By Ron Russell
To the extent that Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony ever enjoyed credibility with the victims of priestly sex abuse, it began to shrivel in the autumn of 1992, long before the phrase "Boston scandal" became a television sound bite. David Clohessy can even pinpoint the minute when, from his standpoint, Mahony's pretensions as a champion of abuse victims evaporated like helium from a punctured balloon. It was in a hotel conference room in Washington, D.C., following an extraordinary impromptu session between the cardinal, two bishops and a group of eight sex-abuse victims, including Clohessy, a public schools administrator from St. Louis. He and the others had come to picket outside the hotel where the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States was gathered for a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Among other slogans, the signs they held up read, "Child Rape Is a Cardinal Sin."
Ever media savvy, Mahony took it upon himself to invite the protesters inside for what turned out to be an informal 45-minute sit-down session with him and the other prelates. While Clohessy and the others "poured our hearts out" about the pedo-priest tragedy and what the church ought to be doing about it, Mahony played the role of sympathetic listener. "All the nonverbal signs were, "I hear you, I understand, I sympathize,'" recalls Clohessy, who is national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. But as soon as the session ended and members of the news media poured into the room to surround the cardinal, Clohessy saw a different Mahony under the glare of TV lights. Standing three feet from His Eminence, Clohessy listened as he told the assembled broadcast and print reporters how moved he was by what he had just heard in private. "It felt phony. It was as if he'd switched on his emotions for the cameras. It didn't sound sincere," Clohessy says. "Then and there this awful feeling crept over me that we had been used."
It was the SNAP leadership's first real experience with Mahony, and they soon concluded that—despite his carefully crafted image to the contrary—the cardinal who presides over the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese was no friend of abuse victims. Then, as now, Mahony's public utterances seemed to hit the right notes. Not long after the headline-grabbing session in Washington, he issued statements stressing that the church wanted to know as soon as possible about child-molesting priests so it could get help quickly to victims. He became fond of saying that the sooner an accusation is called to the church's attention, the sooner sex-abusing priests could be removed from circumstances where others could be harmed.
In fact, Mahony assumed a preeminent role within American Catholicism in dealing with the pedo-priest crisis, becoming a founding member of—and, many say, the driving force behind --an ad hoc committee on sexual abuse set up by U.S. bishops in 1993. As such, he has offered generous platitudes about the horrors of child molestation, using ceremonial occasions to issue general apologies while professing solidarity with victims. Church sources suggest that among the 13 cardinals and 186 bishops in the United States, Mahony has been first among equals over the last decade in formulating a response to the sex-abuse issue—a reaction that even many within the church deride as a do-nothing policy. Unwilling to genuinely tackle the issue of sex abuse in its ranks, the leadership has instead resorted to generating the appearance of action, endlessly studying an issue about which it possessed many of the answers years ago. Says one veteran reform-minded priest, referring to the church leadership, "To pin those guys down to do anything is like trying to catch a snake covered with Jell-O."
Despite his presumed role as reformer, Mahony's talk has never matched his walk. Indeed, his actions in the L.A. Archdiocese, and earlier when he was the bishop of Stockton, mock his public image. As detailed in past articles in New Times, he has consistently blocked efforts by victims to extract justice from their molesters. He has resisted cooperating with law enforcement, assigned emissaries to keep 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.
Moreover, as dozens of interviews with abuse victims, plaintiffs attorneys and child protection advocates show, the 65-year-old cardinal has for years made it as difficult as possible for victims to come forward. Those who've mustered the courage to do so complain of being treated as potential litigants rather than abused sheep of a spiritual flock. Despite his reconciliation rhetoric, the chief prelate of an estimated 3.6 million Roman Catholics in Southern California has refused to meet with some victims and their families who've personally sought his pastoral guidance, or to even respond to them in writing, on the advice of his lawyers.
Under Mahony, the L.A. Archdiocese has worked vigorously to keep the misdeeds of errant priests from public view, suggesting tacitly or otherwise that victims should not go to the district attorney or to the news media in return for the church's paying for their therapy. In some cases, such payments have been abruptly halted as soon as statutes of limitation have expired, rendering prosecution of offending priests impossible, or when victims have turned to lawyers for help. One sex-abuse victim told New Times that the archdiocese threatened to countersue him if he went forward with allegations against the cleric he says molested him years ago. Even when Mahony has removed pedo-priests from parishes, his top lieutenants have concocted phony stories to explain their sudden departure to parishioners, reducing the chances that other victims might step forward.
