Mahony Resources – February 2003
By Larry B. Stammer
As the impact of the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church increasingly moves toward the nation's courts, lawmakers around the country are debating proposals pioneered in California to extend time limits for criminal prosecutions of abusive priests and for civil lawsuits against church officials accused of shielding them.
The proposals could increase the financial liability of the church, which expects more than 1,000 suits to be filed nationwide this year alleging priests' sexual abuse of minors.
Organizations that lobby on behalf of sex-abuse victims and lawyers who are suing the church are actively pushing measures in at least 15 states.
The receptiveness in those state capitols shows a "heightened awareness by legislators of the extent of the problem and the failure of existing laws," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, most prominent of the victims groups.
But top Catholic Church lawyers warn that some of the proposals threaten freedom of religion.
"Through our wrong actions, we have opened the door for government to attempt to step more vigorously across the constitutional boundary between the business of religion and the business of government and remake the church in dangerous ways," Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a recent speech. "Someone has to say, 'Enough is enough' "
Church leaders are particularly concerned about a Kentucky measure that would remove the traditional confidentiality of the confessional. In most states, a priest generally does not have to provide evidence of criminal conduct when the information is gained during a confession. The proposed Kentucky law would eliminate that protection if a person had confessed that he or she sexually abused a minor.
"I understand the confessional is a sacred thing," said Kentucky state Rep. Susan Westrom, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation. "But I also understand our priests and ministers are the front line to God, and if they can't protect a child, what is their job? It's not just to pray for them. What is right is right and wrong is wrong."
But some church officials say such legislation would force priests to choose between observing "Caesar's law" and their sacred vows.
"It used to be the custom you'd never make a religious person or institution choose between following their faith and obeying the law," Chopko said in an interview.
Other Christian denominations share those concerns, said Father Charles H. Nalls, an Anglican and executive director of the nondenominational Canon Law Institute in Washington.
"We're hearing consistently from Catholic and Anglican priests who say they'll just go to jail, pure and simple," he said. "They will not violate the confessional seal under any standard. It's got a lot of Protestant denominations scurrying for their lawyers finding out what they are going to do. It raises a whole area of clergy liability."
Four states — New Hampshire, Texas, North Carolina and Rhode Island — already have laws that deny the clergy-penitent privilege. Twenty states, including California, explicitly recognize the sanctity of the confessional seal and do not require clergy to report child abuse disclosed under those circumstances, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In other states the law is not clearly spelled out.
Victims advocates say they realize that the Kentucky measure is controversial. Changing the time limits for prosecutions and lawsuits is a more effective way to hold the church accountable, they say.
The time-limit proposals fall into two main categories:
Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington are considering extending the statute of limitations for criminal cases against priests accused of abusing minors.
Currently, in most states, prosecutions can take place only if a victim reports the abuse within a few years of turning 18. The time limit varies from state to state, but five years is typical. Lobbyists for victims say that limit shields many abusers, because victims often need years to overcome denial, shame and isolation, and step forward.
Under a California law that several states are considering as a model, prosecutors can file charges against an allegedly abusive priest no matter how old the case so long as the charges are filed within one year of the victim reporting the incidents to authorities. The law was passed in 1994 and upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1999.
The lack of an extended statute of limitations has been an issue in several states. In New York, a Long Island grand jury said this week that the Diocese of Rockville Center had protected at least 58 abusive priests for decades. In some cases, church officials had tricked victims into believing the diocese was taking action, the Suffolk County Grand Jury said. But, the panel added, it could not issue indictments because of the state's five-year statute of limitations. The grand jury called for changes in the law.
The second major category of proposals would extend the deadline for alleged abuse victims to sue. Bills to accomplish that are being considered in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington and Wisconsin.
The California Legislature last year passed a law suspending the statute of limitations for one year to let victims of long-ago abuse sue institutions that protected abusers. The law does not specifically mention the Catholic Church, but bishops statewide say they expect their dioceses to be the main targets of suits filed under the law.
