Mahony, in Legal Battle, Insists Church Has Right to Secrecy

By Jason Berry
National Catholic Reporter [Los Angeles CA]
March 18, 2005

Since June 2002, when the scandal-plagued Catholic bishops met in Dallas to adopt a youth protection charter, Cardinal Roger Mahony has cast himself as a reformer, an image that is jarring to many people immersed in the legal saga here in which the archdiocese has waged a fierce battle to keep sensitive documents secret.

"If priests are indicted and some end up in prison or whatever, that’s going to be very sad for them, for the church," Mahony told the Los Angeles Times in the weeks following that 2002 meeting. "But if that is required to move beyond, that’s what we’re going to have to go through."

Two and a half years later, amid the slow grind of court proceedings, Mahony spoke of his own "terrible journey" in a Feb. 12 telephone interview with NCR. "It’s easy to look back through lenses of today to 15, 20, 30 years ago. You just wish you had known then what I know now" about the way sexual offenders behave.

"I’ve met a very large number of victims," he continued. "I’ve also looked at the taped interviews [of victims] the plaintiff attorneys here have developed. Dozens of interviews on DVD. I’ve listened to those, every single one of them. They just cause you to cry. You simply are in disbelief at what has happened to the lives of these people. It has been a very humbling experience. Spiritually, I was absolutely at the bottom, which means total vulnerability to God’s grace. And I began to realize that this is the ministry Jesus Christ is asking of me and others at this time, to repair the damage, to make sure it won’t happen again."

Mahony has taken several important steps to address the crisis. The archdiocese formed a Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board with 13 members, mostly lay people. Three former FBI agents are on call to investigate when charges arise against a priest or church worker. Some 18,000 archdiocesan employees have undergone a training program called Safeguard the Children. Priests and bishops have had a training program as well.

If his reforms and rhetoric suggest a healing hand held out to people hungry for justice, the cardinal’s other hand grips a shield. Mahony’s lawyers are waging the most expensive legal battle in American church history to thwart the Los Angeles district attorney’s subpoena for files of priests accused of sexual offenses, and to fight off possible charges of archdiocesan complicity in alleged crimes. The archdiocese is also fighting plaintiffs on releasing personnel files of priests in civil cases. The church’s 2004 legal bill was about $4 million.

In lengthy motions and arguments, Mahony’s attorneys have insisted that private communications between a bishop and priests are protected by the First Amendment guarantee of church-state separation.

"It’s a constant fight over documents," Marci Hamilton, a professor of constitutional law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, told NCR. Hamilton, who has made oral arguments for plaintiffs in the California cases, said: "The church is arguing that it has civil law privileges in the First Amendment to release as few files as possible. … What’s really going on is, the longer the archdiocese delays, the more likely the statute of limitations runs out on cases that could be prosecuted. They’re playing an intentional delaying game."

California’s legal battle is of such intensity that Hamilton, among other sources, believes the issue is destined to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Had a Massachusetts court accepted the church’s argument of a First Amendment privilege on internal files, The Boston Globe would have been denied access to documents on John Geoghan and other priests that gave backbone to the paper’s historic reporting.

Argument failed elsewhere

"This kind of assertion of a First Amendment privilege has never succeeded elsewhere," Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who is handling multiple cases of clerical sex abuse in California, told NCR. "Mahony is putting his fingers and toes in a big dyke, but he can’t keep plugging the holes."

Boston turned into a national media narrative centered on a cardinal, Bernard Law, who shunned reporters and eventually resigned after a continuing disclosure of clergy files. Los Angeles has become a complex legal story without the major media probing as tenaciously as in Boston.

Mahony has proved more adroit than Law in handling the crisis of his career. In 2002 the cardinal hired a public relations firm in an effort to buff up the archdiocese’s image, while his attorneys’ dilatory tactics kept him beyond bad headlines for days and weeks at a time. Mahony made a point of not hiding from the press. He has given interviews, at times articulating a rage felt by abuse survivors, as when he told the Los Angeles Times: "The expression ‘sexual abuse of children’ simply does not describe the appalling, monstrous things that have happened to these young people."

Mahony told NCR that priests who had abused children under his watch yet received new assignments were "a very small group whose treatment protocol indicated that there would be no danger in them involved in some limited ministry."

Mahony emphasized that his decisions were shaped by psychotherapists who treated such priests and did not adequately understand their patients’ compulsions.