And none of that is to mention Mahony's dismal record of harboring sex-abusing priests, which plaintiffs attorneys and others argue is even more horrid than that of Boston's beleaguered Cardinal Bernard Law, who, until lately, has taken the brunt of national media attention related to the scandal. Mahony's failings go at least as far back as 1980, when as Stockton's bishop he began shuffling notorious child-molester Father Oliver O'Grady from parish to parish, even promoting him. It includes his kid-glove treatment of the late Father Ted Llanos of Long Beach, whom Mahony refused to turn over to police despite his having molested at least 25 altar boys for more than two decades. Mahony's underlings tried in vain to keep the parents of one of Llanos' victims from going to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office or to the press.
Mahony also covered up for seven priests who abused a young Carson woman for four years from the time she was 16, and who bore a child by one of them. He even authorized secret payments to her chief molester, who had fled to the Philippines to avoid prosecution—at the same time archdiocese officials were insisting they had no idea of his whereabouts. Of the few pedo-priests that Mahony has recently let go, despite his knowledge of their abuses for years, it is now clear that he was forced to do so as part of a settlement agreement in a civil lawsuit brought by abuse victim Ryan DiMaria. Yet the cardinal has shamelessly continued to portray the ousters as part of his so-called zero-tolerance policy, which, in truth, he was forced to accept. Mahony appropriated zero tolerance as a public-relations mantra, lifting it directly from the list of DiMaria's 11 settlement demands. Amazingly, Mahony just last year had elevated one of the disgraced priests, Father Carl Sutphin, to associate pastor of the soon-to-open Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, the hugely expensive church that he fought hard to get built and that he considers a monument to his legacy.
But if such a miserable record is in stark contrast to the image of a church leader who is arguably the most influential of U.S. cardinals (he advises Pope John Paul II on how to deal with the media), it shouldn't be surprising, given the lethargy of American Catholic officials in rooting out pedophiles from the priesthood. In fact, as a leading voice within the church hierarchy on priestly sex abuse since at least the early 1990s, Mahony typifies a church leadership that has spent more of its energy and resources to cover up the problem than to solve it. "The [American Catholic] bishops have done little or nothing to address this problem," says Father Richard McBrien, a theologian at Notre Dame University. "The proof of that is in the scope and intensity of the current crisis. If they had done something significant, we would not be in the mess we're in today."Neither is it because church leaders, especially Mahony, have been unaware of the issue. As far back as 1985, on the heels of a notorious case involving a Louisiana priest, three highly respected church insiders issued a secret 92-page report on the topic that was distributed to every bishop in the United States. It warned (accurately, as it turns out) that unless the church came to grips with the issue, it could face financial liabilities of $1 billion within 10 years. The report, which came to be known simply as "the manual," called on the bishops to enact sweeping reforms. Among other things, they were urged to immediately remove priests accused of sexual misconduct; report such priests to law enforcement and to never reassign them to new parishes if the allegations proved true. Even back then, the report took aim at the church's efforts to provide treatment to pedophile priests and shuffle them to new locations, as opposed to dealing with them as criminals. It pointed out that the "recidivism or relapse rate for pedophilia is second only to exhibitionism" and that people who sexually abuse young children stand little chance of being cured.
"The secrecy was the first thing we thought needed to go," recalls Father Tom Doyle, a U.S. Air Force chaplain and canonical lawyer who was one of the report's coauthors. But Doyle was disappointed after the hierarchy turned its back on the manual, and his frustration has intensified in recent months, as Catholic leaders all the way up to the pope have continued to dawdle at reform even while scrambling for self-preservation in the wake of the worst scandal to afflict the church in centuries. "The system doesn't have integrity at its [foundation]," he says. "Even against the massive salvo of negative publicity and the enormous outrage of Roman Catholics and others, we're seeing a leadership that still resists doing the things it should have done 17 years ago."
Doyle puts Mahony squarely in the middle of the debacle.
"Mahony has only done that which he has found it necessary to do for self-serving purposes. He's clearly part of the problem, not the solution," Doyle says. Steven Brady, who heads a conservative Catholic watchdog group called the Roman Catholic Faithful, offers an even blunter assessment. He calls the hierarchy's ad hoc advisory committee on sexual abuse, which Mahony was instrumental in establishing, "a joke, a PR fluff move," and expresses amazement at Mahony's ability to promote himself as a reformer given a history that puts him in the same league as Cardinal Law. "Just in what happened at Stockton alone gives you two choices about Cardinal Mahony, each of them unpleasant," Brady says. "Either he's a total incompetent, or he's a liar."
Indeed, Mahony's having projected himself as a key voice within the hierarchy on priestly sex abuse may prove more damaging than helpful to his self-preservation. Just as his record of harboring pedo-priests has come back to haunt him (he became the first cardinal ever to be named in an anti-racketeering lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last month), Mahony's associations with the committee may inadvertently also prove to be embarrassing. Just what he knew and when he knew it is impossible to say. But, New Times has learned, Mahony had reason to suspect plenty based upon the allegations of a single informant, former seminarian Mark Brooks.