Other legislation, being considered in at least 10 states, would add members of the clergy to those already required to report child abuse suspicions. Currently, most states require reporting from counselors, teachers and medical professionals. In some states, Catholic dioceses are supporting passage of mandatory reporting laws if the bills exempt information obtained in a formal confession.
Church officials and victims' advocates said the momentum of legislative action could increase the potential cost to the nation's dioceses. Catholic Church officials have estimated that the extended statute of limitations for civil suits could cost the Los Angeles Archdiocese alone millions of dollars, some of which the church said will be covered by insurance.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, said he expects the archdiocese to be named in several hundred new suits this year. Negotiations have been underway since the end of December to avoid trial and mediate most of those cases.
Most state legislative sessions have just begun, making the chances of legislation passing hard to assess, but the church is on the defensive after a year of headlines about abuse of children, advocates say.
"Clearly the fight is now in the various state legislatures around the country," said Beverly Hills attorney Raymond Boucher, who represents sexual abuse victims.
"As more and more states listen to the victims ... they realize that either we reach out and provide a vehicle for the victims to find justice or we risk the loss of lives and opportunity. That's really the choice," he said.
By Richard Winton and Tracy Wilson
Four top aides to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony have testified before a Ventura County grand jury investigating sexual abuse by priests, according to Los Angeles Archdiocese officials who also said Thursday that they will cite freedom of religion in opposing the disclosure of some files.
The church will turn over documents to a judge today but will argue that some of the material should not be given to prosecutors, asserting that communications between a bishop and a priest are privileged and constitutionally protected under the 1st Amendment, according to a lawyer for the archdiocese.
It is the latest and potentially the most important dispute in the yearlong investigation of the Catholic church by prosecutors.
The four clerics who testified are Santa Barbara Bishop Thomas J. Curry, Msgr. Richard A. Loomis, Msgr. Timothy J. Dyer and Msgr. Craig A. Cox.
Each has served as the vicar of the clergy at some period during Mahony's 17 years as head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which oversees 1,200 Roman Catholic priests serving in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
They are the first top church officials to be subpoenaed by a grand jury in Southern California, increasing the pressure in the year since Mahony removed seven priests because of child molestation allegations.
On the document dispute, church attorney J. Michael Hennigan said there is "a limitation on what a state can do when it comes to private church files. At the same time, it is our desire to help law enforcement. They don't get to rummage freely through diocesan files. We don't understand why they need to."
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said he will continue to insist that the church surrender all the files.
"My position is that no one and no institution -- not even men of God or the Archdiocese of Los Angeles -- is above the law," he said.
"We have and will continue to utilize the tools we have at our disposal -- criminal investigations, subpoenas and the grand jury -- in an effort to shed light upon this sad and disheartening scandal."
Hennigan said the four clerics have testified before grand jurors since the beginning of the year and have "answered their questions."
Ventura County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox declined to comment.
But sources said Ventura County prosecutors are investigating several priests accused of sexual abuse, as well as the wider issue of what church officials knew about the allegations. At least three former priests suspected of molesting at least 15 children beginning in the 1970s are under investigation.
Hennigan said he will also oppose disclosure of other church documents on 17 priests suspected of abuse, arguing that they are subject to attorney-client privilege and to the patient-therapist privilege.
"We've always said we'd turn over documents that aren't privileged," Hennigan said.
The church is confident there is no evidence of wrongdoing in the files, Hennigan said, but must protect itself.
He said the archdiocese has not changed its position and has always said it would not support the release of privileged documents.
Last summer, Mahony told The Times that the church wants "every single thing out, open and dealt with, period."
Thomas Nuff, a retired Los Angeles Superior Court judge, will decide the documents issue. The first open hearing on the matter has been set for April 1. In Ventura County, the church has raised similar objections to similar demands for documents.
In a letter to Mahony last year, Cooley's counterpart, then-Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury, called the archdiocese "an obstacle" to an ongoing criminal investigation.
