Study Reveals Vast Scope of Priest
Clerics accused of molestation worked in three-fourths
of the 288 parishes in the L.A. Archdiocese, a Times analysis finds
By Jean Guccione and Doug Smith
Los Angeles Times
October 13, 2005
[See below for a statistical summary
of priest abuse accusations in the Los Angeles archdiocese, including
a table of the 17 parishes where 5 or more accused priests have been assigned
since 1950 and a map with graphs of the assignments. See also a PDF of those maps and graphs, a summary in table form of some of the data, and the accompanying article Records' Release Is Criticized, by Jean Guccione and Sandy Banks. See also the remarkable LA
Times database, released on 4/20/06, which in development apparently provided the basis for
this analysis of the parishes, and the accompanying article, Details
on 11 Priests Missing in '04 Report, by Jean Guccione and William
Lobdell. Some of the parish information analyzed below had been released by the archdiocese
in its 10/12/05 Addendum.]
The clergy sexual abuse scandal reached far more broadly across the Los
Angeles Archdiocese — and put far more children at risk —
than has previously been known, according to a Times study that examined
the records of hundreds of accused priests.
Although the sexual abuse scandal has been the subject of more than 560
court claims and a report by the archdiocese, basic information on the
dimensions of the problem have remained sketchy. The Times analysis is
the first to quantify the breadth of the scandal in the archdiocese.
|John Chevedden joins in a demonstration
by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests in front of the
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A. to denounce the
release of documents about priests accused of sexual abuse. (Brian
Vander Brug / LAT)
Molestations have been alleged at roughly 100 parishes. But because the
accused priests moved around the archdiocese on average every 4.5 years,
the total number of parishes in which alleged abusers served is far larger
— more than three-fourths of the 288 parishes, according to the
study, which examined records back to 1950.
The affected parishes were in neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Ventura and
Santa Barbara counties both rich and poor, suburban and urban, some predominantly
white and others with African American or Latino majorities. The study
does not support the contention made by some critics of the church that
problem priests were dumped into poor, Latino and African American communities.
Based on the allegations, the number of abusive priests peaked in 1983.
More than 11% of the diocesan priests — those who worked directly
for the archdiocese, rather than for religious orders — who were
in ministry that year eventually were accused of abuse.
[Note: This map with graphs is also available as a PDF,
and the same data is presented as a statistical
at the end of this article.]
The widespread placement of alleged abusers raises the question of whether
molestations may have gone unreported at many parishes.
J. Michael Hennigan, the lead defense attorney for the archdiocese, said
he thought the immense publicity about clergy sexual abuse had drawn out
But David Clohessy, executive director of the victim support group Survivors
Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he believes many victims remain
unknown and unwilling to pay the emotional price for stepping forward.
There's "a great misconception" that when one victim comes
forward, others will follow, Clohessy said. In reality, he said, "the
next 15 victims breathe a sigh of relief" that someone else is shouldering
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who has led the archdiocese since 1985, declined
to comment on The Times study.
Hennigan said the church never knowingly put children at risk. Archdiocese
officials routinely transferred priests, especially early in their careers,
In at least eight cases, the archdiocese allowed priests to remain in
ministry after receiving information about their alleged sexual interest
Hennigan said all priests who were transferred after complaints received
psychological evaluation and treatment before they were returned to parishes.
Mahony has since removed them all from ministry.
Church officials have said their policy toward alleged abusers evolved
over time into the current "zero-tolerance" stance. But, Hennigan
added, "I am not aware of a single instance in the archdiocese in
which a credible allegation was made about sexual misconduct and the solution
was to simply transfer him to another parish."
Since the archdiocese was confronted by a flood of lawsuits 2 1/2 years
ago, Mahony has declined litigants' requests to tell parishioners if accused
priests ever worked or lived at their churches.
Mahony also has fought release of confidential church files containing
complaints, correspondence and priest assignments. The files would detail
what diocesan officials knew about the allegations and what they did about
The cardinal and his lawyers argue that releasing the data would violate
the privacy of individual priests and the church's constitutional right
to keep certain religious matters confidential.
Lawsuits for the most part have been filed against the church, rather
than individual priests, and in some cases identify the alleged abusers
only as John Does. The parishes where they served during the accusations
are not always named in the suits.
The litigation has been in closed-door mediation almost since the cases
were filed, further limiting public airing of the facts of the scandal.
Because the accusations are too old to prosecute and the church insists
it intends to settle civil complaints out of court, most molestation complaints
may never be proved or disproved.