Brooks, who had been abused by priests at St. Francis Seminary in San Diego, was among the first victims to offer information to the ad hoc committee. In the summer of 1993, while living in Los Angeles, he wrote to the committee chair, Bishop John Kinney of Bismarck, North Dakota, who in turn referred him to Mahony. During a two-hour visit with the cardinal at his chancery office in September 1993, Brooks laid out a horror story of sexual predation within the San Diego Diocese as Mahony scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad. During that meeting, and in a remarkable correspondence with the cardinal lasting more than three years, the ex-seminarian painted a sordid picture of clergy-condoned sex emanating from St. Francis. Included in the information he passed on to Mahony were highly unflattering allegations of impropriety involving San Diego Bishop Robert Brom, and a sitting archbishop and highly respected theologian.
In fact, Brooks may have told Mahony more than he wanted to know. In the letters the men exchanged between 1993 and 1997, copies of which were obtained by New Times, Mahony appears to not quite know how to deal with Brooks. After at first offering to smooth the way for Brooks to resume his studies for the priesthood in the L.A. Archdiocese, Mahony in the end dropped him like a hot votive candle after Brooks initiated negotiations for a settlement with the San Diego Diocese. That settlement, which included a strict "confidentiality agreement," made it appear much less likely that the ex-seminarian would go public with further damaging information. "There's no question that [Mahony] used me and attempted to manipulate me," asserts Brooks, who says his experience left him jaded about the church's attempts to clean up clerical sex abuse. "Looking back on it, he didn't want the truth. He wanted to protect himself."
Although recent utterances by Mahony and other Roman Catholic hierarchs often seem to suggest otherwise, the church has struggled with pedophiles in the priesthood for a very long time. As far back as the 1960s, the Vatican was concerned enough about the problem in the United States to authorize setting up treatment facilities for priests with psychosexual disorders. Several such centers popped up across the country, including ones in New Mexico, Maryland and Massachusetts, where sex-offending clerics have been routinely shuffled for treatment (without being reported to law enforcement). The treatment typically lasts from three to twelve months, after which the priests are usually reassigned to serve unsuspecting parishioners at new locations, often with tragic consequences. Like other church leaders, Mahony has made full use of such centers for years in dealing with pedo-priests in the L.A. Archdiocese.According to canon law (the body of rules and regulations promulgated by the Vatican), a priest who engages in sex with a minor—whether or not he gets turned over to authorities—is guilty of an "ecclesiastical crime." Doyle, who has testified in scores of cases on behalf of the victims of abusing priests, traces the existing church law related to pedophilia back to the Middle Ages, when Irish monks published penitential books for use in hearing confessions. Several of the tomes refer to sex crimes committed by clerics against children. One volume, known as the Penitential of Bede, advises clerics who sodomize children to repent by subsisting on bread and water. "It should be obvious why such provisions exist in the literature," Doyle says, "and that's because clerical sex abuse was a problem long ago."
Yet as most recently revised in 1983 under Pope John Paul II, canon law treats sex between clergy and adult women as a more serious offense than the molesting of children. For instance, a 1985 church commentary on the law states that an initial charge of molesting "is not viewed as seriously" as "concubinage [cohabiting with a woman]" or "attempted marriage," a reference to a priest's civil marriage, which the church doesn't recognize. Neither do the same penalties apply. Under church law, a priest involved with an adult woman is suspended, while one who molests a minor faces lesser and unspecified "just penalties," the commentary says.
A case in point is Father John Lenihan, who recently resigned as pastor of a parish in the Orange County community of Dana Point. Lenihan had been accused of child molestation in the 1970s, and, in fact, the Diocese of Orange paid $25,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Mary Grant, now 39, after she complained that Lenihan began sexually abusing her when she was 13 and attending St. Norbert Parish Church in the city of Orange. The abuse continued after she moved in with a cousin in Van Nuys at age 16, she says, and the priest tracked her down there. But despite protests from child-protection advocates, Lenihan continued to hold his post as a parish priest long after Grant came forward in 1989. The diocese settled her case in 1991.
Just last month the Diocese of Orange and the L.A. Archdiocese jointly settled another molestation case involving Lenihan, awarding a San Francisco woman, Lori Haigh, $1.2 million. Lenihan allegedly impregnated Haigh as a teenager in Orange County and paid for her abortion. He was finally forced to resign at Dana Point last September, but apparently not for molesting children. Rather, it was only after he anonymously acknowledged to a newspaper columnist that he had broken his celibacy vows by engaging in sex with several women over the years (and church officials were able to deduce who he was) that he was suspended. The priest has since disappeared, having walked away last month from a treatment facility in Canada where the Diocese of Orange was paying for his therapy. "It's absolutely appalling for the church to say, in effect, that it's OK to be a child molester and be a priest, and then kick a priest out only after they've been found to have sex with adults," says Grant, of Covina, who is SNAP's regional director. "The hypocrisy is astounding."