"We believe you have evidence of criminal sexual abuse that you are refusing to provide to law enforcement," Bradbury wrote. "It is time that the safety of children be put ahead of the fear of scandal."
Victims rights group for those who allege they were molested by priests said the archdiocese's latest move is an attempt to cover up what Mahony knew about the abuse.
"Cardinal Mahony and other bishops have knowingly protected and harbored these molesters for years," said Mary Grant, spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
"It is clear Cardinal Mahony is not interested in disclosure and he is trying to cover up his handling of cases," she said.
Hennigan said he will object to disclosure of parts of the file of Michael Stephen Baker. Baker told Mahony in 1986 that he had molested boys.
Mahony has said he did not contact police about Baker but referred him for treatment.
Baker was then transferred to nine different parishes, had his ministry restricted, and was ultimately removed by Mahony when new allegations of sexual misconduct were made.
Baker is one of six former or retired priests so far charged in Los Angeles County with child molestation.
After prosecutors demanded files last year, Donald Steier, an attorney for several accused priests, fought the request on procedural grounds.
The church delivered many documents to Los Angeles County Superior Court, pending resolution of the legal fight, but prosecutors have yet to see any of them.
Some law enforcement officials say the protracted fight over personnel files is designed to delay any damaging disclosures ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on a key related case.
The Supreme Court in April is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Stogner vs. California, a challenge to a 1994 California law that has become a national model for overcoming legal time limits in decades-old child molestation cases.
Almost all prosecutions of priests hinge on that statute because most date back more than a decade.
William Hodgman, deputy district attorney in charge of the Los Angeles investigations, said that if the statute is struck down, dozens of prosecutions would end.
By Larry B. Stammer
It is early evening and, as happens every week in the small second-floor office, the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church is about to take on a human face.
Among those filing in on a recent night are a financial advisor, an aircraft mechanic, a registered nurse and a retired Catholic school teacher on disability. They have one thing in common. All of them say they were molested by priests when they were children or adolescents.
Brought together by a nationwide victims' advocacy group, they are about to share stories with one another and a visiting reporter.
Groups such as this one have been formed across the country by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. The group was founded in 1989 but has gained most of its prominence, and many of its members, as a result of the scandal that has roiled the church for the last year and a half. Two years ago, the group had nine chapters nationally; now it has 44 chapters and claims 4,500 members.
The organization is best known publicly for its news conferences, testimony before state legislatures, and confrontations with the nation's Catholic bishops. But among those who have been victims of sexual abuse, the private side of the organization -- the support groups -- are the main draw.
"The groups are where most victims, for the very first time, meet other victims. It's where they break their silence," said David Clohessy, the group's national director. "They are what gives victims the strength and courage to take those crucial next steps: going to the diocese, police, prosecutors, civil attorneys, legislators and journalists."
"This is the very heart of [the group] itself," said Mary Grant, the group's western states director. "This is where we could talk to someone who understood our vocabulary of pain."
The 10 people are seated in as much of a circle as the rectangular office allows. There is an awkward silence after the leader invites someone to speak. But soon, the stories -- sometimes raw and disturbing, sometimes hopeful -- well up.
Francisco Malo, 31, an aircraft mechanic, is a veteran of Desert Storm. He says he was abused as a 14-year-old at St. Joseph's Church in Hawthorne by a priest who has since died.
"I was an altar boy, and he was really fond of altar boys. He'd invite a handful of us up to his room," Malo tells the other members of the group.
"I guess he'd tempt us up there with M&Ms. He'd have this big thing of M&Ms. This big gun collection. He also had a big liquor cabinet on the side of the wall. He'd invite us up there, separate us in his rooms. He had three bedrooms. He'd molest ... me in the bedroom. When it wasn't in the rectory, it would be as we were dressing up in our altar boy [vestments] in the sacristy, right behind the altar.