"It’s the blame game," said A.W. Richard Sipe, an author and psychotherapist. A former Benedictine monk, Sipe has testified in many clergy abuse cases and is an expert witness in California. "What bishop in the United States did not know that sex with a minor was a serious violation of celibacy in years past? What bishop did not know that sex with a minor was a criminal violation?

Sipe called Los Angeles one of "the worst dioceses I’ve ever seen. In 1991, 56 of the 710 archdiocesan priests active in the Los Angeles archdiocese were sexual abusers in ministry at that time."

Massive civil proceedings

Apart from the criminal issues, there are three massive civil proceedings involving nearly a thousand victims of clerics. These coordinated proceedings have moved slowly through settlement negotiations in the last year. In these cases, too, the church is trying to thwart the survivors’ requests for full disclosure of perpetrators’ files. The first of the three proceedings, involving 87 victims in Orange County, reached a negotiated settlement in December for $100 million. As this issue went to press, a judge had yet to rule on defense motions to prevent disclosure of the clergy files.

The proceedings of three separate sets of civil cases -- grouped geographically under the rubrics Clergy 1, Clergy 2 and Clergy 3 -- form another. Clergy 2 is the shorthand for the Los Angeles cases.

In 2003 Mahony rebuked the first National Review Board director, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, for his comment comparing the hierarchy to the Cosa Nostra for harboring sex offenders. Keating promptly resigned. Mahony’s associations with several pederasts and a notorious bishop, Patrick Ziemann ( see story), whose career he championed, did not sit well with Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley. One priest sent to treatment for child molesting in his past had returned to live in the rectory with Mahony for seven years. Cooley, a Republican and a Catholic, has an investigation underway with many questions about the cardinal.

Cooley’s staff obtained subpoenas seeking files on two priests. The archdiocese mounted a defense that led a judge to ban the release of the names of the two priests. The First Amendment issue -- church privilege to withhold their files -- went into litigation.

The bizarre career of Fr. Michael Wempe may provide some insight into why Cooley wants access to personnel records on the two unnamed priests.

In May 1987, the archdiocese learned that Wempe had abused a youth, and sent the priest to a treatment center run by Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico for 6 months. In 1988, in an inexplicable move given the warnings the bishops had received by this time, Mahony appointed Wempe a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Hospital without telling officials there that he was just back from inpatient treatment.

In 1988 two young men complained to the archdiocese about abuse by Wempe dating back several years, according to a well-placed source. He remained in the hospital job, even as he continued therapy for sexual compulsions.

From 1990 to 1995, Wempe allegedly molested a boy in his hospital office and in his car. At a banquet honoring Wempe before that was known, Mahony praised him. In 2002, Wempe left the job when he was exposed in the media. He was charged by the district attorney and was in jail, pending trial, when the Stogner v. California decision came down. In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, limited the scope of a state law that had enabled prosecutors, in limited circumstances, to pursue sex offenders for crimes committed well back in their past.

In 2004 Wempe was charged in a new case involving another alleged victim, and awaits trial once again.

Mahony told NCR that the Paracletes’ "prognosis" was "that if [Wempe] continued his spiritual direction and counseling he was getting, that he would not re-offend. And they recommended that he serve in a limited capacity such as a chaplain to a hospital or a prison facility. At the time, I believed their prognosis to be accurate. And by the way, to the best of my knowledge, I have no evidence that he actually did re-offend, even though there’s been an allegation of that in court. We certainly have no reports. It wasn’t until after he was taken out of ministry that someone made a report that has been subject to criminal prosecution."

An odd housemate

Cardinal Mahony’s career is marked by unseemly proximity to several men like Wempe. Fr. Carl Sutphin, for example, shared living quarters with Mahony in two rectories over a span of seven years until a Los Angeles Police Department investigation of charges that Sutphin molested two sets of brothers caused the cardinal to force Sutphin’s retirement. That was in 2002.

In 1991, Mahony removed Sutphin, a seminary classmate, from ministry when a Phoenix man informed the cardinal that he and his twin brother had been abused by the priest in the 1970s. Mahony sent Sutphin to St. Luke Institute in Suitland, Md., for treatment. He did not report Sutphin to authorities. The law in California at that time did not include clergy as "mandated reporters" of sexual abuse. Sutphin returned and became chaplain in a retirement home. In 1995 Sutphin moved into the rectory at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral with Mahony, and then to the new Our Lady of Angels Cathedral, before his expulsion.

