Mahony Resources – April 16–31, 2003
LOS ANGELES -- A retired Catholic priest accused of molesting an altar boy throughout much of the 1970s and '80s must stand trial on nearly 30 counts of sexual abuse.
Rejecting defense efforts to dismiss the case, Superior Court Commissioner Burt Barnett ordered Michael Stephen Baker to return to court April 30 for arraignment.
"There (are) a lot of things I'd like to say but I can't say," Baker, 55, told reporters outside court after Tuesday's hearing. He said his attorney had advised him to keep quiet.
Baker, who is free on bond, faces 13 counts of lewd acts upon a child under 14 and 16 counts of oral copulation with a minor. Authorities say he also remains under investigation in the alleged molestations of at least nine youths dating to 1976.
Defense attorney Donald Steier had asked Barnett to dismiss the charges, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to show "serious sexual misconduct," the standard required for an extension of the statute of limitations on such crimes.
Baker's alleged victim, Matthew Severson, now 35, had testified Monday that the retired priest had sent him intimate notes apologizing and professing his love. Severson also read from the notes.
"I think it's hard to say what that is an admission to," Baker's attorney argued Tuesday.
But the commissioner countered: "If it's not a confession it is certainly an admission of misconduct."
Severson, a movie archivist who is completing work toward a doctorate degree in critical studies in film at the University of Southern California, estimated Baker molested him at least 168 times before he turned 18, although he said he did not have specific memories of most of the incidents.
What Severson said he does remember specifically is spending the night in the same bed as Baker and watching movies. He said one of the films he watched with the retired priest, 1979's "Kramer vs Kramer," triggers a "gut reaction" whenever he sees or thinks about it.
Severson allegedly was abused while he was an altar boy in the rectory of churches in the Los Angeles suburbs of La Mirada and Pico Rivera and allegedly in a Palm Desert condominium. He says the abuse began when he was 7 or 8 years old.
He testified that he perceived Baker as an authority figure, adding it never occurred to him to report the acts to police. He said it was not until last year, a few days after Easter, that he came to believe he had a social responsibility to tell authorities.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, who leads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, transferred Baker to several parishes after the priest allegedly told him in 1986 that he had molested young boys. The cardinal later approved a secret $1.3 million settlement to two men allegedly abused by Baker in the 1990s.
Mahony arranged for Baker to retire from the priesthood in 2000.
By William Lobdell
Michael Stephen Baker, the priest who 17 years ago confessed to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony that he had molested boys, became the first Los Angeles cleric to be ordered to criminal trial since the Catholic Church's sex scandal broke last year.
After a two-day preliminary hearing in Downey, a Los Angeles County Superior Court commissioner ruled that there was enough evidence to try Baker on 29 felony charges of molestation. Baker left the ministry in 2000.
Prosecutors presented a single witness, Matthew Severson, a 35-year-old West Hollywood man who testified he had been sexually abused by Baker more than 100 times during the 1970s and 1980s, with the first alleged molestations beginning at age 7 or 8.
Besides involving the first former priest to be ordered to trial, the Baker case will be closely watched because of its link to Mahony. Baker told Mahony in 1986 that he had abused two or three boys, though Baker stayed in the ministry until 2000.
Mahony transferred Baker to nine parishes, many temporary assignments, after learning about the priest's history of alleged sex abuse and sending him to therapy. In 2000, the cardinal approved a confidential $1.3-million settlement to two men. Mahony removed Baker from the ministry that same year without notifying authorities or informing parishioners about the alleged abuses. Baker then successfully petitioned Pope John Paul II to be released from the priesthood.
Baker is one of more than 100 L.A.-area priests under investigation by the district attorney's office. Eleven have been charged in the last year.
A key piece of evidence presented by Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Katz was a letter written in 1994 by Baker, in which the then-priest apologized to Severson for his "immature emotions and psychosexual-screwed-up-ness," which he said had "slashed and burned through those years of your life seeking self-satisfaction in the name of love."
Commissioner Burt Barnett ruled that the letter was, "if not a confession, at least a strong admission of misconduct."
