they were pedophiles. Father Michael Baker was jettisoned by Mahony in 1999 after abusing numerous young men during more than a decade after Mahony welcomed him back to the fold, despite Baker's confessed abuse of three boys in the mid-1980s.
Mahony similarly reassigned Father Michael Wempe, a former classmate of Mahony's at St. John's Seminary College in Camarillo, as a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center without bothering to tell hospital officials that he was a pedophile. The third cleric, Father David Granadino, was relieved of his duties in May after abuse allegations were leveled against him at a parish in the San Gabriel Valley suburb of Azusa.
By Richard Winton
In what one lawyer described as "a way to hasten the healing," three attorneys Tuesday filed a class-action lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church's Los Angeles Archdiocese on behalf of known and unidentified victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, is the first known class action to be filed against the church in Southern California's molestation scandal, which has seen more than 60 current and former priests come under investigation by law enforcement agencies this year.
The suit names two Ventura County men as plaintiffs and alleges childhood sexual abuse, sexual battery and negligence by one unnamed priest. The archdiocese, the suit alleges, failed to ensure the safety of children and prevent future acts of molestation while engaging in a pattern of concealment. The attorneys said the class action, if certified by a judge, would allow dozens of others alleging sexual abuse by a variety of priests to join the litigation.
"We could continue to file individual cases on behalf of victims--a long, drawn-out process," said Raymond Boucher, a Beverly Hills attorney and one of the three filing the suit. "Or we could pursue the class-action approach that provides the greatest possibility for victims to resolve their claims."
Clients could obtain out-of-court settlements or court verdicts "with as little pain as possible" because a class-action suit involves less rigorous examinations of individual cases and puts more emphasis on a pattern of conduct, he said.
Boucher said he and attorneys Larry Drivon of Stockton and Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., have more than 50 clients who allege sexual abuse by one-time archdiocese priests.
Tuesday's lawsuit was filed on behalf of two men identified as Manny V. and Tranquilano G.
Although the suit did not name a specific priest, the lawyers said Tuesday that the two men were sexually abused as minors by Father Fidencio Silva while he was pastor at Oxnard's Our Lady of Guadalupe parish during the late 1970s and early '80s.
Silva, 45, who was named in a previous lawsuit by eight Ventura County men, is the subject of an Oxnard police investigation. Silva, who now serves as a priest with the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit in Mexico, has denied the allegations.
The archdiocese, anticipating the lawsuit, released a statement Monday saying it wants to resolve as many cases as possible in the shortest amount of time and emphasizing actions taken in the past by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony to limit the possibility of priestly abuse.
"It is important for the victims, their families and the church to expedite this process and move toward a brighter future," said Tod Tamberg, an archdiocese spokesman. The archdiocese has a zero-tolerance policy for abusers and no priest accused of molestation is in active ministry, he said.
Since Mahony directed the removal of seven priests from the ministry earlier this year, dozens of victims have made additional allegations against clerics, triggering law enforcement investigations of more than five dozen current and former priests. The nation's largest archdiocese covers 287 parishes in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
The lawsuit comes days after Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation that creates a 12-month window in 2003 permitting the filing of cases involving sexual abuse, regardless of when incident occurred. Tamberg said the law is unfair and "plainly focused against the Catholic Church." He added that the passage of time makes decades-old allegations hard to disprove.
Attorney Drivon said the new law allows victims to seek justice and holds the church hierarchy responsible. "They are the ones who covered up criminal conduct for decades," he said. "They cannot scream now [because] they have to answer."
Mahony, archbishop since 1985, early this year adopted a zero-tolerance policy for cases of past, present and future abuse. That policy, church officials say, went further than a policy Mahony adopted in 1992, which established a zero-tolerance policy for new allegations of abuse, but did not oust some clerics with prior allegations who had received psychological treatment.
In the wake of the U.S. Conference of Bishops in Dallas adopting a zero-tolerance policy for clergy abuse nationwide in June, Mahony last month asked "for forgiveness" from Southern California Catholics "for not understanding earlier the extent of the problem" or acting sooner to remove priests who abused minors. He also beefed up an existing clergy misconduct board.
Mahony, however, has come under fire for his transfer of Father Michael Stephen Baker to several parishes after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested young boys. Mahony later approved a $1.3-million settlement with two men who had allegedly been abused by Baker in the 1990s and forcibly laicized him. Archdiocese officials say that Baker already knew those victims and that the cardinal has never transferred a known molester into a parish where they found a new victim.
Prosecutors convinced a grand jury to subpoena church documents related
to Baker and two other priests, but have yet to complete the process of
Original material copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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