"Fr. Sutphin was another example of someone whose prognosis was favorable," the cardinal told NCR. "One of his ministries had been dealing with men in jail, so the old cathedral rectory, which is right downtown near the jail, seemed to be a good place for him to be in residence, and certainly under supervision here. … We have absolutely no report of any re-offense on his part the whole time."

Another priest close to the cardinal was Msgr. Richard A. Loomis, who had been vicar of clergy, with the responsibility to investigate sex abuse allegations in the 1990s. Eventually he was himself accused in a civil case.

Mahony, 68, stands well over six feet. The son of an electrician-turned-rancher in the San Fernando Valley, he has a handsome face, thick eyebrows, and dark receding hair, streaked gray. For most of his 18-year tenure as prelate of the nation’s largest archdiocese, currently with 3.6 million Catholics and 1,100 priests, Mahony has moved with seamless ease among the socioeconomic layers of its multiethnic society. Fluent in Spanish, a voice of compassion for the poor, Mahony befriended César Chávez, leader of the farm workers, and said the funeral Mass for actor Gregory Peck. He cultivated good ties with Catholics in politics, banking, real estate, Hollywood and the media. Last year, the Los Angeles archdiocesan office operated on a $116 million budget, roughly half that of the Vatican state.

The world tilted on Mahony in 2002 as the Boston scandal escalated and media coverage turned to California. That spring and summer, a muckraker named Ron Russell published a scornful series on Mahony’s handling of predatory priests in New Times L.A., an alternative weekly. The Los Angeles Times, which had long given Mahony favorable coverage, began probing an array of decisions at the top.

On Sunday, Aug. 18, 2002, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation that covered four pages. Three reporters tracked a chronology of priests reassigned after allegations, their stays in treatment facilities and how the church had stiff-armed police investigations in the past. This pattern of hierarchical behavior had been well-documented across the years in Louisiana, Minnesota, Illinois, New England, New York, Ohio, Texas and other states. The layout of the article including inside pages with faces of 23 accused or convicted priests, resembled a poster made of mug shots. Five accused clerics had fled to other countries, and one disappeared, among 33 priests the journalists investigated.

"I’m just horrified by this whole thing," Mahony told the paper in that edition. "You get the cross that comes your way, and this obviously for me is a very heavy cross."

Supreme Court sets limits

Like prosecutors in other states, Cooley was outraged by the idea that priests abusing children could be shielded from the law. By late 2002 Cooley’s investigators and staff of attorneys were building cases on at least 40 priests, filing subpoenas for closely held church documents. In the spring of 2003, Cooley’s office had filed charges on 11 priests, with another 30 under investigation. Then, for Cooley, the roof collapsed. The Stogner decision forced the district attorney to throw out the cases of 11 priests awaiting trial; it derailed cases underway against the other 30 clerics. Because of Stogner, several dozen sex offenders walked out of jail.

Cooley’s staff went back to the drawing board, with subpoenas seeking files on two priests. The archdiocese mounted a defense that led a judge to ban the release of the names of the two priests. The First Amendment issue -- church privilege to withhold their files -- went into litigation.

California’s torrent of civil litigation emerged from the turbulent events of 2002. Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, a pioneer in the clergy malpractice field, had worked on cases in California with Larry Drivon, one of the state’s leading trial attorneys. Their biggest case had gone to trial in 1998 in Stockton, representing two brothers traumatized by a priest named Oliver O’Grady. Mahony was a pivotal witness in the trial. Despite a record verdict, Anderson and Drivon carried a simmering outrage over Mahony’s handling of O’Grady, and other priests.

With Drivon lobbying his contacts in Sacramento, a bill broadening the statute of limitations in civil cases sailed through the legislative session, winning the support of Gov. Gray Davis. Mahony and church lobbyists were caught off-guard. The law gave victims -- regardless of how long ago they had been abused -- a full year from Jan. 1, 2003, to file suit.

With more than 900 legal claims filed against California dioceses, the judges grouped them into three geographic areas for coordinated proceedings, and pushed for settlement mediations to avoid clogging the system with endless trials. These are not class action suits. Though coordinated proceedings can be fraught with delays, the first group, involving the Orange diocese, settled in December for $100 million to 87 victims. Orange is a wealthier diocese than Boston, where $85 million in settlements was distributed among 541 survivors. Insurance policies during the period when most of the abuses occurred are expected to cover much of the Orange settlements.