Child sex abuse didn't become a public-relations headache for the church until the early 1980s, when former priest Gilbert Gauthe was accused of fondling and raping dozens of boys in Lafayette, Louisiana. The families of 50 of Gauthe's victims took the unprecedented step of suing the Diocese of Lafayette for failing to follow up on complaints about his sexual misconduct. The Gauthe case was a turning point. Within a year after his conviction in 1984, a dozen other lawsuits alleging child molestation against priests made headlines in various parts of the country, although news organizations failed to report on them as part of a larger problem. Even now, despite the focus on Law in Boston, mainstream media remain timid in laying bare the misdeeds of other powerful church leaders, notably Mahony's. "The media, until now, has handled the Catholic Church and its hierarchy with kid gloves. It must bear at least some of the responsibility as an unwitting enabler of the coverup," says McBrien, the Notre Dame theologian. "Where was the media's attention in 1985 when the bishops were being pressured [by Doyle and others] to adopt a national policy, and then failed to do so?" After 1993, when the number of lawsuits soared past 400, there were so many claims that attorneys and victim advocates could no longer keep an accurate count of them. Even now, no group keeps track of such information, although victim advocates conservatively estimate that the number of victims nationwide exceeds 10,000.But the Gauthe case was a watershed for another reason. The furor over it prompted the creation of the manual, which soon came to be viewed within Catholic governing circles as the definitive document on priestly sex abuse. Besides Doyle, the other authors were Father Michael Peterson, now deceased, who founded St. Luke Institute in Suitland, Maryland, the premier treatment center for sex-abusing clerics, and Ray Mouton, a criminal defense attorney who had defended Gauthe.
The report landed on the desk of every American bishop. Mahony got his copy in Stockton, not long after promoting O'Grady, the notorious ex-priest, to a new assignment, after which he went on to abuse at least 20 children. One of them was a nine-month-old girl who doctors said appeared to have been digitally raped. The promotion occurred in late 1984, after Mahony's underlings quashed the police investigation and falsely assured authorities that O'Grady—who had at the time only recently confessed to a fresh incident of child abuse—would be assigned to duties that would keep him away from children. In awarding two of the victims, James and Joh Howard, a record $24 million in punitive damages (later reduced to $6 million by a judge), a civil jury in 1998 clearly didn't believe Mahony's testimony that he hadn't known about O'Grady's sordid past. Indeed, according to testimony during the trial, O'Grady's reputation as a sexual predator was common knowledge among priests in the diocese and the information was readily available in his secret personnel file, to which Mahony (as Stockton's bishop) had full access.
Within the hierarchy, the bishops'-eyes-only manual had the impact of a bomb going off at a wake. Doyle and the coauthors warned of the "growing problem" of sex abuse in the American Catholic clergy and predicted that it would escalate and end up costing the church a fortune unless leaders took dramatic action. Although Mahony and other prelates have in recent months issued numerous apologies in the aftermath of the Boston scandal—implying that they have only recently become aware of the severity of the problem—the manual unequivocally laid it all out 17 years ago. Not only that, it offered the blueprint of a solution. Doyle says he spent most of 1985 lobbying church leaders to present the report to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the influential body that makes recommendations to the American Catholic hierarchy. (It was reorganized last year and given a new name, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.) He thought he had a patron in Boston's Law, who headed the NCCB's committee on research and pastoral practices at the time. Doyle had been on a first-name basis with Law since the 1960s, when Law was a priest in Mississippi. "I laid out the case for getting the conference to study [the report]," Doyle recalls. Law was supportive, even pledging to call for a special ad hoc committee to look into the problem, he says.
But nothing happened. Unable or unwilling to tackle sex abuse in the priesthood head-on, the NCCB refused to place the manual on its agenda. Instead, the bishops later adopted a few of the report's lesser recommendations in watered-down form while sidestepping the abuse issue. For his part, Doyle was marginalized and his career as a diplomatic aide attached to the Vatican Embassy in Washington short-circuited. In fact, the report probably would have been doomed to the dustbin of anonymity had it not been for the 1997 trial of former priest Rudolph Kos, in which a Dallas jury awarded 11 plaintiffs $119.6 million after finding that the Diocese of Dallas had concealed information about Kos' sexual abuse of children. The judgment was later reduced to $23 million to spare the diocese from bankruptcy. The report was entered into evidence at the trial, making it public.