In the courtroom, Severson was supported by family, friends and Catholics who attended his childhood churches, St. Paul of the Cross in La Mirada and St. Hilary in Pico Rivera. After the commissioner's ruling, Severson's mother, Diane, gave her son a long hug and called it "the happiest day Matt and I have had together."
During the testimony, Baker's gaze remained fixed on the floor, a finger stroking his mustache.
In cross-examination, Donald Steier, Baker's attorney, asked Severson how many specific sexual encounters with Baker he could remember. Severson, who said the acts occurred in the rectory of two Los Angeles parishes and at a condominium in Palm Desert, said most of the alleged assaults had blended together in his memory.
But he was able to tie details of several to specific events, such as a New Year's Eve party, a church dance and an outing to see a movie, "Kramer vs. Kramer," with the priest. He occasionally referred to a timeline he had drawn last week to refresh his memory.
"I'm a bit of a list-maker," Severson said.
Steier also asked the witness if he had "a crush" on or was
"infatuated" with Baker, a characterization that Severson denied.
Baker's attorney succeeded in arguing that testimony about other alleged
victims of Baker should not be considered at the hearing.
By Steve Lopez
The bus pulled up to the cathedral and out stepped the students of St. Mary Magdalen, filing past the decorated cop who is Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's worst nightmare.
The students, in smart blue uniforms, were here for a tour of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in the middle of Holy Week. So they paid little attention to the Oxnard cop, who says he was molested when he was roughly their age, and carries a sign saying:
"Victims deserve truth and honesty."
Manuel Vega, 36, began his eight-day vigil and fast outside the cathedral last Sunday. He is one of the victims in a class-action suit involving an Oxnard priest, but that's not why he's here.
Nor is he here because of the former priest who was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on 29 felony counts of molestation -- the same priest Mahony transferred to nine different parishes after the cleric confessed to the cardinal that he had molested two or three boys.
Vega -- a decorated cop and former Marine, a family man and a committed Catholic -- is out here for another reason.
Last May, Cardinal Mahony proclaimed: "We want every single thing to be out, open and dealt with, period." But he had a change of heart and now argues that certain files are confidential, and keeping them secret is his constitutional right, despite the demands of prosecutors.
How can it be? Vega asks. How can he hide behind complex law when the issue is simple morality?
Vega is using vacation time for this vigil, sleeping in the rain some nights. This was the week it had to be.
"As Catholics know, a lot of our beliefs are based on Easter week and the passion of Christ that occurs in the liturgy," Vega said. "The betrayal, the suffering, He even agonized by Himself, so in some sense you could compare that to what I and other victims have gone through -- the agonizing over a betrayal."
I asked Vega what character Mahony represented in this Holy Week passion play.
"Judas," he said. "Judas sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver."
Vega said Mahony came out and tried to make amends one night this week. The cardinal brought him a set of rosary beads he claimed were from the pope.
"He said he was sorry about what had happened, and, 'Here, let me give you these.' "
If it was meant to win Vega over, it didn't work. Vega said he accepted them only because he did not want to appear rude.
Mahony also brought out rosary beads for Vega's parents one night, offered them shelter and told Vega he hoped all legal matters would soon be resolved.
He can only resolve them, Vega argued, by following his own advice and opening his files. Anything less and the obvious conclusion is that like Boston's former cardinal, Bernard Law, he must have something to hide.
If Mahony is Judas, I asked, who is he betraying?
"He's betraying what he stands for," Vega said, arguing that as the leader of 5 million Catholics, Mahony has an obligation to truth and justice.
"Is he Judas?" Vega asked, reconsidering his own argument. "Or is he Pontius Pilate, because he's washing his hands of this whole thing? He's not Judas, the more I think about it. He's Pilate."
Vega asked if we could sit down on the curb. It was the fourth day of his fast and he was weary up there on the mount at Temple and Grand.
"Mahony is in his $189-million cathedral, and while he sleeps in there, I'll stay out here in the gutter, where he's left the victims."
Vega said he grew up surrounded by gangs while his immigrant parents picked strawberries in Oxnard, and the church was "the only shining light in my life." He can't stand by now and let anyone tarnish it.
Vega said that during his vigil, he has been cursed and blamed.