In Orange, the release of clergy files is pending a judge’s decision.

The Los Angeles settlements -- with just about the same number of victims as in Boston -- have been projected to cost $1.5 billion, with insurance policies from the past expected to cover much of the losses.

A $4 million defense

According to figures the archdiocese released, as of June 30 expenses of $4,871,000 were "related to legal fees, and other costs related to sexual abuse claims in the fiscal year 2004. As of Sept. 30, the archdiocese has received $4,070,000 in reimbursements of legal fees and settlements" from insurance companies -- leaving $801,000 presumably covered by church funds.

How long the insurance companies will reimburse the archdiocese for legal fees is unclear. In January, three insurers sued the church, saying that the archdiocese had withheld crucial documents from the companies, a claim that Mahony’s chief counsel, J. Michael Hennigan, promptly disputed.

Hennigan, with silver hair and ruddy cheeks, is the head of Mahony’s defense team. He is prominent in Catholic philanthropic circles; he helped raise funds for Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral. Hennigan agreed early on to negotiate with plaintiff attorneys as the number of civil cases ballooned. The defense used dilatory tactics to prevent Mahony’s deposition testimony for most of last year. They also tried to have Fr. Thomas Doyle -- the former canon lawyer at the Vatican Embassy who warned the bishops of the crisis in 1985 -- disqualified as an expert witness in the civil cases, a motion the judge denied.

The Los Angeles archdiocese faces some 535 claims from alleged survivors. Defense motions that result in delays are calculated to wear down the opposition, driving up plaintiff expenses, reducing the lawyers’ back-end profit -- a common tactic in such disputes. On the issue of clergy documents, the archdiocese has offered to "proffer" -- post on its Web site -- summaries from internal files on perpetrators, rather than what survivors want: all files on each abusive priest.

The proffer is under appeal by an attorney representing accused priests. News coverage of many cases has drawn on criminal documents obtained before the Stogner decision, and from civil lawsuits going back many years. The question looming over the legal maze is whether the documents withheld contain material incriminating to the church.

"The files are not going to be released publicly, no matter what happens," Mahony told NCR. "If the courts would allow the DA or someone to review the documents, that would be it. But we’ve already assured the district attorney that there’s nothing there they don’t already have."

If the documents do not contain incriminating information, why fight to withhold them? "Because it’s the principle, the privilege," Mahony told NCR. "You’ve got to keep in mind the priests involved -- it’s their files. The priests have protection under the California Evidence Code." He cited "strong privacy privileges" in state law that protects psychiatrists and the media from disclosing confidential communications.

Many files are administrative records the church keeps of its clergy, just as companies keep files on their personnel.

Should Mahony’s position prevail, prosecutors throughout the country would be severely limited in their ability to get documents to prosecute clergy child molesters. "It’s a big, expensive delaying tactic," said attorney Larry Drivon. "That line of defense has been knocked down time and time again."

A logic of secrecy

In a June motion on criminal subpoenas of two priests -- whose names have thus far been barred from the public -- Donald J. Woods Jr. of Hennigan’s firm criticized "excessive entanglement of the state with religion." The motion said subpoenas "invade the highly personal and spiritual process by which priests under the direction of their bishop disclose their deepest, most personal, sexual and psychological issues. … They chill the pastoral relationship of bishop and priest fundamental to the mission of the church.

"Since the issuance of these criminal subpoenas has become common knowledge," the motion continued, "priests involved in recent interventions have refused to discuss the allegations, have retained attorneys and have refused to undergo psychological evaluation" -- intimating that Mahony cannot "intervene" with child molesters because of ruthless prosecution.

The motion continued: "The ability of the bishop to counsel with his priests about their individual difficulties in the area of human sexuality has been grievously harmed and the practice and exercise of the religion impaired and the life of the church proscribed by the actions of the state."

Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman argued, "We are not asking for permission to eavesdrop on a prisoner talking to a priest," Hodgman made this point in the "redacted" transcript of a closed hearing, with names of the accused blacked out.

"We are asking for the evidence of crime that is being held in the files of the Catholic church. And they cannot have it both ways. They are asking for an absolute privilege," Hodgman told the court. "They are saying that ‘if we say it’s secret, that’s it.’ The court has nowhere to go."

The Vatican could not have scripted a more tenacious attempt to trump secular courts with canon law.

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, a canon lawyer working at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that processes cases of priests to be defrocked, told an Italian journal in 2002: "If a priest cannot confide in his bishop because he is afraid of being denounced, it would mean there is no more freedom of conscience."

