Mahony to Testify in Abuse Lawsuit
The Deposition That the Cardinal Will Provide in a Stockton Civil Case May Be the First of Many Involving the Catholic Clergy Sex Scandal
By Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded April 3, 2004
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is scheduled to testify about a Stockton priest accused of molesting a boy three decades ago, beginning what could be a series of depositions as the Roman Catholic Church grapples with lawsuits stemming from the clergy sex scandals.
Mahony has agreed to give a deposition April 22 in a civil case involving a former priest he supervised two decades ago as bishop of Stockton. The accused cleric was convicted of child molestation in 1994 and spent six years in state prison.
The lawsuit was brought by a man who said he was molested by Oliver Francis O'Grady in the 1970s while he was attending St. Anne Catholic School in Lodi. He has sued the Diocese of Stockton for negligence, claiming that former bishops, including Mahony, transferred O'Grady to other church parishes despite their knowledge that the priest was a child molester. Mahony denies that charge.
"We are not resisting," J. Michael Hennigan, an attorney for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said about Mahony's decision to testify.
Stockton is likely to be just the start.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese is being sued by more than 500 people who say they were sexually abused as children by Catholic priests
Mahony's testimony is considered crucial because most victims have filed negligence suits against the archdiocese, not individual priests, claiming that church leaders failed to protect the children in their care. As archbishop, Mahony is responsible for assigning priests to churches in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Mahony has not been subpoenaed in any of the Los Angeles sex-abuse cases because lawyers suing the church in Southern California are under a court order that halted such actions while settlement talks, begun last year, continue.
The trial judge in those cases, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Marvin Lager, however, has indicated that he may order the parties to begin preparation for trial, including taking depositions, this summer if efforts to mediate a global settlement stall.
If that happens, Mahony's lawyers said don't expect the cardinal to be deposed in every case filed against the archdiocese last year, when state lawmakers opened a one-year window for victims of decades-old childhood sexual abuse to sue.
"There is no reason to depose the cardinal in 520 different cases," said co-counsel Donald F. Woods Jr., "just because every plaintiff wants a shot at the cardinal. We believe that is harassment."
"He'll testify if he has to," he added, noting that "just because you are in a Ford automobile accident, that doesn't mean you can depose Henry Ford in every case."
Victims' lawyers expect the cardinal's legal team to eventually resist their efforts to question Mahony under oath in other cases, just as they have tried to keep secret priest personnel files sought in the investigations of both civil and criminal claims.
"Mahony had a hand in deciding the career paths of each and every one of those priests," said Beverly Hills attorney Raymond P. Boucher, whom the court appointed as liaison counsel for the plaintiffs in the Southern California cases. "He really has to confront, under penalty of perjury, the steps that he took and why he did it."
This month's deposition will not be the first time Mahony has testified about his transfers of O'Grady.
Six years ago, he became the first U.S. cardinal to be deposed in a clergy sex-abuse case and the only one ever to take the witness stand at trial, said Jeffrey R. Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who represented two brothers who brought the case.
The brothers sued the Stockton Diocese in 1997 for failing to protect them from O'Grady. They claimed they were sexually abused by the priest a decade after he admitted to church leaders that he had fondled an 11-year-old girl.
During the trial, Mahony testified that he was unaware of certain allegations against O'Grady when he transferred the priest first from Sacred Heart Parish in Turlock to Church of the Presentation in Stockton. Two years later, Mahony moved O'Grady to St. Andrew's in San Andreas, where O'Grady allegedly molested the brothers between 1987 and 1991.
The transfer to San Andreas occurred days after local police investigated a complaint of sexual abuse against O'Grady but did not charge him with a crime.
The police report stated that a diocesan lawyer assured police that the diocese had "interviewed the suspect and felt the incident occurred once and is an isolated incident." It also said O'Grady would be transferred out of the church parish and would "only be working with adults and away from children."
Woods said this week that O'Grady's transfer had already been planned and was unrelated to the new sexual misconduct allegation.
The jury in that case awarded $30 million, including $24 million in punitive damages. Some jurors said they believed Mahony's testimony was untruthful.
Mahony told the Los Angeles Times in 2002 that he thought the Stockton verdict, which was later reduced to $7 million, was wrong.
"I was flabbergasted that we were held accountable, because I thought we took extraordinary steps to make sure there was not a problem," he said, including sending O'Grady to therapy and ordering a second psychiatric evaluation.
In the new case, a man said he was sexually abused by O'Grady as an elementary school student in Lodi. Attorney John C. Manly, who represents the man, said the priest called the boy out of class and raped him on numerous occasions. The Times generally does not publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims.
Manly, who subpoenaed Mahony last month, said the cardinal's testimony is critical to his case because he is "the best person still alive with the most information about what went on" regarding the Stockton Diocese's handling of the O'Grady matter. But in this case, the alleged molestation occurred before Mahony was named bishop of Stockton in 1980.
Mahony remained in that position until 1985, when he became archbishop of Los Angeles. There are 13 lawsuits pending against the Stockton Diocese, including seven involving allegations against O'Grady, said Stockton attorney Paul N. Balestracci, who represents the diocese.
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