"One lady came by and yelled that I needed to forgive myself. I asked why and she said it was my fault because I had accepted the abuse."
But Vega has also been shown support by parishioners and some priests. He said three people, including one from San Diego, have come by to say his vigil inspired them to tell their own molestation stories for the first time.
He's tired, hungry, cold and dirty, but still a committed Catholic, and not until after Mass on Easter Sunday will he go home.
It's a small sacrifice, Vega said. This is the week God gave up his only son.
What has Mahony sacrificed but the truth?
Will The Supreme Court Compound Its Ex Post Facto Error?
By Vikram David Amar
In my last column, I wrote about a pending U.S. Supreme Court case - Stogner v. California - that tests the meaning of the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the Constitution, which prohibit certain kinds of retroactive criminal laws. In this column, I will turn to a recent Court decision, Carmell v. Texas, that also addresses the Ex Post Facto Clauses, and which may play a central role in resolving Stogner.
My claim is that the Court made a serious mistake when it decided Carmell, and that very mistake may cause it to decide Stogner wrongly, as well.
A Brief Recap of My Last Column: The Issue Stogner Raises
To understand why the pending ruling is Stogner may be affected by what I believe is the Court's erroneous past ruling in Carmell, it's necessary to briefly summarize the argument made in my prior column.
The Stogner case arose because, in 1994, California changed its statute of limitations for certain child molestation crimes. The earlier version required each case to be brought within three years of the commission of the crime. In contrast, the new version now permits prosecution so long as the case is brought within a single year of the time the child makes the accusation, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.
No one doubts that the new statute can be applied to crimes committed after 1994. In Stogner, however, the Court must decide whether it is permissible for California to retroactively apply the new statute of limitations to crimes that occurred in the 1950's and 1960's. Obviously, as to these crimes, the three-year statute of limitations in effect back then had expired before charges were brought. The question is, after the statute of limitations has expired, can the California legislature then revive the criminal claims?
As I explained last column, the primary purpose of the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws is to prevent legislatures from punishing conduct that was innocent when done. If legislatures could rewrite the rules of criminal liability after a person's conduct has already taken place, lawmakers could visit punishments on their political enemies. They could also unreasonably interfere with the reliance interests of individuals who were not placed on clear notice that what they chose to do could subject them to punishment.
In short, the Constitution's prohibition of ex post facto laws is part of a broader requirement that the government be even-handed and fair to all persons, including alleged criminals.
Under these principles, I argued in my last column that the State of California should win its case. Child molestation was wrong and illegal when Mr. Stogner allegedly committed it - indeed, child abuse is one of those so-called malum in se crimes, where the evil is inherent and obvious to all. (By contrast, malum prohibitum crimes are not necessarily evil, but rather made wrongful only by law.)
California did not, in its new, 1994 law, rewrite the substantive definition of child molestation after the fact. Instead, California merely changed the time and manner in which child molestation may be proven by prosecutors. Thus, I argued, there is no basic unfairness in applying the new statute of limitations. Nor did I see any great reliance on the prior statute of limitations, on Mr. Stogner's part, that would be worth respecting.
In essence, I suggested, changes in statutes of limitations seem analogous to changes in rules of evidence: Assume certain kinds of evidence (say fingerprints or DNA tests) are not admissible at the time a crime is committed. That does not mean that such evidence cannot be introduced years later at trial, provided the reliability of such kinds of evidence has been verified in the meantime. Similarly, statutes of limitations may change in response to interim factfinding relevant to the crime at issue.
At the end of my column, however, I noted that even if the Supreme Court accepts the analogy between changes in statutes of limitations and rules of evidence, it may not rule for California. That is because three years ago, in Carmell v. Texas, the Supreme Court suggested that the Ex Post Facto Clauses applied to all significant changes in evidentiary rules. I believe the Carmell ruling is wrong, and that Stogner provides a chance for the Court to fix its mistake.
The Carmell Case: A Slim Majority Sees an Ex Post Facto Clause Violation
Like Stogner, Carmell also involved sexual molestation of a child, a teenage girl with the initials "K.M.," whom Texas prosecutors said was abused by her stepfather, Scott Carmell, during the early 1990's.