Bertone, who has since become the cardinal archbishop of Genoa, Italy, insisted: "Civil society must also respect the ‘professional secrecy’ of priests."

Professional secrecy is the heart of Woods’ motion to quash the district attorney’s subpoenas of clergy files and plays a key role in the thinking of the Vatican.

‘Delicate problems’

In April 2002, Archbishop Julian Herranz, perhaps the most important canon lawyer in the Roman curia, gave a speech in Milan that articulated the Holy See’s position. Herranz is president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, a position roughly equivalent to the attorney general at the Vatican.

He called church payments for clergy sex abuse "unwarranted" and criticized an environment of "exaggeration, financial exploitation and nervousness" in America. Herranz scored media attempts to "sully the image of the church and the Catholic priesthood."

The Vatican canon lawyer continued: "When ecclesiastical authorities deal with these delicate problems, they not only must respect the presumption of innocence, they also have to honor the rapport of trust and the consequent secrecy of the office inherent in relations between a bishop and his priest collaborators. Not to honor these exigencies would bring damages of great seriousness for the church."

The same argument imbues the cardinal’s legal defense.

NCR asked Mahony if he supported Voice of the Faithful’s petition to John Paul to meet with a group of abuse survivors, as put forth in a full-page New York Times ad. "Well, I hadn’t actually given it any thought," he replied. "I really don’t know whether it would be useful or not. I really don’t have a final answer. It never occurred to me."

The only cardinal known to have given testimony before Bernard Law did in Boston was Roger Mahony, in 1998, at a civil trial in Stockton.

As a young priest, Mahony did graduate studies in social work; he became an auxiliary bishop in Fresno in 1967. In 1980, on becoming bishop of Stockton, he turned in his social worker’s license, and consequently was under no obligation to report accusations of child abuse to authorities. Clergy were not "mandated reporters" under California law until 1997.

The 1998 case was brought by two brothers who had been molested throughout childhood by a priest named Oliver O’Grady. There was little national media coverage of the trial, though Mahony’s words would haunt him.

In 1984 a family had reported O’Grady to police for making advances toward their son. A diocesan attorney met with the police, who agreed not to press charges, operating on the belief that O’Grady would receive treatment and never be around children. O’Grady told a therapist of his sexual attraction to the boy. Mahony then sent him to a psychiatrist, Dr. John C. Morris. In his report Morris observed a "severe defect in maturation, not only in the matter of sex, but more importantly in the matter of social relationships."

The psychiatrist observed: "Perhaps Oliver is not truly called to the priesthood."

At Christmas 1985, a rural parish was short a pastor. Mahony sent O’Grady into the unsuspecting community, where he continued to abuse the same boy, John Howard, from his previous parish. Several years later he was arrested, and in 1993 convicted of lewd conduct with the brothers, John and James Howard. Later, they brought the civil case. O’Grady molested four of seven siblings in the Howard family; because of statute of limitations, only the two could sue. O’Grady by then was in prison.

Although it was not admissible as evidence in that trial, one of O’Grady’s victims from another family in which he ingratiated himself was a 9-month-old girl, who suffered vaginal scarring. She is now 13.

At the 1998 trial, evidence included a 1976 letter by O’Grady, from his personnel file, admitting that he molested a young girl. Under questioning by Jeff Anderson, Mahony told the jury: "I was not aware of that letter."

The jury returned a verdict of $30 million, $24 million of which was punitive damages against the church. A judge later reduced the award to $7.65 million, one of the largest yet on record.

"I felt the jury was wrong," Mahony told the Los Angeles Times four years later. "I was flabbergasted that we were held accountable, because I thought we took extraordinary steps to make sure there was no problem."

At the 1998 trial, Mahony testified that he had known of no other priests who sexually abused youngsters during his Stockton tenure. But on Nov. 23, Mahony discussed two other priests, both Latinos, whom he had removed because of child abuse allegations before he reassigned O’Grady.

At one point, attorney John Manly, representing alleged sex abuse victims, asked if Mahony thought that a child molester as of 1984, should be pulled out of ministry."

"Yes, if we had evidence that he was a child molester," replied Mahony. "I mean particularly having victims, facts and information corroborated by others to sustain the -- the allegation."

Manly asked why he had put information "on these issues" in the diocese’s secret archives. "Because there are a lot of people who work in the chancery," the cardinal answered. "These kinds of issues are not in public domain, and therefore we need to protect those, particularly in this one, the names of the victims."