The fact that the hierarchy chose to ignore the 1985 report not only speaks volumes about the institutional inertia that has prevented the church from ridding itself of its pedo-problem, it also belies the familiar damage-control themes advanced by chief apologists like Mahony. Incredibly, judging from his pronouncements lately, the L.A. cardinal wants the public to believe that he has just come to appreciate the magnitude of the problem since the events in Boston began to generate headlines in January. "If we only knew then what we know now," the cardinal said during one of his nine carefully controlled 10-minute interviews with local broadcast reporters before jetting off to Rome last month along with other U.S. cardinals for their lackluster summit with the pope. Doyle, who has witnessed more empty acts of contrition by church leaders than he cares to count, has a different take. "What [Catholic leaders] really know now is the low tolerance that people have for their stonewalling and the growing public weariness with their insistence that they didn't know this was such a serious problem a long time ago," he says. Referring to Mahony, he adds, "His concept of good is what's good for him, and that means self-preservation."
It wasn't until 1992 that the powerful bishops got around to halfheartedly addressing some of the issues raised in the manual, and Mahony assumed a characteristically important role. The bishops might not have felt compelled to address the subject at all except for the glare of public attention. It was in 1992 that author Jason Berry published Lead Us Not Into Temptation, a blistering book about priestly sex abuse in the years following the Gauthe case. At about the same time, allegations began to swirl against Father James Porter, a Massachusetts priest who, as evidence would later show, had molested scores of young people in parishes scattered from New England to the desert Southwest. The Porter revelations, coupled with Berry's book, triggered a sort of mini-Boston crisis. Weary of the church's refusal to come clean about the pedo-problem, the protesters from SNAP, including Clohessy, descended on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Washington determined to make some noise.It would mark the first time that abuse victims had confronted the church in an organized way. "It felt a lot like the '60s and the civil rights movement," recalls Clohessy. Their picketing outside the hotel where the bishops were assembled attracted the immediate attention of TV reporters on the conference's opening day. It didn't take long for Mahony to make his move, sending an emissary to the street to invite the protesters inside. They were ushered into an empty conference room where a dozen chairs had been pulled into a circle in the middle of the floor. The three prelates, led by Mahony, entered in full regalia, inviting everyone to be seated. "They mostly just listened," recalls Clohessy of the session. "Looking back on it, I see it as a dog-and-pony show. [Mahony] essentially took us off the street, made himself appear sympathetic and defused what we were trying to do."
The NCCB's motives in dealing with abuse victims were suspect from the start. In early 1993, at a first-ever summit of abuse-victim advocates in St. Louis, the bishops conference first promised, then reneged, on sending a high-level delegation. To his credit, one lonely bishop from Louisiana showed up representing nobody but himself. "The U.S. bishops showed very early that they weren't interested in doing anything about the sex-abuse problem," says Jeanne Miller, a Chicago attorney. It was in her living room that the forerunner of Linkup, a victim-advocate group, was formed in 1989. After her son was molested by a priest in the early '80s, she says, a Chicago prelate (who is now a bishop in Virginia) threatened her and her husband with excommunication if they filed a lawsuit or went to the news media. They ignored him.
"Has anything really changed? No," she says. "The church leadership has the art of damage control down to the point to where it's a great facade. They've become masters of nice platitudes, but when you really look at the language, they're saying nothing."
Victim advocates felt betrayed again, this time by Mahony later in 1993. Frustrated that no action had come from the bishops despite Mahony's media-grabbing theatrics at the 1992 conference, the SNAP leadership was also upset about something else. Despite a tepid resolution of "sympathy" issued by the bishops, church officials across the country persisted—as they often still do—in disparaging victims who lodge sex-abuse complaints against priests. Fed up, SNAP's leaders in June 1993 went so far as to urge victims to no longer take their complaints to the church, but to go directly to law enforcement. The move was immediately assailed by none other than Mahony. "I don't find it helpful. In fact, I'm puzzled by it," he told a Los Angeles reporter. "Maybe some of it comes out of what some of these people experienced 15, 20 or 25 years ago. But that is not the reality today whatsoever...We move so quickly to respond to that whole spectrum of needs."
But Mahony's rhetoric, and his pretensions as a champion of victims, rang hollow. As has now been established, even then the cardinal was engaged in duplicitous behavior in covering up the crimes of the seven priests who sexually abused Rita Milla, now 40, when she was a teenager. Although the abuse itself occurred before Mahony arrived in Los Angeles as archbishop in 1985, church records and correspondence show that Mahony approved secret payments to Milla's chief molester, Father Santiago Tamayo, after he fled to the Philippines. And not only did archdiocese officials insist they had no idea of Tamayo's whereabouts as the payments were being made, Mahony's vicar for clergy, Monsignor Thomas J. Curry, urged Tamayo to flee the country immediately (after it was discovered that he had returned to L.A. unannounced in 1988).
