Behind the Robes
Pondering the Secrets Cardinal Mahony Might Hold about the Catholic Sex
By Jeffrey Anderson
Downloaded March 18, 2003
As the most insidious church scandal in U.S. history unfolds,
pedophilic priests can expect to receive hard justice. But what about
the man in the red hat?
Cardinal Roger Mahony has emerged as a self-styled reformer, yet more
than 300 alleged victims claim he has concealed sex abusers. Authorities
are investigating 50 clerics, including a disgraced bishop-in-exile and
former Mahony protégé. A Ventura County grand jury has hauled in four
of Mahony's top advisers for questioning.
|Photo by Tom Wilmshurst
First it was Boston. Now Los Angeles is seen as the next city to erupt
in church upheaval. But bringing a criminal case against Mahony might
be as hard as turning water into wine. Prosecutors must either pry open
church files or crack the code of silence in the Catholic hierarchy. And,
police are still rounding up errant priests; some have fled the country.
Mahony's lawyer, J. Michael Hennigan calls the notion of criminal charges
against church officials for harboring child molesters "preposterous."
Yet he periodically asks prosecutors if Los Angeles County District Attorney
Steve Cooley is coming after the cardinal. Cooley has assigned the case
to Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman, a veteran of high-profile
investigations, including the Keating Five scandal, the O.J. Simpson case
"There is an inevitability to this investigation," Hodgman said
recently. "It's like Watergate unfolding. We'll work from the ground
up. We will get documents and we will put priests in jail."
But Mahony faces threats outside the D.A.'s Office as well. Civil proceedings
before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge could dislodge similar smoking
gun documents that led to Boston-based Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation.
Such disclosures could devastate Mahony's moral standing as the most powerful
prelate in the United States.
Mahony's lawyers are negotiating hundreds of civil sex abuse claims in
a feverish attempt to avoid court orders to release documents. Civil attorneys
and prosecutors are convinced the church's primary focus is to protect
Mahony from being called before a grand jury, as Law was recently.
"Everything is about saving Mahony," said a plaintiffs' attorney.
Cooley, coming up empty in the Rampart scandal and the Belmont High School
fiasco, is cautious not to promise charges against Mahony. "We must
not convert a huge, moral and institutional failing into something that
is not a viable criminal theory," he said.
Prosecutors are examining Mahony and his troubled friends and
colleagues, many of whom graduated from his alma mater, St. John's Seminary
College in Camarillo.
Mahony's history in addressing sexual abuse appears to date back 20 years.
In the early 1980s, when he was bishop of the Diocese of Stockton, Mahony
employed a priest named Oliver O'Grady, a confessed molester. When two
brothers sued the diocese, Mahony testified he never knew about O'Grady.
Jury members thought Mahony lied. In 1998, they awarded the brothers $30
million (which was later reduced to $7.5 million).
That was the last time Mahony testified in court about clergy sexual abuse.
No cleric close to him has either. Two men in particular stand out.
In 2000, two brothers from Tucson, Arizona, charged that the Rev. Michael
Baker molested them in Arizona, Mexico, Palm Springs and Los Angeles,
from 1984 to 1999. Tucson lawyer Lynne Cadigan demanded that Baker respond
to the charges, which he did, by calling her and offering $1 million,
Cadigan said. Baker had confessed to Mahony to sexually abusing minors
back in 1986. "Just don't tell Roger [Mahony]," Baker said,
according to Cadigan. "I'm supposed to be staying out of trouble
but I'm still doing things I shouldn't do. Roger will be mad if he finds
Cadigan advised Baker to get a lawyer. Before long, she was on a plane
to Los Angeles, where she met with Baker's lawyer. Soon after, Baker and
the archdiocese paid the brothers $1.3 million. The archdiocese paid almost
half. Cadigan didn't have to lift a finger.
"There is nothing good about the Baker case," Hennigan, the
archdiocese's lawyer said. Baker (St. John's Class of 1974) resigned in
2000. He was arrested last year and has been charged with lewd acts on
a child under 14. Currently out on bail, he is expected to appear in court
on April 14. He's admitted to molesting children, and appears to have
done so after confessing to the cardinal. Baker also claims to have a
close relationship with Mahony, which could make him a devastating state's
witness, prosecutors believe. Mahony has publicly repudiated Baker.
Mahony and another close colleague similarly dodged the spotlight. In
2001, Mahony was scheduled to give a deposition in a sex abuse case against
Msgr. Michael Harris, but the archdiocese joined the Diocese of Orange
in a $5.2 million settlement. Opinions differ about why the archdiocese
settled. Some believe it was the fear of Mahony testifying again. Others
believe it was the fear of an old crony of Mahony's testifying - Bishop
G. Patrick Ziemann, who is under investigation by the Los Angeles Police
Department. Ziemann had given one deposition in the Harris case and was
scheduled to give a second one when the case settled in 2001.