At the time, Texas law said that defendants accused of certain sexual assaults could not be convicted merely on the testimony of the victims. Instead, conviction required some corroborating physical evidence, or at least some contemporaneous statement by the victim - termed "outcry" - such as a remark made to a friend or counselor or doctor near the time of the assault.
But in 1993, Texas changed its attitude towards teenage victims of sexual abuse. Rejecting old stereotypes, and recognizing that teenage accusers (ordinarily girls) are not usually liars, Texas rewrote the evidence laws. Now, they no longer require more than a victim's testimony. By itself, such testimony can, under the new law, establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt if it is convincing enough.
In 1997, Scott Carmell was prosecuted, based on the uncorroborated testimony of K.M. The jury believed her, and convicted Carmell on fifteen counts.
Carmell then sought and was granted Supreme Court review. There, he argued that Texas could not apply its new, 1993, evidence law to his trial, because his crimes were committed earlier in the 1990s, when the old laws were in place.
The Supreme Court, by a bare 5-4 majority, threw out the conviction. The majority was an extremely unusual one, consisting of the so-called "liberal" Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer, and the so-called "conservative" Justices Scalia and Thomas. (Dissenting, then, were conservative Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice Kennedy and Justice O'Connor, and liberal Justice Ginsburg.)
I believe the Supreme Court went wrong in Carmell. As in Stogner, the State hadn't changed the substance of its basic rules of criminal conduct - it has always been wrong (and criminal) to sexually abuse your stepdaughter. Texas merely changed the manner in which the crime could be proved - it changed the law of evidence.
Moreover, Carmell could not be said to have relied in any meaningful way on the prior rules of evidence (For instance, he did not discard any helpful evidence that could have proved him innocent based on assurances that K.M.'s case would not be prosecuted on her testimony alone.) Accordingly, there is simply no unfairness in applying the new rule to him.
How the Court in Carmell Got Off the Right Track: Chasing a Bad Lead
In reaching the wrong result, the Court in Carmell made a few all too familiar mistakes.
First, the Carmell majority leaned too much and too unthinkingly on its past precedent. It should have focused on the Ex Post Facto Clauses themselves, and their origins. Instead, the majority focused unduly on Justice Chase's famous analysis of the ex post facto provisions in his separate opinion in the Calder v. Bull decision, issued in 1798.
In his Calder v. Bull opinion, Justice Chase identified four distinct categories of cases that violate ex post facto principles: laws that make criminal conduct that was innocent when done (the bedrock principle I've discussed); laws that retroactively increase the punishment for crimes; laws that retroactively increase the offense-grade of crimes; and all laws that "alter the legal rules of evidence, and receive less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense, in order to convict the offender."
Thus, in his fourth category, Justice Chase made clear that, in his view, changes in the law of evidence are unconstitutional ex post facto laws. If one accepts this idea, Carmell's result is quite predictable. There, the law of evidence relating to the crime was changed, and in a way that certainly led to Carmell's conviction, which would previously have been impossible.
The problem, however, is that it's not clear that this idea belongs to the Constitution, and not just to Justice Chase - for reasons I will now detail.
The Problems with Justice Chase's Analysis, and Thus With Carmell
First, and importantly, as my brother, Akhil Reed Amar, has pointed out, Justice Chase's four-part definition of ex post facto laws was never advanced by "any leading Federalist speaker or pamphlet before the Constitution's ratification." In light of this, arguing that Chase's definition of ex post facto laws is the same as the Constitution's is dubious at best.
Second, and relatedly, Carmell illustrates "bad" originalism - that is, it's a bad example of the interpretive method that looks to the Framers' intent as a guide to what the Constitution means. Perhaps because the Calder case was decided in 1798, just a decade after the Constitution's drafting, even the usually-conservative Justices Scalia and Thomas bought into Justice Chase's broad language without careful analysis. But just because a case comes from the 1790's doesn't mean it interprets the constitutional document in a way that is faithful to the text and intent of the Framers.
Proponents of the Constitution in 1787 had every incentive to tout the limits the new document placed on Congress in order to win over skeptical Anti-Federalists, and the Ex Post Facto Clauses were just such limits. Yet, as noted above, not one of them offered the broad definition of "ex post facto" that Justice Chase came up with.