"I remember he'd always tell us not to ever say anything because, A, my parents would stop loving me; B, God would stop loving me; and, C, he would kick us out of the school, me and my brother, because he was paying for our tuition and my parents couldn't afford the tuition.
"I guess the only reason I came out, well about a year ago ... this whole thing in Boston was happening, I had kept it in 17 years. I never told anyone."
Armida, 39, was abused when she was 16 or 17 years old. She has long black hair. She's wearing a black sweater with red teddy bears and hearts.
"I see the psychiatrist once every three or four months, and I stroll in yesterday thinking: 'I've got great news. I've lost 11 pounds. I'm going to a gym regularly. Life's great.' Doctor says: 'You look wonderful, you look happy; tell me about your life.' Work's great. Kids are great. Social life. Friends. No love life, but that's OK. I'm all right with that.
"And I'm trying to feel real good about myself. I'm starting to think, 'Wow, I'm going to pass with flying colors here and I'm going to walk. See ya later doc. See you in three or four months.' "
"Then he throws me that ... curveball: 'So what's going on with this church thing?' Swoosh! I got thrown through the glass."
She pauses and composes herself. "And I hate the doctor for asking me, almost. Simply that question, it shouldn't provoke so much of a reaction from me. I grabbed the tissue box because the tears start coming. He tries to calm me down and tells me: 'Let's not let your progress go down the toilet. Just hang in there. Just hold on, and you'll be OK,' and all that.
"It would mean so much to me to have any perpetrator just admit that what they did was wrong. It doesn't wipe away all the pain. It doesn't take away or lessen the wrongdoing, but at least it's an acknowledgment so you feel some kind of vindication. But it's me against him. He's saying he didn't do it. He looks good to everybody else, but I know exactly what he is."
Mary Ferrell speaks. She has long, straight, graying hair. She's 55, and a registered nurse.
She was 7 or 8 when she was molested by a priest who has since died. A civil claim has been filed. She said she knows she shouldn't blame herself. But she still feels shame.
"We somehow realized that what happened was wrong, and we were there. It makes you complicit. And because it is the priest, the reverend, the most highly thought of person in the church, and you're a kid, you must have screwed up. But the shame is still there, to a lessening degree, being here talking about it. Just the shame over what happened, over recalling it, it is still very distasteful.
"I've known all my life what happened, but I thought I had dealt with it until ... I started having panic attacks, a myriad of things, and this last year....
"Sometimes I wish I didn't have this level of discovery, but it gives you kind of a commitment once you've come forward, to help others. That's why I came forward.
"I just wanted you to know where it affects still, definitely, my life. I have no sense of trust in almost anyone. I'd like that to be different, but so far it's not."
Friend of the Family
Lee Bashforth, 33, is a financial planner, married, with no children. He was 7 when he was first molested, he says.
The priest who allegedly molested him, who is now under criminal investigation, had been a friend of the family.
"I can't drive in a car without it coming back to me. He often abused me when we were in the car and also taught me how to drive, so that's something that there's a big connection there. Something we all take for granted like driving a car is something that can be really uncomfortable.
"I have my good days and my bad days like everybody else. I suffer from panic attacks pretty regularly. Lately, I've been having a lot of nightmares, waking up at night and yelling.
"A close friend of mine from high school told me just yesterday that he asked his girlfriend to marry him. It wasn't long after the initial announcement that it set in that his girlfriend is a devout Catholic, and that wedding is going to be in a Catholic church. I have a wedding coming up that my wife and I are invited to. We can't attend the wedding together because I can't physically go into the church."
CBS 2 News
LOS ANGELES (KCBS) Special Assignment: "Confessions Of An Altar Boy" aired February 26, 2003 at 11 p.m.
The confessions began arriving in letters to CBS 2 News late last year -- confessions never before written down, detailing a childhood that Stephen Cisneros says led him to years of crime and a life behind bars.
"I’m glad I’m here because my crimes were getting worse," Cisneros said.