Now, six years after the Stockton trial, Mahony was discussing two priests he had failed to mention in the trial. Manly said: "So your testimony is that you forgot that [the two priests] molested children while you were the bishop, is that accurate?

"That is accurate," the cardinal replied.

Mahony cited 13 years between his reassignment of O’Grady and the trial. "We had many events ... and I was very preoccupied. We had the visit of the Holy Father. We had the earthquakes. We had riots."

Treatment issues

To questions about clergy treatment facilities run by Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico and House of Affirmation in Massachusetts, Mahony said he could not recall information from his time in Stockton or in Fresno in the years before.

Mahony’s response on the treatment facilities is a standard position of bishops who say that until 1985, when the full episcopal conference had a briefing on pedophilia, they viewed such crimes as sins or moral failures of the priest, not realizing the trauma to victims. The other excuse given by hierarchs -- and by Pope John Paul II in a 2002 speech -- is that they relied on the advice of psychiatrists and therapists, which was often faulty.

In the 1998 trial, Mahony had said, in reference to O’Grady: "If the competent professionals do not raise any flag or cautions or concerns, then we act according to their judgment."

An insight into the strange symbiosis of clergy treatment facilities and bishops dealing with child molesters surfaced at a 1996 legal conference by Fr. Stephen Rossetti, director of St. Luke Institute, the clergy hospital in Maryland that treats clergy sex offenders. Rossetti’s lecture, "Post-Treatment Options," was audiotaped. NCR obtained a cassette.

"What do we do with these men after treatment?" asked Rossetti.

Forty-seven states, he explained, required sex offenders to register with authorities when they got out of prison. But most of the priests sent to treatment facilities were never arrested. Rossetti did not say so, but places like St. Luke have historically functioned as safe houses for priests whose bishops did not report them to police.

"Protecting children should be the No. 1 value," said Rossetti.

"If [priest offenders] go into society without being treated, unsupervised," Rossetti said, "then children are at greater risk. Release them without social support, and they can’t find a job, there’s a greater chance of relapsing."

Rossetti stressed the need for sensitivity to victims as bishops considered what to do with a priest. "I would never return them to ministry with their target population," he asserted.

He also discussed perpetrator rights and canon law. "In the early days of this issue we pretty much ignored canon law in America. … We went along with a legal, psychological and secular model."

Bishops faced resistance in laicizing or defrocking priests at the Vatican. "If the priests appeal their cases to Rome, it becomes an in-house fight. … Rome is not involuntarily laicizing men. Basically that means you are stuck with this person."

Five years after Rossetti’s speech, in 2001, Pope John Paul partially acceded to bishops’ requests made 12 years earlier in 1989 and approved a more accelerated process to defrock "notorious" child molesters through tribunals in America and at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

Dozens of cases have gone to the congregation since 2002.

The pope’s position through the 1990s put bishops in a bind. Having used canonical traditions of secrecy to shield clergy sex offenders from prosecutors and police, the bishops were unable to expel them from clerical life without their consent.

"There actually are some bishops, whose names we hold closely to our hearts and will never release," said Rossetti, "who are more likely to take a good treatment prospect, a guy who’s done well in treatment" for some form of ministry.

Mahony clearly conformed to that description.

Rossetti was careful not to name any bishops; however, later in his comments, he referred to "the temporary secular employment model. L.A. was the first [archdiocese] that spoke to us about this and we like the model. Let’s say you’ve got someone who’s a good prospect, done well in treatment, but you’re not quite sure. One thing you can do is say, ‘You work full time in lay employment one to three years, and we’ll review your case later’ " to be reinstated as an active priest. If a man showed "a long-term recovery, it’s not a bad option."

How many priests the archdiocese under Mahony may have put into "the temporary secular employment model" is unclear. What is also unclear -- and unknowable without disclosure of the personnel files -- is what the treatment facilities said about certain perpetrators and how Mahony used the information.

At this juncture in California’s legal saga, Cardinal Mahony has succeeded where most bishops have failed, and that is in using the "professional secrecy" to trump a criminal justice system.


Jason Berry is a freelance writer who lives in New Orleans. His books include Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II and Lead Us Not Into Temptation. The Fund for Investigative Journalism provided assistance for this report.

The full text of the interview with Cardinal Roger Mahony may be found in the Special Documents Section on


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