Mahony was also covering up for several other predator priests at the time, having sent them for pedophile treatment without reporting them to law enforcement. Among them was Carl Sutphin. A man who accused Sutphin of abusing him as a child in the southeast L.A. County community of Maywood had notified archdiocese officials in 1989 and repeated his allegations in a personal letter to Mahony in 1991. As with the mother of two other of Sutphin's alleged victims, the man says he was assured by archdiocese officials that the priest would never wear a Catholic collar again. Yet after shipping him off for pedophile treatment, Mahony not only welcomed Sutphin back into the fold, but as recently as last year elevated him to the coveted associate pastor's position at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral. The $193 million cathedral won't open officially until Labor Day, but Mahony and a handful of his inner circle—including Sutphin—moved into the residential suites at the cathedral in March of last year. It wasn't until earlier this year that the cardinal, as part of the Ryan DiMaria settlement agreement, felt he had no choice but to give a few known sex-offending priests, one of them Sutphin, their walking papers.
"It's about as shameless as it gets," says attorney Larry Drivon of Stockton, co-counsel for James and Joh Howard in the 1998 civil trial, and co-counsel, with attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minnesota, in the anti-racketeering lawsuit. "Mahony not only protects this guy from going to jail, he had him living with him at the new cathedral."
But back in 1993, victim advocates already wary of Mahony—even without knowledge of his then-unexposed record of harboring pedophiles—were dealt an unanticipated jolt. Barely a week after Mahony's outburst against SNAP for its advocating that victims take sex-abuse allegations directly to police, the NCCB met in New Orleans and finally made good on Cardinal Law's promise years earlier to set up an ad hoc committee on sexual abuse. Clohessy recalls that victim advocates were initially excited that perhaps the church was finally about to do something, "that maybe they finally got it." And then they looked at the list of the five hierarchs named to the new panel, and their hearts sank. The vice chair was Mahony.
Mark Brooks was no ordinary abuse victim. An ex-Marine, he had come to St. Francis Seminary at the University of San Diego at age 25, expecting to find spiritual respite while studying for the priesthood. Instead, he says, he found an ecclesiastical version of Animal House. Seminarians were having sex with each other, and faculty priests were having sex with seminarians. For a while, there had been a coffin kept in a storage room that some of the kinkier students were rumored to prefer for late-night trysts, Brooks says.He felt an uncomfortable pressure from the start. During his first semester, when a mesmerizing guest lecturer advised the seminarians "not to fear intimacy," it scarcely raised eyebrows among his colleagues. In fact, he says, students at St. Francis were told by some of their instructors not to report relationships to administrators, but to consider them "growing experiences." Seeing the elasticity with which the institution seemed to define celibacy, a confused Brooks expressed his concerns to a spiritual adviser, who told him essentially to be patient and not to worry about it. Before long, two faculty members were making sexual advances toward him, he says. One of them, Father Nicolas Reveles, eventually raped him, Brooks alleges. During his first semester at the seminary, Brooks had located his father living on San Diego's Skid Row. To cope with the devastating discovery, Brooks turned to the rector and vice rector for help, to no avail, he says. However, Reveles offered encouragement. In 1982, Brooks says, after he had accompanied Reveles to dinner and to the symphony, the priest plied him with liquor and sexually assaulted him at the priest's residence next to campus. Reveles, who publicly denied ever having assaulted Brooks, left the seminary, and the priesthood, long ago.
When Brooks went to seminary officials to report the rape allegation and other alleged episodes of harassment, his superiors turned the tables on him. They called him a liar, an alcohol abuser, a drug addict and delusional. They were right on one count, he says. As a way of numbing himself from the harassment and assault, he had begun to drink heavily. Seminary officials gave him an ultimatum to either enter alcohol treatment or face expulsion. He chose the Veterans Administration rather than a church-run facility. Two weeks into his treatment, in November 1983, the staff at the San Diego VA hospital concluded that he no longer belonged there, and discharged him as an outpatient. He was immediately expelled from the seminary. Not only that, but fellow students were forbidden to have contact with him. Destitute and homeless, he spent several weeks living out of his car. In 1984, he sued the then-bishop of San Diego, Leo T. Maher, and the diocese over his expulsion from St. Francis, citing the sex-abuse allegations. The next year, without admitting wrongdoing, the diocese quietly settled the lawsuit, awarding Brooks about $20,000.
But the vindication derived from the settlement didn't heal his emotional wounds. In fact, it wouldn't begin to pay for the years of therapy that Brooks, now 47, would need to put his life back to together. Having watched his ambition of entering the priesthood disintegrate in a nightmare of sexual abuse and betrayal, Brooks fell into depression, skipping from job to job while wrestling with thoughts of suicide. He was living in Los Angeles and working for a small, church-related charitable organization in 1993 when he learned about the ad hoc committee on sexual abuse. He wrote to Kinney, the North Dakota bishop, its ostensible chair (although sources say Mahony was the overarching force on the panel), who put him in contact with the cardinal. Brooks was scheduled for 40 minutes with Mahony on September 30, 1993. The meeting, with just the two of them present, lasted two hours. His Eminence listened intently while taking copious notes, Brooks says. Brooks gave him a complete rundown on everything that had happened in San Diego, naming names. Mahony was sympathetic. "I was very impressed with your openness and honesty," the cardinal wrote a few days after Brooks' visit. "It is regrettable that your experience at St. Francis Seminary was difficult in many aspects, and that your life was so negatively impacted by the actions and inactions of those who should have been giving you positive direction and formation."