He is 51 years old now, a self-proclaimed monster, convicted of raping eight women, convicted of arson in which two young boys were killed, convicted of assault, drug abuse, robbery, burglary. Stephen Cisneros will most likely spend the rest of his life in a California prison.
And he blames it all on the one man who used religion to destroy him.
"Sometimes I wish I was in front of him so I could tell him, 'You know what, you were wrong.'"
Last week we did what Stephen Cisneros will never be able to do. We confronted Father Carl Sutphin, and asked him why.
CBS 2: "He’s one of the boys accusing you of molesting them."
Father Sutphin: "Okay."
"Did you molest him?"
In a moment, his answer -- but first, the story that begins when Cisneros was just 13 years old, and learning how to become a good Catholic, an altar boy at St. Rose of Lima Church just east of Los Angeles.
"Now when I think about it, it's kind of funny. He would teach us separately about sex education. Then the fondling started. One day he masturbated me."
"I was a naïve kid. I thought he was just showing me about sexual things. Then it started progressing. I hated myself. I felt dirty and I started getting in trouble, a lot of trouble."
Cisneros says Father Carl Sutphin's abuse eventually led to rape in the back of a church. He knew then he needed help, but in his Catholic family, Father Sutphin was known as the good priest, the priest who would play basketball with a fatherless boy, who would take the boys for burgers. When Cisneros told his Aunt what the good Priest was doing, his problems only grew.
"She beat the heck out of me. She made me take my pants off and kneel on the wooden floor for repentance," Cisneros said.
From that moment on, Cisneros was in and out of trouble, and in and out of jail. He was sent into the army but was kicked out there, too.
Then the attack began. Proving his manhood, he says, he began to rape women and beat up homosexuals.
In 1975, he was sent Atascadero State Mental Hospital.
"The jail said I was a mentally disturbed sex offender, the jail said I was sexually dysfunctional."
Three years later he was released and began attacking women again. Finally in 1985 Stephen Jesse Cisneros, the 13-year-old altar boy from Maywood, was sent to prison for 70 years for the rape, kidnap and torture of eight more women.
"I wish I was in front of him so I could tell him, 'You know what, you were wrong, you ruined a lot of peoples lives.'
Last week, Cisneros got his wish. We tracked down Father Sutphin to a driveway in Santa Barbara, where we made him watch and listen to what this convicted sex offender had to say.
CBS 2 to Father Sutphin: "Do you recall this face at all, Stephen Cisneros?"
Sutphin: "I remember the name, yes. I don’t recall the face, 30 years."
"I'm sorry he is in prison. But I don't know my relationship with the whole case."
CBS 2: "Did you molest him?"
Sutphin: "I don’t know. I do not recall."
CBS 2: "You don’t recall?"
Sutphin: "I do not."
Carl Sutphin is no longer a Priest. After being accused for years of abusing children, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles finally removed him from the priesthood last year.
Sutphin now stands accused of abusing five young boys over a 10-year period.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony is accused of protecting and covering up Sutphin’s alleged crimes.
"I have no comment," said Sutphin, as he shut the door to his car.
Stephen Cisneros now spends his long and lonely days reading the Bible in a small prison cell in Northern California. His daily struggle is to overcome a life of anger.
"Our lord says we have to forgive and we have to love everybody, even our enemies. I love him and forgive him, but I still think that he needs help."
The altar boy may have lost faith in the Catholic Church, but he has not lost his faith in a just God.
"He thinks he has gotten away with it by hurting us. But like the Bible said, vengeance is the Lord's," Cisneros said. "When he goes before the Lord he is going to pay. Our Lord will give him the punishment that no man can give him."
Carl Sutphin can no longer present himself as a priest in the Catholic Church. He is being sued in a civil complaint and is being investigated by at least two counties for possible criminal action.
Stephen Cisneros, the altar boy turned serial rapist, will get his first
chance at parole when he is in his 70s.
Bishop Accountability © 2003