Cardinal Sued over Molestation Cases
Litigation: the Civil Filings on Behalf of Two Sets of Brothers Accuse Mahony of Running a Criminal Enterprise
By Beth Shuster and Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times
April 30, 2002
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony was sued Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court under a federal racketeering law typically used to dismantle organized crime operations. Two lawsuits were filed on behalf of two sets of brothers who allege they were sexually abused as children by a priest in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
The civil lawsuits allege that Mahony protected abusive priests as head of the archdiocese, a pattern of behavior that constitutes a criminal enterprise.
The lawsuits also allege that the nation's 194 bishops maintain secret files on abusive priests that should be turned over to authorities.
Specifically, the suit alleges, Mahony promised to remove Father Carl Sutphin after learning of abuse allegations in the early 1990s, but waited until this year to force Sutphin into retirement. The lawsuits also allege that Mahony knew of other abusive priests but did not fire them or report them to police.
"The evidence directly establishes that Cardinal Mahony as the head of the church in Los Angeles has engaged in a pattern of concealment, deception, obstruction of judicial process and the protection of pedophile priests and he's been doing that for years," said Jeffrey R. Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who has filed numerous lawsuits against dioceses across the country since the 1980s. "The RICO [Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations] laws are designed to get to the top of criminal organizations if they [church officials] act like mobsters and organized crime, we just have to hold them responsible."
RICO was enacted three decades ago as a tool in the government's war against organized crime and has since been used in civil cases. Under the statute, racketeering is defined as a criminal enterprise that affects interstate commerce and uses illegal means to further its ends. In this case, Anderson alleges, the archdiocese concealed abuses to maintain its reputation and keep getting church donations.
The racketeering lawsuits are the first to name an American cardinal, Anderson said at a news conference Monday. He spoke on the downtown courthouse steps alongside two alleged victims and about a dozen supporters, then walked two blocks to deliver the suit at the new downtown cathedral. The victims are seeking unspecified compensation, as well as policies to prevent priests from abusing children. RICO suits pay triple damages.
Archdiocesan officials would not comment on the lawsuits. Mahony, who was taken to a Burbank hospital Sunday night with blood clots in his lung, is expected to be released in about a week.
Mahony said last week that he forced Sutphin to retire early after reviewing past reports of sexual abuse by priests. Mahony said he required Sutphin to undergo psychological counseling when he first learned of the abuse allegations in the 1990s. He said he received good reports about Sutphin's progress and later allowed him to live at St. Vibiana's Cathedral with him and other priests. Mahony said he thought Sutphin was well supervised there.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs took a different view.
"Hasn't he heard of jail?" Anderson said. "I don't think he did anything for the safety of children."
The two lawsuits, one filed on behalf of twin brothers Andrew and Joseph Cicchillo and the other on behalf of two unidentified victims, allege that letters were sent to archdiocese officials in the 1990s describing the allegations against Sutphin. The Times does not identify sexual abuse victims unless they request that their names be published
Andrew Cicchillo said that he sent a letter to the cardinal in 1991, and that he was told in response that Sutphin would be removed from the priesthood. He said he received money from the archdiocese to pay for counseling. About a year later, Cicchillo's sister wrote to Mahony requesting money for Andrew's continued therapy. That request was apparently denied.
Cicchillo, 46, said he was abused by Sutphin for 10 years, beginning when he was about 6. Sutphin was the associate pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in Maywood at the time.
Cicchillo said Sutphin would tell him, "I love you like a brother, this is between us, no one has to know."
His twin brother, Joseph, said he was abused by Sutphin over two or three years. He said Sutphin would tell him "you're the chosen one, you're special." When he rebuffed the priest, Joseph Cicchillo said, Sutphin told him he would go to hell if he didn't oblige.
The lawsuits maintain that Mahony has a history of protecting abusive priests, including Father Oliver O'Grady in Stockton. Anderson in 1988 won a $30-million jury verdict on behalf of two brothers allegedly molested by the priest. The verdict was later negotiated to $7 million. The suit alleged that Mahony had transferred the priest from one parish to another after learning of the abuse allegations. But Mahony testified in the trial that he was unaware of certain allegations against O'Grady when he moved him.
The lawsuits also claim that abuses by Father Santiago Tamayo, who allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old girl from 1979 to 1982, were concealed by the archdiocese to avoid liability. Tamayo, the suit alleges, took the girl to the Philippines to hide her pregnancy. She later sued the archdiocese.
Monday's suit alleges that the archdiocesan attorneys in 1984 lied when they claimed that they did not know where to find Tamayo. Correspondence showed that the church was mailing him checks at an address in the Philippines. Tamayo returned in 1988 to answer the civil allegations.
That year, Bishop Thomas J. Curry, who was the vicar in charge of personnel at the L.A. archdiocese at the time, advised him to leave the United States, that the payments were to help him live permanently in the Philippines. A copy of the letter, the suit noted, was sent to Mahony.
In their lawsuit, two unidentified Ventura County brothers allege that they were molested as youngsters in 1976 by Sutphin, when he was chaplain at St. John's Medical Center in Oxnard.
The brothers, identified only as John B. Doe and John F. Doe, allege that they met Sutphin in 1975 when their family attended mass at St. John's chapel.
"He became a family friend who came over to dinner," John F. Doe said in an interview. "This was a priest my parents trusted."
He said he and his brother were abused by the priest on a fishing trip.
"It was [Sutphin's] mom's trailer," John F. Doe said.
He said he never told anyone about the alleged abuse until January 1994 when his brother told his mother.
Their mother, a longtime Catholic high school teacher, reported the abuse the next day to Msgr. Terrance Fleming, then vice chancellor of the archdiocese, the suit said.
Msgr. Timothy J. Dyer, who supervised priests at the time, called her back.
He said he would take care of the problem, the lawsuit alleges. Dyer has declined to comment.
Anderson wrote to Mahony on April 10, advising him of Sutphin's alleged misconduct.
He attached a letter from the mother of John F. Doe and John B. Doe seeking an explanation from Mahony.
John McNicholas, an archdiocese attorney, replied in an April 22 letter that Sutphin had been removed from the ministry. Mahony said he turned over Sutphin's name to police.
Several lawyers with experience in RICO lawsuits said the case faces major obstacles.
"The idea the church is running a pattern of racketeering activity, it might make a good headline but it won't hold water at the end of the day in court," said Los Angeles attorney Fred Friedman.
He said lawyers often prefer to file such cases in state court because they tend to draw more sympathetic juries; verdicts do not have to be unanimous.
Other experts said the lawsuits may have been filed too late. RICO has a four-year statute of limitations.
Michael J. Mueller, chairman of the American Bar Assn.'s Civil RICO Committee, said the U.S. Supreme Court heard a RICO suit in which an ex-patient sued physicians at a psychiatric hospital eight years after his discharge.
"The Supreme Court said you cannot wait eight years after he obviously knew to sue," Mueller said.
"And so it seems to me a defendant in these type of cases is going to point to that Supreme Court decision," Mueller said.
Anderson said that besides the RICO allegations, the lawsuit also claims battery, fraud, conspiracy, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
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