Nor was the authority of Justice Chase equivalent to the authority of, say, Justice Marshall or Justice Story. Justice Chase was never regarded as a leading light on the early Supreme Court - nor has history so regarded him. Indeed, Chase was impeached for alleged misconduct.
By focusing too much on past cases and categories, the Carmell Court never asked the basic questions. Has the Texas legislature deprived Carmell of fair notice or otherwise undermined any reasonably reliance on his part?
If it had, the result would have been different. The new law made it easier to convict Carmell - but crucially, it did not do so in an unfair way, because Carmell did not rely, in any justifiable way, on the prior law.
Indeed, the only kind of reliance that seems possible would have been repulsive - a molester's reliance that a conviction on his victim's say-so alone was legally impossible. Certainly that's the kind of reliance we want to defeat, not encourage.
Carmell's Potential Effect on Stogner: One Wrong Makes Another Wrong?
Carmell should be a good case for Mr. Stogner to cite, in his attempt to convince the Court to throw out the charges against him. Indeed, if Texas's change in the rules of evidence unfairly burdened Mr. Carmell, then California's change in the statute of limitations would seem to impose a larger and even more unfair burden on Mr. Stogner.
At least Mr. Stogner has some plausible claim of unfairness, and justifiable reliance: "I thought I was free to move ahead with my life when three years passed since my misdeeds, and the statute of limitations expired.." Mr. Carmell has no such argument.
An analogy to another area of law also suggests that if Mr. Carmell was correct, Mr. Stogner is even more correct. When a federal court is hearing a case that is brought under state (rather than federal) law because the parties live in different states (so-called "diversity" jurisdiction), the federal court applying state law would apply state statutes of limitations but not state rules of evidence. That's because it recognizes that statutes of limitations are more "substantive" than are evidentiary rules. And a point of view that looks towards evidentiary rules as merely procedural will see more harm to Mr. Stogner - who lost the benefit of a substantive statute of limitations - than to Mr. Carmell, who lost, on this view, a mere procedural advantage.
A Way to Cabin Carmell's Error, and Decide Stogner Correctly
Ironically, though, the Court may retain Carmell but rule against Mr. Stogner. The Court might say: "Texas's law fell within the Calder categories, but changes in statutes of limitation do not, because Justice Chase didn't mention them."
This is one of the primary arguments that has been made by the United States, which filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief in Stogner. Congress has retroactively eliminated the statutes of limitations for many terrorism crimes in the U.S.A. Patriot Act. As a result, the U.S. has a strong stake in arguing that changing statutes of limitations retroactively is perfectly fine.
If the Court takes this tack, the result may be satisfying, but the reasoning will not. Unthinking application of the Calder doctrine and Chase's boxes is the problem, not the solution.
The Court shouldn't try to squeeze this case into one of the Calder categories. Nor should it simply conclude that it simply cannot so be squeezed. Instead, the Court should take a step back, and ask what the Ex Post Facto Clauses are designed to get at: What purposes do they serve? And, do the Calder categories really capture these purposes in a complete and nuanced way?
In so doing, the Court will be able to get back to the Constitution,
and away from a misguided line of precedent. That is originalism in the
very best sense.
Suit Says Abuse by Friar Led to Son's Suicide
By Calvin Sims
Los Angeles - The parents of a deeply depressed man who said that as a youth he was sexually molested by a Roman Catholic lay brother have sued the Los Angeles Archdiocese for damages resulting from their son's suicide last year.
The lawsuit, filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, is being brought by Richard and Blanca Lukasiewicz, who said that their son Richard Jr. was molested by a lay brother at Don Bosco Technical Institute, a private Catholic high school he attended from 1979 through 1983.
The couple said in the suit that as the result of his childhood sexual abuse, their son fell into a deep depression that made him suicidal. Despite years of treatment for his depression and several suicide attempts, Richard Jr., 36, hanged himself with his belt and shoelaces at a psychiatric center on April 19, 2002, the suit said.