Ziemann and Mahony met in the early 1960s, when Ziemann was attending
Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in San Fernando and Mahony was at St.
John's. Mahony graduated from St. John's in 1962. Ziemann later attended
St. John's and graduated in 1967. Mahony was the serious student. Ziemann
was the worldly charmer following in his footsteps.
In 1987, Ziemann became Mahony's auxiliary bishop. He was a rising star.
In 1992, however, Ziemann left Los Angeles to become the bishop of the
Diocese of Santa Rosa. There, he fell into trouble, when a Costa Rican
priest sued him for blackmail, charging that Ziemann forced the priest
to be his sex partner.
The diocese settled out of court for $535,000, in 1999, and Ziemann resigned
in disgrace. He left the diocese $16 million in debt. Ziemann has been
charged in civil court with molesting minors from 1967 to 1992. The Vatican
has removed his faculties as a bishop and he currently resides at Holy
Trinity Monastery in St. David, Arizona, near Tucson.
Observers of the church scandal find it impossible to believe that Mahony
was unaware of the danger Ziemann (and Baker) posed to minors. What is
more disturbing, they say, is the role of the St. John's old boy club.
Technically, the Vatican approves all transfers related to bishops. But
Ziemann's placement in Santa Rosa required the assent of Archbishop William
Levada of the Archdiocese of San Francisco (St. John's Class of 1958).
And, Ziemann's later residence within the Diocese of Tucson has required
the assent of Bishop Manuel Moreno (St. John's Class of 1961). Both are
close friends of Mahony's. Sources familiar with St. John's - a seminary
known for sexual tolerance - contend that Levada, Mahony and Moreno hold
the key to the depths of the priest scandal in Los Angeles.
Authorities are investigating other leads, which they believe flow along
the Mahony-Moreno axis between Los Angeles and Tucson. Last Friday, however,
Moreno resigned as bishop of Tucson, citing health reasons. He leaves
a diocese racked with scandal.
Prosecutors in Ventura and Los Angeles counties also are targeting Mahony's
top administrators, known as vicars of clergy. Several have appeared before
the grand jury in Ventura. They are:
• Bishop Thomas Curry, vicar of clergy, 1986-90.
Curry was aware of charges that a priest molested altar boys in two parishes
but allowed him to flee to Mexico, in 1988. The priest, the Rev. Nicolas
Aguilar Rivera, was charged with lewd acts on a child and is still at
Curry also wrote letters in 1987 and 1988 to an exiled priest urging him
to stay away from Los Angeles. The priest was accused of molesting a teenage
girl along with six other priests and impregnating her, and had fled to
the Philippines. "My client was acting in the best interests of the
priest, the church and all those concerned," said Brian Hennigan,
a former ä federal prosecutor with Irell & Manella who represents
Curry is the bishop of the Diocese of Santa Barbara, appointed by Mahony
• Msgr. Timothy Dyer, vicar of clergy, 1991-95.
Dyer and Michael Baker were classmates at St. John's. After Baker had
admitted to molesting children, in 1986, Dyer accompanied him on trips
in the 1990s to the Tucson diocese, where Baker allegedly molested the
two boys he settled out of court with in 2000. "There was no suggestion
of impropriety," Michael Hennigan, lawyer for the Los Angeles archdiocese
said. "No one knew Baker had misbehaved during that time."
• Msgr. Richard Loomis, vicar of clergy, 1996-2000.
E-mails leaked to KFI radio in April 2002 reportedly came from Loomis'
computer. He resigned as secretariat director in October to pursue parish
work. "Msgr. Loomis is not the focus of any investigation,"
said his attorney, James Farley of Ventura. "He was only [before
the grand jury] to explain the process of handling priest complaints."
• Msgr. Craig Cox, vicar of clergy, 2000-2002.
Many are skeptical that the criminal case will stick to Mahony
or his top people, however. Prosecutors have been unable to charge
higher-ups in the church despite clear showings of a cover-up in Boston
and Rockville Center, New York, due to expired statutes of limitation.
And, a key California law that extends the statute of limitations for
charging priests with crimes against children is up for review before
the U.S. Supreme Court. If the law is stricken, prosecutors would lose
one of their most potent weapons in building up to a larger case against
Don Steier, who represents Baker, Ziemann and several other key defendants
in the criminal probe, also said Mahony has complied with child abuse
reporting laws enacted in 1997. Steier has represented the archdiocese's
priests for 20 years. "Did Mahony fail to turn over priests to the
authorities?" Steier said. "Yes. But not after 1997." (Prosecutors
believe the archdiocese steers its most vulnerable priests toward Steier
to keep them within the fold. Steier denies he is a key player.)
Criminal law experts doubt that the church hierarchy could be charged
with serious crimes. "Church officials would have had to either molest
children or intend that someone else would," explained former prosecutor
Vincent Bugliosi. "Although Mahony may have looked the other way,
I find it inconceivable that he and his administrators actually intended
for priests to molest children."