One name in particular that Brooks had given him piqued Mahony's interest. Brooks had recounted how in 1984 he was determined to confront Reveles, his alleged chief abuser, and had gone to the priest's apartment next to the university campus. It was a Friday afternoon, and as Brooks rang the doorbell, he could plainly hear the grunts and groans of what sounded like a porno movie coming from a VCR inside the living room, he contends. Brooks thought it strange that the priest didn't bother to turn the volume down before answering the door. "He said, "Oh, hi, Mark,' in a very casual way, when he saw me. And I said, "I need to talk to you.' He said, "Can it wait? I'm really kind of busy,' to which I told him, no, it couldn't."
Brooks says he then recognized that the man sitting on the sofa in Reveles' living room was a sitting archbishop. "They were obviously sipping white wine and watching porno together," Brooks says. As he related the episode to Mahony, the cardinal "stopped writing on his notepad, became very quiet and mumbled, "Well, this seems to explain...' before his voice trailed off," Brooks recalls. Requests for comment on the matter were left with the archbishop's personal secretary, but the archbishop declined to respond.
Brooks recalls that Mahony seemed "a bit shaken" by the revelations. At the end of the long session, he says, the cardinal asked him, "Is there anything I can do for you?" to which Brooks replied, "You just did." Brooks says he felt a tremendous burden had been lifted "just knowing that I had informed someone in such high authority about these things, and I told him so." But he says Mahony wouldn't take no for an answer. "Surely there must be something I can do for you," he says the cardinal insisted. Brooks says he told Mahony that the only thing he had ever wanted was to finish his education for the priesthood, whereupon Mahony expressed willingness to help if Brooks were serious about returning to his studies. But first, Mahony wanted Brooks to go back to San Diego and meet with the new bishop there, as a way of putting to rest his experience at St. Francis.
Insiders say one of the reasons Bishop Robert Brom was sent to San Diego in 1990 was to deal with the mess at St. Francis, which had become notorious enough as a hotbed for openly gay priests to command a chapter in Jason Berry's book. But when Brooks met with Brom in 1993, three weeks after his session with Mahony in Los Angeles, the bishop was angry, Brooks says. "He was put out. He didn't like it that I had spoken to the cardinal. He accused me of going over his head, when in fact I had been directed to see Mahony by Bishop Kinney only because of Mahony's role with the [ad hoc] committee," Brooks says.
For that matter, Brooks hadn't been eager to meet with Brom. A few days before the meeting, he had called a supportive priest in the Midwest to tell him what he was about to do and to ask for advice. "You're about to meet with a sexual predator," Brooks quotes the priest as telling him. The priest informed him that while Brom was bishop of Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1980s, he and other members of the hierarchy had quietly settled claims with various students at a seminary in Winona, Minnesota, who had accused Brom and others of sexually abusing them. Brooks didn't simply take the priest's word for it. He contacted one of the alleged abuse victims, former seminarian Jeff Maras. In a series of lengthy phone calls spanning many months, Maras confided in detail about what had gone on at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Minnesota, Brooks says. Maras told him that besides being molested by Brom, he had also been abused by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. (Maras abandoned his priestly studies long ago and is living in South Dakota. He did not respond to numerous interview requests for this article.)
Brooks didn't confront Brom with what he had been told during their meeting, and neither did he yet share the information with Mahony. In four remarkable letters to Brooks in the last three months of 1993, Mahony appeared eager to help Brooks. In a letter dated two days before Christmas, the cardinal urged Brooks to make an appointment with Father Joseph Shea, the L.A. Archdiocese's vocations director, to begin the process of determining whether he should apply for the priesthood. Mahony had already taken the extraordinary step of writing to a priest in Stockton, who had been supportive of Brooks during his ordeal at St. Francis. In that letter, to Father John Riley, Mahony wrote, "Mark will be making application to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for consideration as one of our seminarians in the near future, and we will most likely look to you as a special person for reference."