"The sexual abuse stole Richard Jr.'s youth, it took his self esteem and drained his ability to cope," the suit said. "Though he fought valiantly for years to overcome the sense of betrayal and mistrust, he ultimately succumbed to the depression and sense of worthlessness."
While there have been perhaps dozens of other suicides nationwide by people who said they were suffering from depression brought on by sexual abuse by priests, lawyers and activist groups representing victims said the Lukasiewicz case was the first in the country in which relatives of the victims have sued the Catholic Church for damages.
Mary Grant, the southwest regional director for the victims group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that her organization was contacted regularly by families who had lost children to suicide because of sexual abuse by priests but that none had ever filed a suit.
"I'm glad to hear that they are filing the suit because it's the right thing to do because when a child is sexually abused the whole family is victimized," Ms. Grant said. "This is very good news that they are doing this and moving things in the right direction toward acknowledging the impact of abuse."
Tom Tamburg, a spokesman for Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it. He noted, however, that Cardinal Mahony assumed his post in 1985 and was not at the helm of the archdiocese when the abuse was alleged to have occurred.
The lawsuit does not name the Catholic brother who is accused of molesting Richard Jr. but says only that he was assigned to teach and counsel at the high school. Telephone calls to Don Bosco Technical Institute, in Rosemead, Calif., were not answered, perhaps because the school was observing Good Friday.
According to the Los Angeles Archdiocese, a Catholic brother differs from a priest in that he is not a member of the clergy but a layperson who is not ordained but takes vows within his particular religious order, which has direct jurisdiction over its members.
"Richard Jr. wanted to live, and he made heroic efforts to survive," said Raymond Boucher, a lawyer for the Lukasiewicz family. "He tried yoga, he tried counseling and took medication, but the damage done by this Catholic brother was so great that none of it worked."
The Lukasiewiczes are also seeking damages from the psychiatric facility, which was not mentioned by name in the suit. They claim that the facility did not adequately supervise their son when he was admitted after a suicide attempt.
Mr. Boucher, who represents at least 200 victims of sexual abuse by priests
in Southern California, said the Lukasiewiczes had filed the suit to raise
awareness of the problem in the hope that other families will not suffer
as they have.
Police officer holds Holy Week fast for release of records
By Arthur Jones
This Holy Week was special here because it was the first celebrated by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony in his new cathedral. It may become a memorable week, too, for what happened outside.
On the Temple Street sidewalk, Manuel Vega, a 36-year-old Oxnard, Calif., police officer, was committed to a 24/7 Holy Week bread-and-water fast to urge Mahony to release all the internal archdiocesan files on priests. Vega, as an altar boy, was sexually abused by a priest who has since fled to Mexico.
Mahony’s lawyers are claiming exemption for some 2,000 documents, arguing they are protected by bishop-priest privilege.
Police, lawyers and victims, however, believe it is those papers that will reveal names that will help convict priest perpetrators who have escaped thus far. Especially in cases where, to date, there is only one accuser.
Vega, a former U.S. Marine with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism, and Oxnard’s police officer of the year in 2000, is no pushover. His fast is not a case of a lone protester up against a cardinal.
As Holy Week progressed, Vega, married with two young children, slept each night in a small folding beach chair not far from the entrance to the plaza of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He had some high-powered supporters.
Not least among them on April 15 was California State Sen. Joseph Dunn, point man on some key sex abuse legislation in the state capitol, and lawyer Larry Drivon, who drafted the 2002 California legislation that suspended for 2003 the statute of limitations against suing employers of known child molesters.
Stopping by periodically to check on their brother officer were Los Angeles Police Department members such as Detective Dale Barraclough, head of the Juvenile Division’s Sexually Exploited Children Unit, one of four detectives assigned to Los Angeles archdiocese molestation cases (NCR, March 21).
As the week progressed, other abuse victims, aggrieved parents, and a regular procession of local television camera crews, plus the print news reporters showed up outside the cathedral.
Vega wants the archdiocese’s documents out in the open. So did a father of six, a few yards away on the Temple Street sidewalk, who alleges that in 2001 a Los Angeles priest still in office abused three of his young sons.