To prepare its study, The Times tracked the assignments from 1950 through
2003 of 228 priests who have been named by plaintiff's attorneys or identified
by the archdiocese as the subject of abuse complaints. The study does
not include 19 priests whose names were released by the church on Tuesday.
It also does not include as many as 30 priests whose names the church
has withheld because church officials feel the complaints against them
The study shows a slow climb in the percentage of accused priests in
the archdiocese from the 1960s through the '70s. The increase was especially
notable among diocesan priests as opposed to those in religious orders.
Overall, the analysis shows that the percentage of priests in Southern
California who were accused of molesting children largely tracked estimates
that 4% to 5% of priests nationwide are accused.
But diocesan priests in the archdiocese were accused at a rate of at
least 7% across the decades, which is higher than estimates of the national
average for diocesan priests. Religious-order priests such as Franciscans,
who answer to other superiors and move in and out of Los Angeles parishes,
were accused at less than half the rate of the diocesan clerics.
Religious-order priests usually do not work in parishes or elementary
schools where they would have charge of young children, Hennigan said.
Starting in the 1950s, the percentage of diocesan priests who eventually
would be accused of wrongdoing climbed steadily from about 6% to a high
of 11.5% in 1983.
From there, the percentage of accused priests gradually fell, remaining
above 5% until 2002, when Mahony implemented the "zero-tolerance"
policy and removed seven accused priests from ministry.
Hennigan said the church found the same sharp rise in alleged abuse,
peaking in 1979.
"The curve is quite a sharp one; it goes up sharply and falls off
sharply," he said. "We have talked about it internally. I don't
understand why that peak."
An independent review board studying the sex-abuse crisis nationwide
found that a "laxity" in seminary admissions, the sexual revolution
and radical changes within the church sent the number of accused priests
soaring around 1980.
Hennigan attributed the drop-off starting in the 1980s to improved screening
of priest candidates, the introduction of sexuality curriculum in seminaries,
and recruitment of older candidates with life experience.
A few churches had unusual concentrations of alleged abusers, the study
showed. Seventeen parishes had been assigned five or more accused priests
over the 55-year span of the study. Several parishes had two or three
at the same time.
Critics such as former Benedictine monk A.W. Richard Sipe say the church
nationwide tried to keep the scandal quiet by shuffling priests from parish
to parish instead of reporting them to police or firing them.
"There were thousands of kids who were put at risk because these
were not one-time offenders or offenders in only one parish, but they
were moved from parish to parish," he said.
"As a parent, it makes me furious," said Margaret Schettler,
who works at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Encino and has counseled
parishioners and abuse victims. "It could have been my children."
Today, most of the accused priests are dead or retired, or have left
the area, and newer parishioners are unaware that their churches were
touched by the scandal.
Lindy Lizenbery became a parishioner at St. Genevieve's in Panorama City
in 1978 and now works in the church office. Eight priests who worked at
the parish at one time have been accused. Lizenbery said she doubts all
eight are guilty. "There were those that I thought, 'Probably,' and
a couple that I said, 'No way,' " she said. "If one of these
guys did something to a child, that's one too many."
But most parishioners contacted by The Times said they did not want to
talk about clergy sexual abuse. "Everybody has to live there,"
said an usher at Holy Family Catholic Church in Glendale, explaining why
people did not want to talk. "It has to do with simple, common parishioners
who don't want to engage their fellow parishioners in something as sensitive
But because of the dearth of information, many Los Angeles-area Catholics
are unaware their own parishes were affected by the scandal.
"Some people are afraid of the issue," Schettler said. "Some
wish survivors would just get over it."
Times staff writer William Lobdell contributed to this report.
Priest abuse accusations in
the Los Angeles Archdiocese
The 228 priests who have been accused of child molestation were assigned
to three out of four parishes in the Los Angeles Archdiocese at some point
from 1950 to 2003. Though they were accused of molestation at about 100
parishes, the priests lived or worked in the 221 parishes mapped below.
The parishes are in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Breakdown of types of accused clerics:
Diocesan priests -- those employed by the archdiocese -- account for
almost half of those accused. Religious-order priests such as Franciscans
accounted for more than a third.
Brother (cannot give sacraments) 8.1%
Parishes with five or more accused priests:
|Our Lady of Peace
|Sts. Peter and Paul
|Mary Star of the Sea
|St. Anthony of Padua
|St. Francis de Sales
|St. Rose of Lima
Sources: Los Angeles Archdiocese, lawsuits, the official Catholic Directory.
Data analysis by Doug Smith and Sandra Poindexter