But things changed dramatically in February of 1994, at about the time of Brooks' meeting with Shea. Although the meeting had gone well, it soon became apparent that Mahony—who had been nothing but generous with Brooks to that point—was suddenly pulling the plug. Although Brooks says that Shea spoke favorably about his coming on board as a seminarian during their meeting, his recommendation to Mahony was that Brooks let more time pass before seeking to reenter a seminary. In a letter to Mahony in March 1994, expressing his disappointment at the abrupt turn of events, Brooks decided that the time had come to tell the cardinal what he had been told about Brom. Church sources had already confided to Brooks that it was Brom who had intervened with Mahony to persuade the cardinal not to give the green light to entering St. John's Seminary College in Camarillo to someone long vilified as a troublemaker in San Diego. "I was told Brom didn't want me entering St. John's [the seminary of the L.A. Archdiocese]. I had been portrayed poorly for years in San Diego, and now if a cardinal were going to resurrect my career, how would it make the San Diego Diocese look?" Brooks says.Mahony not only backpedaled from helping Brooks, but was clearly uncomfortable with the allegations Brooks had conveyed about Brom. "I must truthfully say that after reading your letter [containing the Brom claims] I am left totally bewildered and unsure of what to say," the cardinal wrote on March 29, 1994. "I must say in all honesty that the various allegations in your letter now confirm the decision which Father Joseph Shea has made with respect to your application, a decision which I feel is surely the correct one." But perhaps most telling with respect to Mahony's preeminent role within the American church on the sex abuse issue was his admonishment to Brooks: "Mark, you need to move away from all this inner reflection about who says what and who does what in the Church...Your continuing efforts to spin all of these webs of conspiracy are not healthy for you or for any of us in the Church."
Remarkably, the correspondence between the cardinal and the ex-seminarian continued for another three years, by which time Brooks was well along in negotiating a second settlement with the San Diego Diocese to help retire years of debt for his therapy stemming from his days at St. Francis. He characterizes his relationship with Brom, whom he eventually confronted with the Minnesota allegations, as "unpleasant throughout, demeaning, a disaster." Yet, Brooks never went public with the Brom material until March, when a lawyer for an independent Catholic newspaper in San Diego asked him to supply an affidavit as part of a legal dispute between the newspaper and the bishop. In that affidavit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, Brooks related how Brom had disparaged the San Diego News Notes repeatedly and had expressed the desire to put it out of business because of what he perceived as unflattering coverage. He related a conversation in which Brom was alleged to have said, "We have ways of dealing with papers." According to the affidavit, Brom asserted that the diocese had had media-magnate Helen Copley, then the publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, removed as a trustee of the University of San Diego in retaliation for an unflattering article.
But the bombshell in the court document pertains to Brom personally. The affidavit recounts Brooks' conversations with Maras, in which Maras is alleged to have told him that Brom was "a homosexual rapist" whom Maras can identify from "Brom's private body markings." As part of a private financial settlement with Brom, Maras retracted his allegations about the bishop. But in his affidavit, as well as in interviews for this article, Brooks says Maras told him that Brom's lawyers insisted on the retraction letter, that it was false and that he only agreed to it in order to collect the settlement money, which Brooks says Maras told him was $85,000.
Brom declined to be interviewed by New Times. In a statement to priests and parishioners in late March, the bishop wrote, "I want to assure you that I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and that, therefore, any and all allegations against me are false." He attributed them to "those who presently, and for years have made me the target of their slanderous attacks." A spokeswoman for Brom, Bernadeane Carr, provided New Times with a statement that the diocese contends was part of the Maras retraction. It reads, "Following careful investigation by many attorneys working independently, hard facts have been brought to light which contradict [Maras'] allegations and disprove what he thought he remembered...Having no other claims of sexual misconduct against bishops, priests and institutions [he] freely retracts each and every allegation and claim against each of them, and welcomes the assistance provided herein toward a healthy life." The bishop has spun the payment to Maras—which church sources confirm was in the range of just under $100,000—as an act of charity. Brom has portrayed it as something "minimal" to help the ex-seminarian receive counseling. "It's laughable," Brooks says. "Why pay someone that much money, especially if you're claiming that the allegations have been disproved?"
Meanwhile, Brooks' unlikely relationship with Mahony ended in a bizarre
fashion, with a crushing letter from the cardinal in March 1997. Frustrated
with Brom's foot-dragging in fulfilling a promise to provide further financial
help to pay for his growing medical bills, Brooks had written to Mahony
to remind the cardinal that his reconciliation efforts had begun with
Mahony's unsolicited offer of help four years earlier. Brooks had already
concluded that Mahony's generosity had been the result of the ex-seminarian's
knowing too much, and that the cardinal had strung him along as a way
to "neutralize" him. Still, he had nothing to lose in asking His Eminence
for help in dealing with Brom. The icy missive Mahony hurled back made
him shudder. American Catholicism's preeminent voice on priestly sex abuse—the prelate who never met a TV camera he didn't like—not only kissed
Brooks off, he pretended nothing had ever happened. "You initiated an
appointment with me a few years ago, and I graciously met with you and
heard your story," Mahony wrote. "I did not initiate anything as you now
suggest, and I must reject that assertion out of hand."
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