To protect his children, NCR is not printing the family name. Nor is it publishing the name of the alleged priest perpetrator unless formal civil or criminal proceedings are pursued. The father of the boys said he had reported the case to the police, who had investigated it. The priest denied the molestation, so it was the priest’s word against that of three boys under 8 years. Right now, said the father, his case needs corroborative evidence that the priest has been accused of abusing others.
It is the possibility of finding corroborative evidence in archdiocesan files that motivates Vega. For his case he doesn’t need the documents, since he has located 16 friends, altar boys at his childhood parish, who are ready to give evidence against their alleged molester, Fr. Fidencio Silva, a Missionary of the Holy Spirit. Silva served at Oxnard’s Our Lady of Guadalupe from 1979 to 1986.
The Ventura County district attorney’s office has filed 25 child molestation felony counts against Silva, last heard of in Mexico in 2002.
Vega said, “When [Silva] came to Our Lady of Guadalupe -- young, good-looking, very charismatic -- he spoke English in a Spanish-speaking community. He was put in charge of altar boys, approximately 60 of us.”
In time he was in charge of the English- and Spanish-speaking youth groups, “a lot of youth circulated around him. And during that time I became very close to him. He was my sponsor for confirmation. My parents loved him,” Vega said.
He described the first molestation. The seventh grader had a fever one day and Silva said he could tell the boy how he was “if you drop your pants.”
“I thought, ‘A little unusual, but then, I was a Catholic, he was a priest, well, OK.’ But things progressed.”
For that Easter, Vega alleged, Silva wanted to paint a Risen Christ for the church. “The upstairs sacristry was where he established his studio. Boys from the youth group went up and modeled for him. Undressed.”
But the boys weren’t telling each other, or anyone else, what was going on.
Vega explained that as a child, “at that point, if you weren’t invited to model for him, you felt a little envious, you know. That’s how things were. He asked me to take my clothes off.”
The policeman said he, with his 16 friends, have “been able chronologically to see as he moved from one favorite to the next to the next,” Vega said. “As soon as he had tested the water, and pushed it as far as he could, and you said no, he moved to the next one.”
Then there was a “directive from the pastor to stay away from the rectory. As young altar boys,” said Vega, “we were allowed to go into the rectory, and go into the lounge. I was at the elementary school next to the church and I got to go to the rectory, you know. So I was proud. Sit down and eat their cashews -- that was the best part. They always had a bowl full of cashews.
“In some cases we spent the night, slumber parties,” the policeman said. “He’d say, ‘Hey, take off your shirt, it’s hot.’ So we’d be walking around without our shirts. Unusual? No, not [to us] at our age. To somebody looking from the outside in -- yes.”
The time came when the pastor said no one was to go upstairs unless accompanied by somebody else. “From there to: Can’t go upstairs,” said Vega. “From there to: You can’t go out of the reception area. From there: You can’t go inside the rectory. They’d open the door and say no, he’s not available, thank you.”
Vega said that in the teenage years “you don’t think back to it too much.”
He and his fiancée even considered having Silva preside at their wedding, but when they took him to lunch, he was “cold, distant.” They chose another priest instead -- who “was later named as a molester,” said Vega.
The policeman said even in 1992, when hired by the LAPD, what had happened didn’t quite register with him. In the psychological test, he said, “there’s a question: Were you ever molested as a child? I stopped. I thought about it. No, no, that wasn’t me.
“At [the Police] Academy class on child pornography, sexual assault, rape, all that came up. I thought about it and said no, that wasn’t me. It wasn’t until about 1999 that my mother-in-law was talking about sexual abuse -- she was sexually abused by her stepfather -- that I finally told them a priest abused me. I’d spoken.”
Vega said, “My subconscious started picking up on it, spiking and sort of hitting me. A fellow police officer asked me, ‘Hey, have you seen a friend of ours who was sexually molested?’ I said no. When he said Silva molested him, that’s when that whole thing started.”
The fact that Silva “is on the lam in Mexico is fine,” said Vega. “Eventually he has to surface.” The priest is not a U.S. citizen “but the FBI could go after him. There’s extradition. I do consulting work for the Department of Justice, I have connections there.”
What troubles Vega most is the effect of all this on him and his family as Catholics.
As parents, he and his wife have become hypersensitive. “It tears me up inside because from my life experiences and as a police officer I’ve seen there are two pillars in life that we lean on. One based on family and the other on religion. And when one’s lacking or both lacking, that’s when we’re having problems. Now, as a Catholic parent, I want to believe things will get better.
“In the end,” he said, “I’m interested in bettering my church. I think the leadership here is lacking. This should have been handled a long time ago. The police are moving forward. This is a pivotal time.”
He believes the documents have a lot more details and have to be released.
“That’s what has to come out,” he said. “We were told at first in Boston it was just a slice of the pie. Guess what, we have a whole pie here.”
Meanwhile Vega is sleeping out and living on four slices of bread a day -- one for breakfast, one for lunch, two for dinner, and all the water he can force down.
But this particular evening, his wife has told him she’s bringing him a chicken salad. “And if that’s what my wife needs to bring me,” said Vega, “then I’m going to sit down and eat it.”
One thing for sure, he’s safe on the sidewalk at night. No one’s
going to try to move him on, and the patrolling cars know they’re
keeping an eye on a colleague.
D.A. Subpoenas Files on 14 Priests in Sex Scandal
By Richard Winton
Personnel files of 14 more Los Angeles priests have been subpoenaed, widening the investigation and setting the stage for another confrontation between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and prosecutors over evidence in the clergy sex scandal.
The Los Angeles County Grand Jury subpoenas, issued over the last week, are the first this year and attorneys say they almost double the number of files on individual priests and church officials that are being sought by prosecutors.
Six retired or former priests have been charged with crimes in Los Angeles County. The subpoenas followed the grand jury testimony of detectives from several police departments
"We continue to vigorously pursue our investigation, and expect it will be very active and intense in the months to come," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Hodgman, chief prosecutor in the clergy cases. Hodgman declined to discuss the specifics of the subpoenas.
Files on 17 priests and church officials were sought last year. But prosecutors have yet to see those records. Attorneys for the archdiocese argued that disclosure of the nearly 2,000 pages of church documents would violate fundamental tenets of the faith and constitutional protections for communications between priests and their superiors.
Hodgman has argued that conversations between bishops and priests are not constitutionally protected. He said suspected child molesters should not have a "free pass."
Prosecutors said they believe information in the files will support allegations by more than a dozen adults that they were molested as children by priests.
At least one priest whose file was subpoenaed admitted to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in 1986 that he had molested a child and, after receiving therapy, was transferred to new parishes. In 1990s, Michael Baker allegedly continued to molest two boys. He was ousted from the ministry in 2000 and was charged last year with multiple counts of child molestation.
Retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Nuss could rule on the issue by late May. Nuss is also expected to preside over the latest round of subpoenas.
J. Michael Hennigan, attorney for the archdiocese, said that, under a recent change in state law, issuing subpoenas allows prosecutors to ensure that legal deadlines for prosecuting crimes do not run out. "They are buying more time," he said.
The change modifies a state law that allows authorities to prosecute alleged sexual abusers, no matter how old the crimes. But charges must be filed within one year of the victim's reporting incidents to authorities.
It also freezes the one-year statute of limitations in a case in which a subpoena is issued and the defendant files a legal challenge.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley lobbied heavily for the change in state law after a legal challenge to the subpoenas by the archdiocese delayed the investigation so long that, in some cases, the one-year deadline was about to pass.
The legislation was enacted against the backdrop of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, expected this summer, on the constitutionality of the California law that allows the prosecution of decades-old sex crimes such as those involving the priests. Prosecutors said the archdiocese seems to be delaying disclosure in hopes that decision will derail the prosecution.
Cooley has accused the archdiocese of "a pattern of obstruction" in conspiring to keep reports of child molestation secret. Church officials said that accusations of conspiracy are unfounded and irresponsible, and they said that not one priest accused of child abuse is in ministry with the archdiocese.
Attorneys for several accused priests said that the church had given prosecutors enough information.
"These are fishing trips. They have priests with a single allegation,
and they know that alone won't make a case. They're searching for victims,"
said attorney Don Steier. "The legal jihad continues."
Original material copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.